Nolan’s Sci-fi epic may be a little farfetched but it successfully and powerfully tells a story of the importance of human endeavour while asking the viewer important philosophical questions about the human species.
I’m going to keep spoilers to a minimum here.
Nolan has never been one to shy away from big questions and big ideas and Interstellar is, thankfully, no exception. The film is set sometime in the future of the 21st century where the future of the human species is in genuine jeopardy. Pretty much everyone, regardless of qualifications or skill-set, is a farmer, desperately trying to produce enough food to keep the species alive. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is one such person, a qualified NASA pilot and engineer who spends his days farming corn while living with his farther-in-law (John Lithgow) and two children, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet). When strange events are noticed by Cooper and Murphy, they find temselves stumbling upon Professor Brand (Michael Caine), Cooper’s old professor, who has secretly rebuilt NASA with the objective of maintaining the survival of the human race on another planet. Cooper is joined by fellow astronauts Brand (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi) to voyage through a wormhole in search of habitable planets.
Nolan is a filmmaker who doesn’t do simple. He doesn’t just turn up and make a film. He pushes the boundaries a little further with each film. Whether that’s visually, in terms of the plot devices he uses or in the questions he asks the audience. He’s a visionary and that’s perhaps never been more apparent than in 2014’s Interstellar. As with a lot of his work, Nolan uses twists and surprise incredibly effectively and manages to achieve such depth and complexity in his story without it feeling overstuffed. It’s something he is a master at.
Interstellar is a sci-fi epic and the cinematography is there to prove it. It’s a stunning film. The visuals are incredible and imaginative. If any film was made for the big screen, it’s this one. Hans Zimmer’s score compliments this beautifully.
There’s no sci-fi without science and the beginning of the film feels very grounded, very logical. Everything’s explained in a rational way to the audience. Again, it’s another thing Nolan is great at. Making something that’s unrealistic or even impossible to feel very real. You almost find yourself asking why we haven’t discovered wormholes and why we aren’t sending frozen embryos into space to colonise foreign planets. This film doesn’t take anything for granted. Nolan doesn’t assume things, it feels like he’s got all the bases covered in terms of the science. It does, at least try, to ask scientific or at least philosophical questions about what is possible. It asks “What would happen if…”. It uses scientific theory ingeniously to ask important moral and philosophical questions.
However, there’s a point where this, for me, goes a bit off the rails. Nolan seems to throw the rulebook that’s been applied to the rest of the film out of the window to explore some more abstract ideas. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know what I mean. It wasn’t well explained, nor did it feel like the filmmakers knew how they would explain it, even if they could. It felt jarring and a tad confused to me. It’s fine to leave things abstract but the transition from the grounded, logical, rational and well thought out sci-fi to this more abstract sci-fi didn’t really work for me. It’s by no means terrible, or even bad, it just didn’t quite fit with the rest of the film for my taste.
Like all good sci-fi, and any story in fact, the heartbeat of the film is in it’s characters. All the cast deliver strong performances in this respect. We all know by now that Nolan is a master at making his audience ask questions. In Interstellar, the philosophical and ethical debates are key to the film’s intrigue. What would you sacrifice to save the species? Would you sacrifice your own humanity to ensure the survival of the Homo sapiens? They are questions that run throughout the film but the real driving force is the father-daughter relationship of Cooper and Murphy. The choices that Cooper has to make between his species or his family provide the real emotional punch. It’s an emotionally driven film, which is something we don’t often see from Nolan, at least not to this extent. But he integrates it perfectly into the complexity of his plot.
It’s a film that dreams big and it doesn’t end up far off. It’s beautiful to behold, moving and it leaves you wanting to watch it again to catch things you know you definitely missed the first time around. It’s a flawed masterpiece. It’s about as close to five stars as it can get and given another viewing, it might just get there.
FLAWED MASTERPIECE. A film which is beautiful, inspirational and moving but loses its way a smidge in the final act, Interstellar isn’t far off being one of the greats.