Movie Review: Interstellar
I am sitting in my seat in the movie theater. Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus sci-fi exploration, moral fable, near three hour head rush Interstellar has just ended. Just as Nolan’s name appears from the blackness on screen a man sitting behind me shifts in his seat, leans back and sighs, “jesus f**king christ.” To many this may seem offensive and uncalled for, but after the wild ride that that man and I and a select few had just experienced, that man summed up everyone’s emotions and current feelings in that three word statement.
Last year, when the first teaser trailer for Interstellar premiered, the internet, as the internet does, took off in a frenzy of hypotheses, assumptions and other rapid fan based chatter. Over the next year the film began to unravel just to quickly tangle itself back into a knot of mystery, intrigue and anticipation. Easily one of the most eagerly awaited movies of the year, if not for Gone Girl or Mockingjay Part 1, Interstellar was riding high on a wave of expectations following Nolan’s previous projects. Nolan has risen to the throne of beloved directors who, in the eyes of their fan’s, can do no wrong. This is obviously false. No director can be perfect just like how any other person can’t be perfect. Everything and everyone around us has flaws. As does Interstellar.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this movie. So much so that the lengthy to-say-the-least running time somehow left me wanting more. However this could also be a bad sign. This is something I have noticed from Nolan’s filmography. His movies are all masterfully produced and show the signs of a truly gifted artist, but they also show signs of someone who may be really good at faking it. He knows the equation to keep audiences engaged. Loud music, tender soft emotion, intense action, breathtaking visuals, and a cryptic story that keeps the watchers watching and the head scratchers scratching. But does having all of this mean that you have a really good movie? No. At least not all the time.
Let’s start at the beginning. We are introduced to our world, some decades in the future. Because of a series of blights, the world is now only able to sustain corn and a few other crops. People farm, are only allowed into college if they have stellar marks, otherwise they become farmers, and dust storms sweep across the country like the occasional breeze. Then we meet Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). An ex-astronaut and current farmer, he leads a family of four. His son Tom (Timothee Chalamet, older version played by Casey Affleck) is a timid teen boy who follows in his father’s footsteps and lives to annoy his sister Murph. So in other words he is most teenage boys. His sister Murph (Mackenzie Foy, played older by Jessica Chastain), or Murphy’s Law (whatever can happen will happen; or whatever can go wrong will go wrong, depending on your outlook), is a rough and tumble little girl who reports weird disturbances in her room, claiming it is a ghost or a “person trying to tell me something,” and their grandfather Donald (John Lithgow) a calm man of composure and reassurance. We find McConaughey, having left his years of engineering and space travel behind, spends his days farming and tracking down the occasional drone every now and then or fixing up the town’s trucks and farming machinery. But one day, after another dust storm and a weird gravitational anomaly that leads then to an underground facility where they are captured and interrogated only to discover it is the hidden remnants of NASA, Cooper learns he will fly again. He reconvenes with his old Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to discuss a project Brand believes could save humankind. Interstellar travel. Manned or unmanned travel between stars. “We weren’t meant to save the planet, we were meant to leave it,” says Brand as he begins to explain his plan to find humanity a new home.
How does he hope to achieve this dream? Traveling through a black hole of course. Normally this would be hard but conveniently someone, or something, has placed a black hole near the rings of Saturn. Once they travel through said black hole, they will end up in another galaxy that hopefully contains at least one planet suitable for human life. From previous missions, three doctors have reported signs of a possible hospitable environment on three separate planets in that other galaxy, and thus begins the grand expedition to the far reaches of our universe that Cooper and co. must complete if they have any wish of saving their loved ones back on Earth. And that is only Plan A.
Also aboard their ship is a frozen cache of embryos. Should Plan A fail, Cooper and co. is to rebuild a human colony wherever they see fit and start their own humanity. That means leaving the world behind, including Cooper’s family who are counting on his survival and return for their own survival. That’s Plan B and Plan C does not exist.
Although, amidst all of this planet hopping, sweeping visuals and Gargantua there is a much simpler lesson to be told. One that revolves around the necessities of love, resilience and to follow one’s heart. The entire story, surprisingly, seems to only have a few lessons to teach the viewer. When all hope is lost, you keep exploring. When one planet proves a waste of time, Cooper and co. goes to another. When one crop dies from the blight, they plant another. When Chris Nolan directs a movie that isn’t long enough, he directs one that’s even longer. Humanity must learn to continue fighting against a struggle so real all possibility seems to fade away with all ambition and courage. And that is what makes Cooper such an amazing character. He is the pure embodiment of perseverance and McConaughey makes sure he is a pure joy to watch on screen. His wry humor and affecting spirit keeps you engaged even when the story forays into ridiculous within the film’s third (out of four total) act.
Anne Hathaway, playing Dr. Brand’s daughter Amelia, is the perfect opposite to Cooper’s strength and fighting spirit. That being said Amelia is not a weak character, far from it, she strives to follow her heart with everything she does, something that Cooper must learn to do. When I initially heard Hathaway was cast, I was apprehensive considering Hathaway seems to be a hit or miss when it comes to worthy performances but she pulled through and turned out to be one of strongest components. Chastain does well with what she is given. Unfortunately all of her scenes are burdened with the bore of being stuck back on Earth away from all the glitz and grandeur of Nolan’s deep space. However she manages to ground the film when necessary and provides a voice of reason amidst the chaos.
It’s grand, it’s impressive, it’s silly, its dramatic and it’s great. Interstellar does more poetically and effectively what Gravity attempted to do in it’s sheepish 90 minute running time. It paints a haunting portrait of where we could be in a few decades but then covers that with a redeeming image of where we could go after that.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Dylan Thomas’ famous villanelle embodies exactly what this movie is trying to say. Push harder, move farther and think bigger. Interstellar may not articulate itself well enough but you cant deny that it’s a sheer pleasure to take in.