There is everything that you will love about Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, a richly human sci-fi epic that will stay with you long after you've exited the theater and driven home and, just perhaps, gazed out upon a neighboring field or yard or neighborhood and see it through a different sort of lens.
You will love the awe-inspiring wholeness of Interstellar, a simultaneously tragic yet magnificent universe of universes beyond anything you've ever quite imagined. You will love the transcendent lensing of Hoyte Van Hoytema that turns Interstellar into one of those rare films that truly must be experienced in nothing but 70mm IMAX. You will love the story even with all its quirks and flaws and melodrama. You will love the science, even in those times when liberty is taken with relativity and even in those times when you are sitting in your seat mumbling to yourself "I don't completely understand, but wow."
It seems appropriate that Interstellar, which has also picked up Heartland Film's Truly Moving Picture Award, is a wondrously magical yet flawed film because it is about a wondrously magical yet flawed universe where science and belief fitfully yet necessarily co-exist. The film begins at a point in what seems to be the not so distant future, a time when Earth has been nearly decimated by apparent environmental abuse and neglect coupled with a society now more bent on surviving than thriving. We meet the widower Cooper (McConaughey), a former NASA test pilot whose meager existence now is earned as a farmer for a world where corn is the only crop that will survive. Cooper lives in a ramshackle house with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and two children, 15-year-old Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and 10-year-old Murphy (Mackenzie Foy). Tom seems content with a life of farming, but Murphy possesses her father's inquisitive and feisty spirit, a spirit her school tries to squelch.
With his film running nearly three hours, Nolan takes his time establishing the world in which those on Earth now eke out an existence with the threat of annihilation always nearby. With an almost peaceful sense of morbidity, Cooper and Murphy stumble late one evening into what is left of NASA, an agency long since left behind since the world is now more concerned about life on Earth than life beyond it. It is headed up by Cooper's old boss, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who is served loyally by daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and a host of others who will become central to the task into which Cooper is called - to discover a new world to colonize either through plan A, transporting those on Earth to said discovered region, or plan b, genetically starting over. Cooper and Dr. Amelia Brand are joined by Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) along with TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin), a former military robot turned expedition companion and cinematic comic relief.
To explain the film any further feels unjust to the cause of experience it. Interstellar will most assuredly have its naysayers and, for the most part, I expect most of its awards season applause to come in technical categories, but it is a film that far outshines last season's Oscar-bait flick Gravity by leaps and bounds in nearly every way. There will be some tempted to compare Interstellar to 2001: A Space Odyssey or, perhaps more appropriately, 2010, though either comparison is truly only rudimentary in construction. While Nolan's influences are at times obvious in the film, Interstellar is neither a space opera nor a sci-fi/fantasy flick but instead one of the purest and most thought-provoking sci-fi films to come into theaters in quite some time. As an added bonus, it is also one of Nolan's most deeply felt and emotionally resonant films even if those emotions are, at times, presented with the clunkiness of a space Yugo.
While I will confess that I had my doubts about McConaughey going into this film, he has once again proven himself to be twice the actor that Hollywood was allowing him to be until the last couple years. There are two scenes, in particular, where McConaughey's raw vulnerability and ability to embrace both internal and external stillness adds up to some of the most extraordinarily satisfying scenes you could possibly expect from a film that for the most part is epic in nature. Among the females, it is young Mackenzie Foy, as 10-year-old Murphy, who shines the brightest with a performance that is intimate and honest and brilliant all rolled into one. Anne Hathaway is good but saddled with some of the film's clunkiest dialogue, though Jessica Chastain, as the adult Murphy, also shines.
There are times when Interstellar, which Nolan co-wrote with his brother Jonathan, stretches farther than he needs to and weaves in unnecessary action or uncomfortably awkward threads of intimacy and love that go nowhere. A not entirely unexpected appearance by a familiar face about midway through the film feels almost jarring and disruptive to the film's aura, while Casey Affleck, as the elder Tom, seems to be acting in an entirely different movie altogether. While most of my professional peers seem to have appreciated the presence of TARS, I found it to be not much more than a mildly effective novelty.
These quibbles, however, are modest at best and they seem almost inevitable in a three-hour film with such grand ambitions and intent. Christopher Nolan has never been one to shy away from reaching for the highest star and, in this case, the highest star is really, really high. Interstellar is a technical marvel, though in the screening I attended it was marred at least modestly by what was either an issue with the theater's audio balance or whoever finalized the sound mix decided that Hans Zimmer's swooping original score was occasionally more important than the actual dialogue.
With a Christopher Nolan film, it's almost always true that one expects to be, at least on some level, completely blown away by the experience. While I was immersed in the universe of Interstellar, I didn't find it to be quite the soul-rattling experience that I'd expected and ultimately hoped I'd experience.
Scientists will debate, theologians will contemplate, philosophers will wonder, and cinema lovers will simply bask in the glory of another remarkable Christopher Nolan achievement. While flawed, Interstellar is still a film to be experienced and a film that simply must be experienced amongst other moviegoers on the biggest screen you can find.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic