Director Christopher Nolan Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, Bill Irwin
Complexity in cinema is like a trapeze, a tedious balancing act and should you slip the fall is a very long one. Losing your audience with a lack of comprehension is detrimental to a successful film, and it’s near impossible to win them back. Interstellar walks this very thin line, and at times it looks as though it’s about to go over yet manages to stand strong.
There are many reasons to like this film, but it has its issues. However, the lesser aspects of this film are excused in favor of some stunning visual aspects, inventive concepts and production designs, and a score you will not soon forget. In theory this is everything you would want in an epic drama, but putting it into practice is something different, and Interstellar proves that even the best of us can struggle at times.
When you’re dealing with wormholes, black holes, and space-time it’s beyond difficult to bring these concepts to screen without some things going over your head. In this regard Interstellar trips, but thankfully it never falls.
Set in the non-too-descriptive future, planet earth is suffering from what’s known as blight, and mankind is on the brink of extinction, most living their lives focused on survival. It’s in this time we meet Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA test pilot and engineer who’s been reduced to that of a corn farmer now that the focus of humanity is on things closer to home.
Cooper’s daughter, Murphy (McKenzie Joy), has been attempting to communicate with a ghost that haunts their bookcase; something Cooper challenges her to explain scientifically. During a dust-storm over the farm Murph and Cooper witness dust settling on the floor similar to that of gravitational waves, and with a newfound joy blindly follows the message into the wilderness. It’s on this trip he meets Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) who doesn’t seem too pleased about anything, ever, before being reunited with his former professor and Amelia’s father, Dr. Brand (Michael Caine).
Only minutes after illegally entering a top secret installation Cooper is, for some reason, privy to highly sensitive information and offered the keys to a space shuttle on a two year trip to Saturn, and then through a worm hole into distant space to survey three potentially habitable planets for human relocation. Leaving on bad terms with Murph and handing his farm over to his son Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and grandfather-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), he drives away from the scene looking as though someone has hit him over the back of the head and knocked him senseless. He departs earth shortly afterwards.
Cooper’s journey into the unknown moves forward on theoretical physics, which could have easily weighed it down, succinctly and shockingly demonstrating time dilation with a visit to one planet located a little too close to the black hole Gargantuan, and aptly detailing which planets are capable of sustaining human life and why. There’s risks involved left, right, and centre as they move from planet to planet, and a nice plot twist involving Mann (Matt Damon), a member of an earlier mission through the worm-hole, as well as the great action that follows, including the highlight of the picture; Cooper attempting to dock the Lander spacecraft with the out of control Endurance. Accompanied by the amazing score this scene is enthralling. It was only the subplot back on earth that I felt never picked up the pace. Murph (Jessica Chastain) is now working with Prof. Brand, trying to solve an equation that would allow the human race to travel into space en masse, in between episodes of crying and denying she cares about her father while basing her entire existence around his absence. Tom (Casey Affleck) is simply a liaison between Cooper and planet earth, and Prof. Brand really doesn’t do all that much other than what’s necessary to move the plot forward.
Running low on fuel an impossible choice is made that will ensure the mission is success, with Cooper making a very final decision in that regard. This is where things become in-depth. I admittedly had to do some extra-curricular Googling in order to truly understand what happens to Cooper, and it was because of this I felt that the use of theoretical physics and the fifth dimension, though fascinating, cramped the final act. Cooper is introduced to a whole new world that wraps everything up in a nice little package and sets out into the depths of the unknown once more.
Cooper is meant to be this everyman trying to make ends meet on the fields of corn, just like us. Only, he’s not like us, because he’s a former NASA test pilot and engineer. He even challenges Murph to explain the ghost in the bookcase using science, just to remind us he’s not your everyday man.
With his wife having died after MRI’s were taken out of use he feels he’s lost something to this new world and can no longer identify with it. He doesn’t belong so he’s aimlessly looking for a meaning to his existence. On top of that, since he never had his chance to go into a space, a longing still in his heart, his true abilities as a pilot and engineer needn’t be utilized. It’s a life he loathes but begrudgingly accepts as his own while he takes out his contempt for the state of the world around him on his children’s high-school teachers.
He’s not the most likeable character, seeming to value his own self-worth over his family as he’s convinced, far too easily, to leave knowing he may never return. We see him conflicted with his want to return to his family over completing the mission while standing in judgment of others for personal interests influencing their decisions. Meanwhile he orders all others around as if he’s a veteran astronaut, and speaks of love as if he didn’t just leave his family at the first opportunity.
