Ambition in terms of plot and aesthetic is something that is far too rare a quality in movies these days.
In fact, it is usually for the benefit of jaw-dropping visuals and technical prowess that such qualities like plot are sacrificed. 2013’s Gravity, for example, reached a new tier of excellence with Alfonso Cuaron’s out of this world (ha) cinematography, but it was devoid of substance. For some reason people, and the Academy, was fine with that (this reviewer not included).
Thankfully we have Christopher Nolan, one of the most dependable directors of our time, the genius behind The Prestige, Inception, and the modern Dark Knight trilogy. Not only does he set out to create a visually stunning picture, but, like he does so well, he infuses that spectacle with his ability to create leverage in the form of pathos. Actual stakes. Emotion.
It is that quality, which is more obvious and ominous in Interstellar than in any of Nolan’s previous pictures, that will make it a polarizing picture with audiences.
Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a one-time astronaut and engineer who could never utilize his skills because of the world he lives in.
And that world, and the race that inhabits it, is barren. Running on crops, primarily corn, the ominous threat of extinction hanging over everyone’s heads. Farmers are sustaining humanity, and NASA is gone.
Or so we think, until Cooper is chosen to lead mankind’s last, best chance of survival. By exploring the final frontier.
Scope is never something one has to worry about with a Nolan film. The man is as ambitious as Lucas and Spielberg and Interstellar is no different.
The element people need to worry about is how much they will be disgruntled by the mechanics at play in Interstellar. As with The Prestige and Inception, it will take multiple viewings of the film to sometimes understand how the heck the plot sometimes got from A to B. In a primary viewing they will have to be satisfied with 1 + 2 = B.
But that’s okay, because Nolan’s films have always had a mystical air about them. Interstellar is more sci-fi than anything he’s done, so leaving some things to the imagination will do.
And that is absolutely what one will have to do to fully appreciate what Nolan has crafted. At the center of Interstellar, a story about essentially the looming apocalypse, is the relationship Cooper maintains with his daughter, Murph. Even as Interstellar voyages beyond where no man (and few filmmakers) has gone before, with planets and black holes and wormholes seemingly taking center stage, the stakes of that relationship are always at large.
The payoff, unfortunately, depends on how much the viewer cares about those stakes. Some will be left awed by the way Nolan uses the father-daughter relationship dynamic, and the ways he uses emotion at the core of Interstellar.
Others still will see the movie as leaving something to be desired. That’s okay because the movie is still as close to a roller coaster ride as any coming out in 2014.
Nolan has used emotional appeal before, usually as subplots or mechanics in his previous films. Never before has it become so much a part of what drives the work as Interstellar. It’s a subjective technique, and subjectivity will ultimately determine how the viewer handles it.
Parts that make up the whole
Interstellar features one of the best ensemble casts of the year, especially given its blockbuster status. McConaughey
(Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective) continues his McConaissance as a formidable, Oscar-winning drama actor. Whether he is down to Earth (literarily and figuratively) or fighting for the survival of the human race, he is captivating and you can’t root against him.
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) and Mackenzie Foy (The Conjuring) both excel as Murph, and Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, The Dark Knights Rises) gives one of her more jarring performances excluding Les Mis.
Their supporting cast is just as dynamic. The always-reliable Michael Caine (the Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige, Inception) is still the grandfather we always wanted, and Casey Affleck (I’m Still Here, Good Will Hunting) and John Lithgow (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Love Is Strange) put in commendable turns.
In all honesty, each member of the cast who has substantial dialogue deserves a kudos for having to reach deep into their emotional ranges at some point or another. They all succeed, and the film even more so because of them.
There’s nothing more to say about the visual aesthetic other than this is absolutely Christopher Nolan at work. The visuals are jaw-dropping, more arresting that Gravity, while at the same time conveying that there is so much more at stake.
Inception’s famous BRAAAAAAHHHHHMMMMMSSS have been replaced by organs that sound like they’re being played by gods, and it results in a score that is just as chilling. The ambience accompanying the crew’s voyage is nothing short of majestic at some points.
As far as directing, Nolan once again reminds us why his style is so instantly recognizable. His combination of practical and visual effects, as well as the aforementioned use of emotional appeal and cinematography, makes this a Nolan work of grand proportions.
It’s a sci-fi tale to be sure, and a beautifully terrifying one. The things Cooper and company go through make Sandra Bullock’s romp in Gravity look like a vacation. And it’s all due to Nolan’s attention to detail. He knows how to get under the skin of the audience – and here he does it by isolating them as far away as anyone has ever been.
In a Nutshell
In the same way as Interstellar’s protagonists must cope with multiple dimensions of space and time to accomplish their mission, the audience also needs to find the perfect way to synergize film’s many dimensions: plot, emotional appeal, visual aesthetic.
Either way, it’s a ride to be experienced, and in IMAX if possible.
9.0 / 10 or You thought Gravity was good? Pshhhhhhhhh.