Thursday, November 13, 2014

Interstellar Review

(dir. Christopher Nolan)

Paramount/Warner Bros.

“Our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.”

     There are very few modern directors who can grapple with grand ideas on such a massive scale as Christopher Nolan. His newest film shows no suspension in his ambition, and while it’s not as readily digestible or quantifiably thrilling as his last few films, Interstellar offers some of Nolan’s most interesting ideas yet. Set in a future where Earth is beset by massive dust storms and blight has destroyed most crops, Interstellar follows a group of scientists as they enter a wormhole to another galaxy to search for a new home for humanity. It’s a film that is just as much a look at who we are as human beings at this moment as it a look towards the future of humanity’s evolution. Interstellar is also an evolution for Nolan as a director, and while it distinctly feels like ‘A Christopher Nolan Film’, he’s clearly shrugging off the notion that he is more concerned with ideas than people. Interstellar may be his weightiest and most scientifically minded film, but it’s also his most warmly human.

     There’s not a weak link in the entire cast, and though some of the actors don’t get as much screentime as I’d have liked to see, they all turn out memorable performances. Matthew McConaughey’s performance as father, and pilot Cooper is emotionally engrossing and he provides the beating heart of the film. Considering how unenthused I was when he was first cast in this film, it’s astounding to see how a string of performances over the last few years have completely sold me on his talent. Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain both do an excellent job fleshing out Cooper’s strong-willed daughter Murphy. Anne Hathaway’s layered-portrayal of scientist Amelia Brand also stands out as one of the best performances in the film. Christopher Nolan has been criticized before on the portrayal of women as plot devices in his films, but it should be noted that the most intelligent, and courageous characters in Interstellar are women.

     Nolan’s directorial skills are once again imaginatively innovative. The use of practical effects and miniatures really add a sense of realism to the space sequences. Before seeing the film, I was disappointed about cinematographer, Wally Pfister’s absence (especially since the reason for that absence was Transcendence) but Hoyte van Hoytema did such a beautiful job with both the earthbound and space scenes, that I’m torn about who I want to work with Nolan on his next film. Hans Zimmer also provides one of his best scores in years, a classically beautiful and haunting departure from the brassy and booming soundtracks he’s provided over the last decade. Though Interstellar has drawn many critical comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, I think it’s a disservice to both films to look at them in the same light. While Nolan clearly pays homage at times, his film tackles a different angle. No director can contend with Stanley Kubrick, and I think to fully appreciate what Nolan has to offer, it’s best to look at Interstellar in the context of his own filmography.

     The story, which Christopher Nolan worked on with his brother Jonathan and physicist Kip Thorne, is engaging, though it offers too many details and scientific jargon at times. This, however is not a fault of the film, but a reminder of my own scientific ignorance. I wonder if some of the film’s negative reactions stem from the fact that the film has a way of reminding us of how little we know. I think there are some, though certainly not all, who would rather feel intelligent by patting themselves on the back for understanding watered-down and apparent concepts than to admit what they don’t know and seek out or imagine answers. There is an interesting debate to be had about how much work a script should do for the audience and how much the film can extend beyond the screen. With Interstellar, Nolan is asking us to think, to learn, and to explore. I appreciate the fact that the writers of this film refused to go easy on us, and instead of feeling frustrated, Interstellar only peaked my curiosity. The emotions the film plays with, love in particular, is understandable at any level and it certainly pulls on the heart-strings. It’s a film working on two levels, and while the scientific and emotional do not always even out, they give the film an interesting texture.

     If you have the opportunity to see the film as Nolan intended on 70mm IMAX, I strongly encourage you to make that choice. It’s one of the most breathtaking theatrical experiences I’ve had. While the special effects are stunning (particularly that initial trip through the wormhole and a third act “set piece” that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen) Interstellar is not summer movie sci-fi (that’s not a criticism or commendation). You’re not getting large action sequences or space battles or alien creatures. Instead you’re getting science-fiction that you have to work for. Some of the film’s criticism is understandable and well-thought out, and despite my grade, Interstellar is not without its flaws. But I’m personally attracted to a surplus of big ideas that don’t always fully land because so few films actually even attempt to function on that level. It’s been nearly a week since I first saw the film, and I still can’t shake it. Interstellar deals with massive concepts and while it offers too much to properly digest the first go around (or even the second), how many big-budget films actually leave you wrestling with heavy questions and a desire to seek out more? 

Grade: A+


  1. Excellent review. I loved this movie; it had its flaws, but Nolan stuck to his vision and sold it with aplomb. The visuals were astounding, and the performances were fantastic.