Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan and Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Runtime: 169 mins
Interstellar, while not his best work, still shows why Christopher Nolan is one of the best directors of this century. With humanity struggling for survival, Dylan Thomas’s poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ resonating throughout, a last attempt to find a new home is launched. As much as Interstellar is a space epic, the relationship between Cooper (McConaughey) and his daughter Murph forms a core part of the film.
Cooper, an ex-NASA pilot, leads the mission to find a habitable planet for mankind. Earth, or at least a small town in the rural US, faces starvation and severe dust storms as humanity struggles to feed itself in the face of a pandemic crop blight (yet beer is still plentiful). The world which Nolan creates is a fascinating one: farmers are a prized profession and the wastefulness and decadence of previous generations is condemned. Though you only get a tiny glimpse of how this is affecting the planet, it leaves you wondering about everyone else. This is to Nolan’s testament as the scenario he creates is so engaging.
Thankfully the film avoids simply presenting Earth’s predicament through walls of text exposition, but rather displays it naturally as we only get to see it through the eyes of Cooper and his family. The film’s exposition is decent for one that has to introduce concepts such as time dilation due to gravity and relative velocity. While it never throws equations directly in your face for you to interpret, it does occasionally get bogged down trying to explain it all. The general science behind parts of the film is one of its best aspects, as Nolan worked closely with Kip Thorne, a colleague of Stephen Hawking and a leading expert on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
Knowing that the astounding visual depictions of wormhole travel and black holes is based on pioneering scientific theory elevates the sense of awe, with incredible shots reminiscent of photos produced by deep space telescopes. The sound of the film has been somewhat controversial, some claiming that at times lines are muffled and difficult to hear, to which Nolan responded that this was the intention. For the most part straining to hear a character’s last words adds to the tension and atmosphere of the film. At one or two points though the score does seem to override the lines being delivered which feels a bit odd. Overall the score work is great, the orchestra swells as dust storms ravage the Midwest, contrasting with the harsh silence of space which accompanies our heroes’ journey into the unknown.
For all of the science and spectacle of the film, the relationships between its characters are at its core. The moving relationship between Cooper and Murph (weirdly Cooper never mentions trying to get back to earth to see his son) is key to the story and provides a motivation for Cooper and a reason for the audience to care about what’s happening on Earth. But it’s where the film trades science for sentimentality that it falls down in part, especially at the ending. The supporting cast is a bit hit and miss; a surprise cameo draws you out of the film somewhat. Cooper’s son, though ever present in the film, always feels a bit forgotten (by the writers as well as his father) and maybe an extended cut would fill out his story a bit more. The robotic AI, a homage to the Monoliths of 2001, at times provides some excellent and well-placed comic relief.
Interstellar is good but not great, as by the end it’s all just a bit too sentimental. The film never has that Nolan-esque shot that blows your mind (think Prestige, Memento and the end of Inception). Even if the plot doesn’t quite hit the greatness of Nolan’s best, the visuals and sound are stunning. If ever there was a reason to splash out on an IMAX ticket, this would be it.