To accurately describe Interstellar to you, I tried coming up with taglines that compared it to similar movies and the following are the best I could come up with: “It’s Armageddon for people who like to think.” “It’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with a more linear storyline.” “It’s Sunshine with a larger budget.” “It’s Apollo 13 with wormholes.” “It’s the film Prometheus wanted to be.” All those taglines are accurate to some degree but the truth is that there’s no film that can be compared to Interstellar because there’s never been any film like it. I also find it hard to properly review without really talking about it. The less you know going in, the better the experience will be.
There is no doubt that Christopher Nolan has made some of the best movies of recent times. From Memento to Inception, he has made a career out of directing smart big budget blockbusters that appeal to a wide variety of audiences. Let me just clear the air and say that Interstellar is Nolan’s least mainstream film. It’s close to three hours long. There are no big action set pieces. Aliens do not exist in this universe. There are references to a higher power. There are long passages of characters discussing theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, time travel, and space-time continuums. And yet every frame, cut, and special effect feels controlled and necessary. I also feel this is the filmmaker’s most personal work to date.
Paramount and Warner Bros have really taken a gamble here on giving Nolan full creative control. There is no way that a film like Interstellar would have been green lit if any other director were attached. The project didn’t even make it past Steven Spielberg, who originally signed on to direct but then left once writer Jonathan Nolan had completed the script. We are very fortunate that Nolan is given the freedom to make the films he wants. There hasn’t been a science fiction film this mentally challenging and emotionally enthralling since Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris from way back in 1972. Films like this just don’t get made any more because the budget required to make them is too much of a financial risk to studios. Interstellar has already polarized critics. Tonight’s screening had an equal amount of audiences who loved and hated the film. I’m firmly in the former camp. I’m not going to say I understood everything that happened but I was moved, excited, angered, confused, and I loved every second of it. I can count the amount of times I blinked. Not once did I glance at my watch. In response to the negativity that has surrounded the film, I only have to look back when 2001: A Space Odyssey first premiered. That film also generated an initial mixed response from critics and audiences. Now it’s considered the greatest science fiction film ever made. I have no doubt that the same acclaim awaits Interstellar in due time.
Okay, so what is Interstellar about? Essentially, it takes place in an unspecified future where the Earth is dying. All our resources have dried up thanks to severe dust storms that are simultaneously killing off the human population. Corn is the only stable crop that can be farmed to feed the survivors for now. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former astronaut turned farmer who is rehired by NASA to man a small crew into space to look for a new galaxy that can sustain human life. This is possible due to a wormhole that has mysteriously appeared near Saturn. NASA has already sent several vessels through this wormhole but none of them have returned. Cooper and his crew are tasked to locate the missing vessels and planets with adequate living conditions. If they are unable to return home, their Plan B exists within incubators of human cells that can be grown to colonize these planets while leaving the human race on Earth to die off. Cooper promises his children he will return home to them. This is all you need to know about the plot.
Visually, Interstellar is astounding. Just as Avatar was made to be seen in 3D, Interstellar was made to be seen in IMAX 70mm film. I remember going to the IMAX theatre as a kid to see nature and science documentaries. I remember how lifelike and incredible these documentaries were, particularly the ones in space where footage seemed to be obtained by actually placing a camera on the exterior of a space craft. The scenes in space during Interstellar looked as realistic as those documentaries and I have no idea how Nolan was able to achieve said look. The planets they land on are also incredibly well designed. From a planet filled with tidal waves, an ice world, to a black hole, the film creates a new standard for visual effects.
Matthew McConaughey could very well earn another Oscar nomination for his performance. Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Wes Bentley, and Michael Caine are all perfectly cast in their roles. There are also a few surprise actors who have not been credited in the promotional materials and shall remain a secret here. But the best performance is by 13 year old Mackenzie Foy (The Conjuring) who plays Cooper’s daughter Murphy. She sets the tone for the entire picture and I foresee great opportunities ahead for this young actress.
I love this movie. Christopher Nolan has solidified himself, at least to me, as a great filmmaker whose work will soon be studied for years to come. Interstellar is his most ambitious and most personal film yet. In spite of its science fiction roots, it is a deeply emotional film that explores the reasons behind the decisions we make, and what it really means to love someone. It is a film first and foremost about our humanity and our place in the universe, told in a way that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Suffice to say this is one of the best films of the year and one you need to see over and over again.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan / WRITERS: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan / STARRING: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine / YEAR: 2014 / GENRE: Sci-Fi / COUNTRY: USA / RUNNING TIME: 169 minutes