2014, PG-13, 165 mins.
2014, PG-13, 165 mins.
Matthew McConaughey as Cooper / Wes Bentley as Doyle / Anne Hathaway as Brand / Jessica Chastain as Murph / Michael Caine as Dr. Brand / John Lithgow as Donald / Casey Affleck as Tom / Mackenzie Foy as Young Murph / Ellen Burstyn as Old Murph / Bill Irwin as TARS (voice)
Directed by Christopher Nolan / Written by Christopher and Jonathon Nolan
Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR is the most fearlessly ambitious and
thought-provoking films about space exploration since Stanley Kubrick’s
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (which served, by Nolan’s admission, as a huge
source of inspiration in the making of his film).
Nolan's film dares – as far too few sci-fi films do these days
– to interweave an emotionally harrowing tale of human struggle with
that of remarkable speculative science that pushes our deep-seeded
understanding of how time, space and relativity works.
There is an undeniable level of conceptual genius at play here, and
Nolan is no stranger to tackling audacious subject matter, yet there’s
an argument to also be made here that relaying these very lofty and
mind-bending concepts to viewers makes for a frequently clunky ride at
times. Granted, I’m not
sure if there exists a better filmmaker then Nolan that’s willing to
explore and deal with such fundamentally challenging and complex ideas.
is set in an unspecified time in the future, and part of the script’s
subtle genius (which Nolan co-wrote with his brother Jonathon) is how it
patiently observes and establishes the particulars of its world (we get no
time specific title or expository title cards, but instead learn about the
film’s world of tomorrow primarily through imagery and dialogue
exchanges). The world
presented is not one of technological advancement or empowerment, but
rather looks like it was blasted back to the Dust Bowl era of the worst
sections of The Great Depression. Earth
has been ravaged by famine and droughts, mostly caused by blight that’s
killing crops and, in turn, severely stunting humanity’s chance of
long-term survival. With massive dust storms looming on a daily basis, nitrogen
levels in the atmosphere rising, and overall hope for change declining exponentially
by the day, it appears that Earth is indeed a doomed planet.
(Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA engineer and pilot that has become
a corn farmer (one of the few crops that still can be cultivated) out of
necessity. He farms with his
father-in-law (John Lithgow), his son Tom (Timothee Chalamet), and his remarkably
intelligent daughter Murph (named after Murphy’s Law, played by
Mackenzie Foy). Murph, like
her father, is scientifically adept, but she seems genuinely obsessed
beyond scientific reason by some strange paranormal activity that is
occurring in her bedroom. The
phenomena – which Cooper and his daughter later discover is actually
taking the form of a binary code – leads Cooper to an secret underground
installation headed up by what’s left of NASA.
Led by Professor Brand (long-term Nolan alumni Michael Caine), the
new NASA has an idea to save the future of the human race, which will
require the piloting needs (perhaps a bit too conveniently) of Cooper.
the risk of giving too much away, here’s their multi-tiered plan: NASA
is building a massive space vessel to send as many citizens as possible
into space, but is having issues with gravity in terms of launching such
an incalculably large vessel. This
leads them to their main goal: Send Cooper and a team of
astronauts/scientists – comprised of Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne
Hathaway). Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi) and an artificially
intelligent robot TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) – to travel to Saturn in a
high tech space vessel…to then journey through a wormhole near the planet
that appears to have been deliberately placed there by an unknown entity. On the other side of the wormhole exists a galaxy with many
inhabitable planets that NASA has already explored with past human-piloted
expedition missions. NASA
hopes that Cooper and company will be able to successfully navigate
through and find a suitable planet to become a new Earth, but the mission
involves time fluctuating drastically for the astronauts (hours for the space
become years, if not decades for people on Earth), which means that
Cooper has to, in essence, leave his family for what could be a lifetime.
entire heartbreaking emotional arc of INTERSTELLAR is the relationship
between the father and daughter, and Nolan’s film works at its finest when
it focuses on the astonishing ramifications of Cooper’s time jumping
space voyage to another galaxy. It’s
revealed that the astronauts perceive time differently depending on which
planet they land on past the wormhole (a few minutes on planet A can equal
months on the ship because of the affect of the nearby wormhole). There reaches a point for Cooper when – after a failed
planetary mission – his two years in space equals two-plus decades
back on Earth, leaving his son and daughter (now played by Casey Affleck
and Jessica Chastain respectively) growing up without a father and having
severe doubts about his return home.
