There is no denying that Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (opening everywhere today) is the most ambitious, epic, lofty and ambiguous film since Cloud Atlas. Being one of the few critics that absolutely drooled over Cloud Atlas as a cinematic masterpiece, there is also no denying that it was one of the most polarizing film of 2012. There was no thinking that Cloud Atlas was just okay…you either loved it or hated it. I fell in the minority with that film, but my gut tells me that this time around I will be siding with the majority when I say that overall, Interstellar achieves greatness. Unfortunately however, it isn’t quite able to sustain it. Its brilliance comes in chunks…navigating a shifting, convoluted asteroid field full of ideas and aspirations. There are several crashes-and-burns. But it is a dazzling journey to undertake.
In the near future on Earth, Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, an ex-pilot who is now a corn farmer living with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and his two children, son Tom and daughter Murph (her young self played by actress Mackenzie Foy, whom some may recognize as young Renesmee from the Twilight films). Blight has ravaged the planet, with dust storms consuming most every crop and wiping out most of the world. When Murph reports to her father some paranormal activity in her upstairs bedroom, it is discarded as child’s play. But eventually, this strange anomaly leads Cooper to a hidden NASA base, where Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his scientist daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway) are planning a secret mission into space with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance.
Cooper has a history with Professor Brand, and his unexpected appearance right before the launch of this mission is entirely strange…some might call it fate, coincidence or even the hand of God. In choosing to accept the journey into space however, Cooper must leave behind his family. Choosing the greater good, Cooper prepares for his departure, while Murph all but disowns her father for choosing to abandon her.
That’s when the film goes airborne. Cooper rockets into the sky along with his team and we are presented with the majestic splendor – and stillness – of outer space. Their mission is to enter a mysterious wormhole on the outskirts of Saturn that they believe may lead them to the existence of other habitable planets. They know that their trip will cost them all dearly…not only is it a dangerous task that they may not survive, but they are flirting with the very fabric of time and space. On portions of their journey, what may only seem like days to them, will have been years back on Earth.
In the film, we learn that time is a resource. It would have been nice to have shared that sentiment with the audience. Interstellar is a nearly-three-hour long space saga that takes its time building and building towards something amazing, before hastily rushing its way through the last act. A pounding, looming score by Hans Zimmer makes us feel the urgency facing the human race, whipping us into a tizzy while simultaneously asking us to slow down and ponder the very meaning of existence.
And there is a lot of pondering to be done. You don’t have to be an astrophysicist to understand everything, but it sure would help. Interstellar manages to successfully side-step the tired premise of Faith versus Science, but it asks us to question other things like time, space travel, scientific reasoning, human survival, the cosmos and other, unmeasurable x-factors such as love, the concept of family and the ties that bind us all together.
Christopher Nolan is one of the best and most respected directors going, but Interstellar launches this wide-eyed artiste into uncharted territory. He can create a story through editing, as he did with Memento. He can appeal to mass audiences while maintaining his artistic vision, as he did with the Batman Trilogy. With Inception, he asked viewers to think outside of the box and trained them to be perceptive. But with Interstellar, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to leave with…the message is either unclear or was ineffectively sent. Stylistically, as astounding as the outer space visuals are, there are echoes of his previous work present here as well, and even the climactic ending sequence of Interstellar felt like the climactic, cutting-back-and-forth, dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream sequence in Inception. Its almost as if Nolan had nowhere else to go but up, up and away. I left the theater not entirely sure that the mainstream audience would appreciate the ride he sent them on. Not because the audience is dumb or that the film is too heady, but because of the sheer enormity of what he is asking of us. As Interstellar proves, not every Earthly question can be answered and reflected upon during the course of one movie.
What won’t be lost on the audience is the great work from Matthew McConaughey, who I think – as it is now safe to say after several masterful performances in a row – is one of the best working actors today. Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck show up later in the film and both are powerful, as is Michael Caine in limited work.
Amongst all of the criticism, Interstellar had me in its gravitational pull for much of the film, and I should state clearly that I enjoyed it on many levels. It ended up being a mind-bender of sorts, despite falling apart as it went. So vigorous in its intentions, I had a suspicion while watching it that it would be nearly impossible to pull off a satisfying conclusion.
I was right.
Cloud Atlas was like a juggling act, where several ideas and themes were thrown in the air all at once, but somehow, someway, they managed to defy gravity and expectations, and they kept all of the balls going. An impressive feat, indeed. To further that analogy, Interstellar tried something similar – maybe even throwing up a few more into the air – but gravity got the best of Nolan. That’s not a criticism of the enthusiasm or the bravery that it took to pull off – or even attempt – such a film, but more of a comment on the results.
Genre: Adventure, Mystery, Science Fiction
Run Time: 2 hour 49 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Collette Wolfe
Co-Written & Directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Inception, The Prestige, Memento)
Opens locally on Friday, Nov 7, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time