(Disclaimer: I’ve been accused of being a Nolan fanboy before, but I’ll do my best to stay objective here.) Christopher Nolan’s latest work departs from the action-packed nature of Dark Knight Rises and Inception, trading dreams for black holes and fist fights for time jumping. There’s the trademark blend of blockbuster and philosophical, and at nearly three hours, it takes a while for the space travel to even take off (zing!). However, the longer segment on Earth is time well spent, and it you can endure the marathon length, there are some great payoffs.
Chris Nolan’s brother Jonah penned the script all the way back in 2008. At the time, he intended somebody like Spielberg to direct, but after his brother’s directorial rise in recent years he was able to take control instead. Basically, the planet has been running out of food/crops ever since The Blight (some sort of parasite) and the subsequent giant dust storms. This is a futuristic world that was thrown back into a situation not unlike the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. So when Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) finds out that there may be a chance off-galaxy to find a new livable world, he joins Emilia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and crew to jump into a black hole near Saturn. So yes, it’s a sci-fi plot, but it attempts to reach for higher themes then your typical sci-fi flick. Are we alone in the universe? What could we have wrong about science? What is mankind destined for, and what should and shouldn’t we sacrifice to get there? And finally, what does love have to do with all this? (Talk about a curveball).
If it sounds a little heavy, it is (and thank goodness for the fair amount of humor included). And some of these themes and elements (especially the time manipulation) cause some logical leaps in the movie. For example, why is Anne Hathaway’s character not decades older than Cooper in the film’s final act? Did the black hole slingshot slow time down for her too? Or heck, the ending is pretty ambiguous, so maybe what we’re shown of her was in the past? Also, the whole “other civilization” thing is sort of an easy way to explain plot developments, but is not fully explained. I don’t need to know everything, but I would have liked to know why Murph was so important to them in the first place.
Potential plot (black) holes aside, let’s get to one of the strongest parts of the movie- the cast. The heart and driving force of the movie is unquestionably Cooper and his daughter Murphy (played very well by both Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain). Their scenes together in the first act of the movie kept the later parts from falling apart. We could believe Cooper’s drive to see them again, and this was a huge source of the film’s emotional impact. It was so effective in fact, that I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at the less-than-ideal way this plot was resolved. I’m not saying it was a negative; I just like happier endings, okay? It was a huge surprise to me when Matt Damon showed up near the third act, and kudos to them for keeping it a secret from most of the audience. His portrayal of Dr. Mann effectively sold that he had lost a few screws up there during isolation. The fact that he was Matt Damon distracted a little, especially considering the initial surprise of such a big actor appearing out of nowhere. I may have complained about the ambiguity of Anne Hathaway’s final state, but she carried her weight as Brand, somehow selling us on her love for a man we never physically see. Finally, it’s always nice to see Michael Caine in a Nolan project, but I wish he had a little more to work with during his shorter screen time. Topher Grace and John Lithgow must have just wanted to be in a Nolan film, because their parts were so small I barely had time to notice them.
The musical score (once again by the great Hans Zimmer) and special effects were top-notch. My serious advice is to see it in IMAX, because I did not (yet). Nolan loves using those rare, expensive cameras, and around a whole hour of this space epic was shot with IMAX cameras. Besides the spectacle, I could have also benefited from the superior speakers in an IMAX theater. The speakers in my auditorium were so janky some higher musical moments were all but ruined. Hopefully this isn’t widespread but there have been some reports of faulty sound experiences.
To sum this all up, Interstellar is a deeply introspective film that trades the action and pizazz of Inception or Dark Knight Rises for an emotional and philosophical sci-fi journey through the stars. You’ll laugh, you’ll tear up, and you’ll definitely look up the plot explanation later just to figure out everything that was happening. But that’s a typical Nolan movie, right? Because of the slower pace, it lacks the re-watch potential of some of his other movies, but this is one trip you don’t want to miss.