Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is a movie about love. It may travel through black holes, light years, and galaxies, but the basic fact that we, as humans, yearn to take care of and love the ones closest to us is the overarching theme. The film is Nolan’s most ambitious yet and is destined to be a divisive commodity among film fans for years to come. It’s deliberate, complicated, emotional, and can’t handle everything it takes on. It also features some of the finest visual effects ever committed to film and is a true cinematic experience.
It’s the near-future and Earth is dying. The population is decreasing and the planet is becoming increasingly uninhabitable. Cooper (McConaughey), a former NASA pilot and engineer, now takes on what most have for survival: farming. He lives with his father, Donald (Lithgow), and two kids, Murph (played by Jessica Chastain as an adult) and Tom (played by Casey Affleck as an adult). One night, through a contrivance that need not concern us, Cooper and Murph discover a secret entryway to NASA headquarters. NASA has become an underground operation (the budget looks intact, however) and has been conducting missions to planets outside our own galaxy in search for any that could be habitable for humans. A new wormhole has opened up near Saturn and the head of NASA, Professor Brand (Caine), is looking to send a group of explorers to check it out. Cooper agrees to go, despite having to leave his family behind, along with Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Hathaway), and a team of scientists.
That’s merely the set-up. Interstellar tackles familial bonds, quantum physics, the cosmos, and time (a Nolan favorite), among others. The majority of the dialogue is character and mission exposition, often with the assistance of a white board. With so many topics on the table, Interstellar is frequently weighed down by its themes and dense, even at times cold, delivery. Characters cry and emote for much of the second and third acts as they face the reality of orbiting in space for years on end, separated from their loved ones. It’s almost as if Nolan is testing the cynicism of his audience and their ability to deal with such huge consequences – humanity dying, essentially.
There’s nothing more infuriating than a space movie that doesn’t show us space. No need to worry here. Nolan often takes us outside the ship, Endurance, for some of the most stunning visual effects ever seen in the medium. Shot in IMAX (there’s no other way to experience this film), we see planets, black holes, and space travel in general as never before. The thunderous sound mix and Hans Zimmer’s intense, sometimes overbearing, score envelope the powerful imagery with the urgency it deserves. It is a feast for the eyes and practically worth admission on its own.
Matthew McConaughey can play these types of every-men in his sleep. He’s fantastic once again here, delivering a multi-layered, protracted performance as a man who feels it to be his duty to help save humanity. A widower who’s constantly fighting the demons involved with leaving his family behind, McConaughey is uncannily skilled at digging deep and conveying the ever-changing emotions Cooper is experiencing. The rest of the characters aren’t nearly as fleshed out. Anne Hathaway spends the majority of the film weeping as realizations about the mission are made and complications arise. Jessica Chastain does what she can with the role of Cooper’s bitter daughter, as does Michael Caine with his signature wise, grandfatherly-type portrayal.
Interstellar is not an easily digestible trip to the movies. It’s full of huge ideas and doesn’t know how to juggle them all. But the elements it does get right are memorable and potent. Its universal, full-circle theme of love across millions of miles resonates above all else. The visuals have to be seen to be believed. Nolan has made a maddeningly ambitious picture designed to challenge our emotions and initiate debate. And he’ll hear it. Flaws and all, Interstellar is a unique, sometimes enthralling, often thoughtful piece of filmmaking from one of our best directors.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 169 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language.
Theatrical Release: November 7, 2014
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Wes Bentley