Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Jonathan Nolan , Christopher Nolan,
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
There is no question that we live in the era of the blockbuster. Big movies with even bigger explosions full of larger than life characters, and while those films tend to offer a high level of entertainment they rarely if ever challenge audiences to think outside their norm. One of the few directors today that still makes thought provoking high budget films is Christopher Nolan. His latest, Interstellar may be his most ambitious project yet. It is as if he attempted to take Stanley Kubrick’s infamous 2001: A Space Odyssey and give it a narrative framework of Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If anyone could pull off such a feat it would be Nolan, unfortunately even he is unable to completely tame the massive beast that he created.
It tells the story of a near future where Earth is quickly becoming uninhabitable. Most crops have gone extinct causing a Dust Bowl of global proportions. With little chance of turning the planet around hope for the future of humanity is found in the stars. A wormhole has opened near the planet of Saturn that might just lead to humankind’s new home. The questions become who put it there and who is brave enough to make the journey?
Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper one of the astronauts who has been selected for this nearly impossible mission. After one of the best years any actor could ask for McConaughey has caused expectations to be raised. Considering that it is difficult not to be disappointed with his final result. He works wonderfully as the emotional father torn between his love for his family and his duty to do his part to save the world. Specifically there is a moment where he witnesses the grave effects of relativity before his very eyes. It was a heartbreaking scene and his reaction will cause you to yearn to comfort him. When he is asked to play the part of genius level scientist he stumbles. Never does the techno jargon he is spewing out sound convincing. Ultimately the biggest issue with his performance is the fact the film is so plot heavy he is never given a full opportunity to do more than drive the story forward.
Interstellar develops into an amalgamation of Christopher Nolan’s best qualities as well as some of his very worst. He alongside his brother Jonathan Nolan he wrote a screenplay that evokes wonder but also gets lost in its own intricate design. Small tidbits like a lone Air Force drone finding its way to Earth or the apparent presence of a ghost in Cooper’s daughter’s room slowly build an intriguing mystery that appears unsolvable, and it is the attempt to solve that mystery that causes the screenplay to lose a great deal of believability.
Nolan is asking Kubrickian questions but giving Spielbergian answers. As mentioned there is a heavy influence from 2001: A Space Odyssey but while that film was thematically complex it was systemically simple. Giving you moments to both breath and think. Most importantly when you are approaching such high level questions that analyze the fundamental qualities of humanity’s existence trying to give quantifiable answers leads you to craft a story that is unabashedly convoluted. It’s like giving someone a challenging essay question but allowing them to answer by using multiple choice. There is no room left from ambiguous ideas.
One of Nolan’s best attributes has always been his knack for visual storytelling. Whether it’s flipping a fully loaded semi on the streets of Gotham or having an intense throw down in the middle of a spinning room in Inception, you always have a good chance of seeing something like you have never seen before on-screen. Interstellar is no different as it brings us a unique vision of what the unknown fabrics of space could look like—a vision that has worlds with waves as tall as mountains and gravity so intense hours on it become a lifetime on Earth. Similar to Gravity last year there are times where it brings you in to such an extent it makes you feel a part of the experience. When people ask why bother seeing movies in the theater or why bother with something like IMAX the visual spectacle that is Interstellar can be your rebuttal to their complaint.
One of the more intriguing concepts was how it incorporated the effects relativity. Almost like a real life version of time travel but instead of a flux capacitor gravity is the key component that makes it possible. Never has the theory be approached in such a manner in film. Trying to quantify the space-time continuum in a realistic Science Fiction epic is a feat by itself. You could easily devote the entire film to that one idea. The problem it is one small piece in a gigantic puzzle. Every time you get close to putting it together Nolan smashes it into even smaller pieces by adding another layer. With multiple storylines taking place during multiple time periods it is difficult to get invested into anything. The visuals welcome you to be a participant, but the narrative keeps you at arm’s length making you just an observer.
When you have a cast that includes the aforementioned Matthew McConaughey, Ann Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, and one of the most surprising cameos in recent memory you would think there would be ample opportunity for some impacting performances. Those opportunities are few and far between as the real focal point here is on Nolan and surprisingly enough composer Hans Zimmer. On face value Zimmer’s score is much more subdued than his more bombastic work for Nolan in the past. The issue is it so overused it transforms into white noise. At times you need to do your best to ignore it as it drowns out vital dialog. It was unrelenting to the point of exhaustion.
I have to admit Interstellar is a challenging film to critique. Not because of the convoluted plot, but rather because its failures are far more compelling than the greatest successes of a movie like Transformers or other high budget franchise films that fill today’s theaters. So what it does well can get ignored in what you wished it did better. Much of the frustration could be caused by Christopher Nolan finally becoming a victim of his own success. Insurmountable expectations combined with wildly ambitious film making nearly always leads to disappointment. Still, Interstellar is the A+ student giving C+ execution. A movie that should be seen by all, just know it may not be as great as you want it to be.