With Interstellar, the brilliant Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight, Inception) has created his most ambitious movie yet, as he explores the deep edges of space, with a multiplex of philosophical thoughts, scientific linguistics and heavy questions about existentialism and love.
Set in the distant future, our world is all but dead. Never fully explained, we understand an environmental crisis has turned our infrastructure upside down, as dust storms ravage the planet. Government seems to be fading away, where the military has been dismantled and school books revised to suit the current political climate – kids are thought that the moon landing was faked to assure nobody questions the resource management that has led to these conditions.
There is of course a lot more to both the narrative and overall theme of the movie than I describe here, but I wholeheartedly believe you should go in knowing as little as possible.
In a desperate last attempt to save our race, a downsized NASA has explored a black hole close to Saturn and found a few planets they deem viable for colonisation. The only problem is, none of the ten previous shuttles have returned. With just enough information transmitted back to earth, they collect a small group of scientists to cross the black hole and find the best suitable planet. Among them is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a NASA pilot turned corn farmer as a result of a crash caused by a strange gravitational anomaly. Travelling with him is Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romily (David Gyasi), and a strange robot called TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin). They set across our universe, and when they hit the black hole, Nolan proves once again why he is one of the best directors working in Hollywood today.
It is a stunning sequence, and unlike anything you’ve seen before. This is a movie filled with these moments of pure awe and inspiration, as so many elements collide to form an undeniably impressive movie. While I had not seen a single trailer for the movie (I closed my eyes and ears when it played pre-Fury last month) I didn’t believe those who drew parallels to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I am happy and shocked to swallow my own words.
As I said initially this is Nolan’s most ambitious movie yet, but sadly, there is a “however” to follow now. However, with this ambition comes the horrible and unavoidable problem we’ve all come to know as, time. There is simply not enough time to contain everything Nolan tries to express in a single movie. He stretches too far in an attempt to talk about human philosophy, the aspect of love within our race, our existentialism and tons upon tons of exposition about the scientific nature of the mission and cause of our heroes. Some things are set aside to make room for others, a few characters a criminally under-utilized, and it is painfully apparent that Nolan got a hard fist in the face towards the end, as things seems a bit rushed.
Another small issue is Nolan’s inexperience of brining true warmth to the more emotional and heartfelt scenes in his movies. While this is his most successful effort on this front yet, it comes across as overly sentimental at times. Personally I don’t have an issue with hugely sentimental movies, but Nolan struggles to make it feel authentic within the confines of the movie. Matthew McConaughey does play his emotional scenes very well – one in particular, when he’s looking through messages from his children – but when Nolan tries to force sentimentality and emotions into a scene filled with somewhat dodgy philosophy, it all ends up feeling vey meandering.
However (!) this does not make Interstellar a bad movie. Quite the opposite, it is cinematic brilliance. Because in just short of three hours it manages to comment, and make quite a few interesting observations, on everything I mentioned above. Love, especially. Even with the somewhat meandering philosophies presented throughout the movie, it never takes away from the technical masterpiece that is delivering some of the most intense and beautiful science fiction-scenes of all time. A tear fell from my cheek as one scene in particular had such a ferociousness to it that I could not contain myself. Simply a single shot of a ship in space trying “an impossible maneuver”, to say as little as possible.
Because of this, there will be made quite a few comparisons to last years science fiction-vista, Gravity, but these comparisons are completely baseless. Gravity was a audiovisual masterpiece, and presented a powerful statement about life, death and birth for those who analysed it – or saw the fairly obvious visual motives throughout the movie. Where Gravity is personal and intimate, Interstellar is epic from beginning to end, where a small group of people try to give humanity one last chance. It’s difficult to explain how and why, but Nolan manages to steer clear of most of the clichés within this genre (humanities last hope lies with a few), and earns the comparison to 2001: A Space Odyssey, because Interstellar is without a doubt, the most epic and grand scale science fiction-movie since Stanley Kubricks masterpiece.
One would believe enough has been said about Matthew McConaughey over the past few years, but with Interstellar he deserves recognition beyond “he is as good as he has been in the recent past”. He outshines everyone, from the somewhat uninspired Anne Hathaway, to the under-utilized Jessica Chastain (who plays a role I will not spoil, though it is obvious early on). Even Michael Caine feels like little more than a road block to get back to the brilliance that is McConaughey, but with Caine it feels more like the problem lies with the structure and editing of the movie, and not with the man himself. A longer director’s cut would be highly appreciated.
As he did with dreams in Inception, Nolan uses the unknown in Interstellar as an excuse to form a story we cannot really critique for being unrealistic or false, because he doesn’t try to prove anything scientifically. He uses these free form arenas to create epic cinematic stories that our minds does not believe, but still understand within the universe of which it takes place. While it at times feels meandering and dead on arrival in the movie, Nolan still opens a window onto a vast philosophical landscape through a Hollywood blockbuster, and even with its few issues, it ends up feeling fresh, ambitious and powerful.