Matthew McConaughey has been a revelation as an actor, and he’s really good in this movie, making Cooper more of a likeable person than what we’re presented with, as well as helping us forget about the inconsistencies with Cooper as a person, but there were moments that were a bit too reminiscent of his more recent performances when I was hoping he’d be a bit more dynamic with his acting. Overall, however, he does a great job keeping things together and flowing nicely.
After that, however, the characters depth drops off dramatically. Amelia is there purely to question Cooper’s true motives, and somehow develop a friendship with him while showing very little joy and having, overall, quite a dull and uninteresting personality. Anne Hathaway was her usual solid self, and I don’t think there’s any such thing as a bad performance from her, but this isn’t a memorable role. I felt no chemistry between her and McConaughey, which meant making emotional investment difficult.
The relationship between Cooper & Murph came across as hollow. Apart from chasing a drone and her stowing away in his truck we don’t really see much father-daughter interaction between the two, and because of this you don’t buy their tragic circumstances. You simply can’t make an emotional bond between two people when they spend the majority of the film separated. Jessica Chastain is the only member of the supporting cast given any opportunity to develop something, but even with her talents she struggles.
The rest of the cast don’t have enough consistent screen time to portray their already lacking characters effectively. Michael Caine’s Prof. Brand is a tool used to get Cooper into space, and the same goes for Casey Affleck; he’s simply there because the script needs him to be, the relationship between Cooper & Tom is pretty much ignored. The other two aboard the spaceship Endurance, Romilly (David Gyasi), and Doyle (Wes Bentley), are simply pawns in the game, and the class act that is John Lithgow is criminally underused here.
The world is vague. We don’t know the year, how or why mother earth is falling apart, with only fleeting references to the world outside of these people and their mission, so we rely more on the characters to carry the story and pip our interest. They don’t.
The Making Of
Nobody can ever doubt the passion the Nolan brothers have for the work they do. Screenwriter Johnathan spent four years on the script, studying relativity at the California Institute of Technology, and their track record is surpassed by none. This latest outing is no different to any of their others, for all the right and wrong reasons. Every piece is criticized, and it’s warranted, but you forgive them knowing that these little errors are not due to unprofessional or amateur practice but sort of embraced as a part of the finished result.
The film has two main settings: earth and space. The parallels between this future world and the dust bowl is not lost on me; the footage of people reminiscing about life in these times is actual testimony from those who lived during the dust bowl, and the presentation all over is that of rural United States during those uncertain times, the only major difference is the technology and space exploration involved. The scope involved is nowhere near big enough, as it focuses purely on this little area of the U.S and only makes fleeting references to the rest of the world, but space is where this film develops a perspective for the viewer. Rather than focus on the known world they instead shift to what lies beyond. Planet earth is a lost cause so there’s no need to revisit, making the idea of space travel, and the success of their mission, even more important.
The theories used, based on the research of Kip Thorne, are the lifeblood of the story, as without it you’ve got people in spacesuits bouncing around the galaxy for reasons unknown, but its inclusion is at the cost of other vital parts that make a film tick. Characters fall to the wayside in order to explain these theories and strategies. Hell, a couple of characters are there just so they can explain what’s being discussed, and offer little else. But this is soon forgotten about as the story picks up pace and changes form once again.
Production designer Nathan Crowley’s three spacecraft creations; Endurance, the Ranger, and the Lander, are unique, and the two robots, TARS and CASE, are also used wisely with the script and voice acting. This gives the film its own life, separate from other films that may have similarities, playing a huge part in making Interstellar what it is.
Hans Zimmer has outdone himself this time. The music he has created compliments everything, and while it may be present a little too often, as is against the grain with movies today, it doesn’t override the scenes. The score used in the Lander / Endurance docking scene was marvelous. Enough said.
Finally, the visual effects companies Double Negative and New Deal Studios. The former created the effects before filming so the actors didn’t have to work using green screens, and the latter built actual miniatures of the spacecraft in collaboration with Crowley, though miniatures is a misnomer considering the Endurance model spanned twenty-five feet, the Ranger forty-six, and the Lander fifty-feet, large enough to mount IMAX cameras.
Complex. This is Interstellar. Christopher Nolan has always been adventurous and this has his signature all over it. What it lacks is made up for in other ways, and kudos alone for traversing almost three hours without the film dragging or ending later than necessary. Certain aspects are a let-down, and there’s a paradox that’s never addressed for convenience, but having said that it is an amazing ride never before made in a way quite like this. Seeing it in the cinema is definitely getting bang for your buck as, at such length, who knows how many second viewings it’ll get, and the visual scope can only be appreciated on the big screen. But that’s how Christopher Nolan envisions his work; they’re big and epic, great dives into the unknown, just like space.
7 of 10