Christopher Nolan explores the ideas of space and time in this extremely ambitious science fiction epic. R.G. gives us his verdict.
One of the most beautiful things about science fiction is that it asks us questions we have to answer for ourselves. This method usually creates a divide on the overall consensus of a film, but if you think about the sci-fi classics and what mysteries they represent, isn’t it more fun to question them? From Deckard being either a Replicant or a human in Blade Runner to the meaning of the Black Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s sometimes more interesting to figure things out rather than receiving a straight explanation. Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar seems to be in a similar vein. It has been splitting opinions since its release, with a love-it-or-hate-it attitude. As for myself, I ended up falling into the “love it” category. Even with its flaws, Nolan’s latest directorial effort is an incredibly entertaining and endlessly fascinating journey that carries a huge abundance of admirable ambition and scope.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot and engineer who lives on a farm with his children Tom (Timothee Chamalet and Casey Affleck) and Murphy (Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain), along with his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). Planet Earth can no longer sustain human life, which has led to frequent dust storms and crops consistently dying from diseases. Cooper is asked by a NASA-run organisation headed by Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) to pilot a ship into a worm hole that will lead them to a new galaxy in hopes of finding another habitable planet. Along with Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Cooper travels into unknown and dangerous extra-terrestrial territory to save human kind, and makes the difficult choice of abandoning his family.
Nolan has always been known to take interestingly complex ideas, no matter how nonsensical they are, and utilise them in a similarly complex narrative – evident from his previous films like Memento and Inception. With Interstellar, it seems that he is really pushing the amount of mind-bending concepts he can throw at you. Coming from a guy who has little to no knowledge in science, I don’t know if the film is scientifically accurate or not, but there are numerous moments where you question the plausibility of a science-based set-piece. I know nothing about theoretical physics but I am pretty sure boosters from a spaceship aren’t strong enough to escape a black hole. Strangely enough, I rarely found myself thinking about these outlandish set-ups as a detriment. In fact, they enhance the sci-fi experience exponentially because the ideas – as far-fetched as they become – are fascinating enough to warrant intrigue. Some of the concepts like time being completely different from one place to another because of the gravity were used ingeniously, and at times, they were quite terrifying to think about.
Going at almost three hours, it’s impressive how Nolan can keep the attention with how much ambition he is willing to showcase. It does have its sluggish parts, particularly the second third, where it felt like it could have used a bit of cutting to smooth out the pacing. Narrative-wise, it has the director’s trademark of having a lot of exposition – with philosophical and scientific speeches – which is built-up to highlight the concepts and is showcased through visuals. Many argue that this is a stylistic flaw on the director’s part because the aesthetics overshadow the story; it has too much plot to the point of confusion, and there is not enough character development. Yes, Interstellar could’ve used more of the latter since some of the characters felt like they were there purely for the purpose of being expository (pretty much all of Caine’s roles in Nolan films), but the director does a good job of showing character motivation. While it is about finding the right planet for humanity, the emotional anchor of the flick is Cooper’s attachment to his family, especially with his daughter Murphy. The first third of the film is mostly focused on establishing Cooper and his relationship with his relatives, and it was genuinely heart-breaking to see him leave the people he loves the most. The most interesting aspect of the story is how Cooper’s personal feelings clash with the other characters’ “for the good of mankind” mindset, and it adds a lot more to his motivation for going back to his family. Without spoiling the ending, the payoff felt a little bit contrived and conventional, and it could’ve been more powerful if it concluded the opposite way. Of course, it’s not a bad ending at all as it still maintained the emotional core of the story.
The obvious best performance of the cast is McConaughey as Cooper. He retains his trademark mellow delivery but he shows a lot of diversity in this film. We really get behind his turmoil because McConaughey really sells the drama. Foy and Chastain as Murphy are also fantastic, thanks to their believable father-daughter chemistry. While Nolan films are generally not known for humour, the AI Tars (voiced by Bill Irwin) delivers the funniest lines in the flick. Nolan regular Caine plays the usual wise, old mentor with his charming cockney-accented speeches layering the film’s complicated concepts. Hathaway is probably the weakest of the main cast since her character’s motivation isn’t as interesting as McConaughey’s, and it felt like her role could be played by anyone. The supporters also do a good job but since there isn’t a lot of character progression, they are pretty much overshadowed by Cooper and Murphy.
Even if you find the science ridiculous or the plot nonsensical, it’s hard to deny how unbelievably beautiful this film is. Nolan and his crew are aces when it comes to production values and Interstellar definitely wins in the visual department. The space and planetary scenes are just mind-blowingly amazing to look at and gives the flick a gigantic and epic feeling, with the CGI and practical set-pieces blending seamlessly – equal to Gravity’s ground-breaking special effects. Adding to the experience is Hoyte van Hoytema’s diverse and precise cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s ambient-influenced score.
The film will definitely split opinions and it will spark numerous debates, but that is part of the fun when it comes to a movie this ambitious and loaded full of interesting concepts. Its long running time could be reduced but the story has enough weight to be invested, even if the spectacular visuals and insane production values do drown out some of its points. The ideas – regardless of you understanding what they are or what they mean – are so fascinating and thought-provoking that you probably won’t even care when it gets preposterous. The majority of the main cast, especially McConaughey, Foy and Chastain, pull off amazing performances that only add to the film’s humanistic side.
In conclusion, Interstellar is one of the grandest science fiction films to be ever conceived, and an experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.