Unavoidably, INTERSTELLAR becomes moving and involving more because
of how Cooper’s act of desperation to save the human race has had
damning ripple effects on his relationship with his family back home.
The saddest moments of any film from 2014 occurs when Cooper –
teary-eyed, exhausted, and filled with self-doubt – silently watches his
family’s decreasing faith in him expire with each new transmitted
message to his space ship.
Nolan’s film is a technological wonder.
Lovingly shot on a combination of 33mm and 70mm IMAX stock and
utilizing bravura cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (making
the dust riddled Earth a bleak portrait of environmental despair) and VFX
supervised by Paul J. Franklin (shrewdly combining practical and computer
generated imagery with a flawless precision), Nolan has the inordinately
difficult task of conveying not only the decay of his futuristic Earth,
but also showing the visual complexity of traveling through wormholes
(where’s your frame of reference for that?) and making it somehow feel
scientifically credible (theoretical physicist Kip Thorn was an intimate
part of the production to ensure as much accuracy as possible).
When Cooper’s team does touchdown on multiple planets Nolan
envisions some awe-inspiring set pieces: An ironically uninhabitable
planet, for instance, creates waves the size of mountains that threatens
the astronauts in one of the film’s most incredible of sequences.
Another planet, a Hoth-like ice world covered in snow and frigidly
cold weather, has an ethereally alien, yet tactile veracity to it.
Very few moments in INTERSTELLAR feel like the product of obtrusive
CG fakery, and it’s more awesomely immersive as a result.
Nolan misses the target, I think, in his magnum sci-fi opus is in the
execution – more specifically, the explanation – of some of the film’s
out-there notions of black holes, wormholes, singularity, multiple
dimensions, etc.. There are
ample stretches in INTERSTELLAR that involve characters talking…a
lot…in language steeped in science, physics, quantum mechanics, and all
other sorts of convoluted techno-babble that, quite frankly, may leave
many in the audience not having a PhD scratching their heads and trying to
keep up. The dialogue
exchanges between characters become so densely littered with such talk –
which are sometimes interrupted by, in one instance, an awkward segue
into the nature of human love – that it arguably robs the film of any
level of entrancing metaphysical mystery that it could have attained.
Kubrick’s 2001 was wise to avoid never over-explaining anything
in his film, leaving it hauntingly impenetrable and open to a floodgate of
multiple interpretations. Far
too much of the time, Nolan feels the need to lecture us via his
characters about what they’re doing, what’s occurring on screen, and
so forth. There’s a point
to be made that no expository dialogue could have made the film
frustratingly vague, but it nevertheless doesn’t make for good drama.
for a film of nearly three hours (which, thankfully, never feels its
length), INTERSTELLAR seems to really rush itself through its final
sections to reach a conclusion. The
film does take some positively riveting chances in its final act, during
which time the Nolan Brothers really get trippy with our perceived
concepts of time, space, and planes of existence and truly takes us –
and Cooper – on a journey that’s never really been attempted on screen
before, let alone even modestly hinted at.
There are key moments like this – and many more before it –
when the film legitimately has crafted a wholly unique and remarkable
vision. The canvas by which
Nolan presents his ever-increasingly ambitious ideas does illicit awe and
wonder, but there remains some chunkiness in its overall execution.
The film ends on what would have been an unendingly
powerful scene of raw human drama between characters, but it happens so
quickly and nonchalantly that you feel that Nolan doesn't fully trust in the
emotional magnitude of such a moment.
There is just so damn much to endlessly admire in INTERSTELLAR. I’ve barely commented on the deeply committed performances, especially by McConaughey and Chastain, whom are both thoroughly convincing throughout as world-weary souls deeply traumatized by simply how far – in terms of time and distance – their characters have grown apart during Cooper’s mission (you’re likely not going to find more authentically rendered performances in any other sci-fi film than what’s on display here). The Nolans explore the infinite complexities of both human relationships juxtaposed on the larger story of mankind exploring beyond where any other human being has attempted. The film is as visually spectacular and impressively mounted as anything that Nolan has touched in his career. It’s also a work that has the tenacity to bravely deal with scientific principles and theoretical possibilities that most filmmakers would have ran away from. INTERSTELLAR reaches out for greatness through and through, but perhaps the unbridled immensity of its ideas and scope of its story were a bit too much for even a masterful director like Nolan to harness with flawless fluidity…but at least he dares to go where no man (or filmmaker) has gone before.