In the not too distant future it turns out the fall of humanity may not be due to war or alien invasion but low yields of crop and impending mass starvation. Apparently concerned at our plight, some form of otherworldy entity has gifted us a small wormhole in reasonable proximity that opens to another galaxy, close to potentially inhabitable planets. NASA, now operating in secret, has sent explorers to each planet and using that data needs to send another manned mission, its outcome holding the fate of the human race. Through mysterious/synchronous circumstances ex-pilot, Cooper, finds himself in charge of the mission, which, due to unknowable matters of black hole travel and relativity may mean him being separated from his family for much of their lifetimes (though not his), which, it turns out, is just the tip of the iceberg of the troubles he will face.
Due, one assumes, to a penchant for somewhat po-facedness and the third instalment of the Dark Knight trilogy, visionary director, Christopher Nolan, now has his fair share of detractors. Not a position this reviewer can relate to as I am an unashamed fan, but everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and while it’s fine to think what you will about his choice of content you are just wrong to disagree with the fact that he is a master-craftsman of the medium.
Taking the tools available with a blockbuster budget, most especially on his personal projects (The prestige, Inception) he crafts interesting angles of narrative, combines them with mind bending concepts and presents them in a way that is both thought provoking and easy to get along with, using beautiful, well thought out imagery. No mean feat by anyone’s standards.
His latest, Interstellar, co-written with his brother Jonathan, is a perfect accompaniment to his previously mentioned output, integrating all those elements that makes him a master filmmaker; truly one of the best of his generation.
A thematically deep and character hefty sci-fi film of the highest magnitude, Interstellar manages to feel like one of those consequential films of the 70s; taking the down to Earth, character driven, family concerned type film that Spielberg used to excel with in such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and entwining it with the plausible, fact heavy but higher state of consciousness approach pioneered by Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
No doubt 2001 will be the film that it is most compared to, as it is clearly an influence and the most similar film to Interstellar in style and theme. Both films hang around the three-hour mark in running time, they have a similar design aesthetic, insofar as the off-world elements go, and both deal with staggeringly meaningful concepts. The major way they differ though is that where Kubrick saw value in a conclusion that was ambiguous to the point of abstraction, Nolan takes a literal approach, preferring that his audience are right there with him, understanding and deliberating on the piece as it is, not having to worry about if they even understood it in the first place.
As a written story, it’s very impressively put together, its running time being necessary for the sheer number of components it has to juggle. It’s a Nolan film, so there is a twist in narrative approach, in this case it’s a film that starts with a single story, then unexpectedly splits into two which impressively weave themselves back together for a conclusion that is miles away from the kind of film we start out with, all the while separating itself from the Kubrick comparison, replacing clinical coldness of character (a trait Nolan himself is often accused of perpetuating) with a story propelled by character relationships.
There are a few leaps of logic, but this is a case of space travel-time/plot convenience, which I think is fair enough, I mean, who wants dramatic tension ruined by the inconvenient distances of space? The film is also in danger of being rendered ludicrous if science catches up with it; what I mean is, a large portion of the story is dependent of how mysterious a force gravity is (to those who don’t keep up with science news, scientists are still at a loss as to how gravity works in the universe as a force; mathematically it should be much stronger than it is, the fact that it isn’t resulting in numerous theories which are as incredible as any sci-fi you have ever seen). The way the film plays out, if gravity is better understood, the whole thing could be dismissed as being as silly as Starship Troopers or other equally implausible sci-fi films.
At a design level it flits seamlessly from farmer-realism to functional, somewhat low-fi sci-fi to truly breathtaking vistas to the mind-bendingly abstract, in a way that it never calls attention to itself. Also worth mentioning is the sound design, which does a perfect job of juxtaposing the chest rumbling instances of space-launch peril to the stark emptiness of space proper.
Nolan is known for shooting large portions of his movies on IMAX film which gives it a sense of hugeness that’s more immersive than any 3D, but the enhanced sound systems of true IMAX takes it to the next level, making it well worth the effort and expense of seeing it in IMAX.
And then there’s the cast, which is, and excuse the pun, pretty stellar. Mathew McConaghey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck and Topher Grace all show up in roles of various length, and all bring their A game.
Brilliantly executed on all levels, Interstellar, is about as good as intellectual, space-based sci-fi gets. It’s running time and sometimes-meaningful pace may put some people off, but mature cinema attendees should find much to enjoy and chew over. Highly recommended.