When writing movie reviews, I try to take a balanced approach, to talk about the best and worst points of the film, and let the reader decide if it’s worth his or her time. This will not be such a review, because I loved the hell out of Interstellar. Christopher Nolan’s latest is a big, beautiful, unabashedly enthusiastic tale of adventure and discovery. Much gushing to follow; you are warned.
The story begins in the near-ish future, with the world languishing in the wake of a sort of quiet apocalypse — less Mad Max, more global dust bowl. Crops are failing, famine and drought have diminished the population, and humanity has resigned itself to eking out a meager existence for what is likely to be its final decades before extinction. This resignation sits poorly with Cooper (Matthew McConnaughey), a restless engineer who dreams of space travel while caring for his elderly father-in-law and his two kids. Cooper’s daughter Murphy shares her father’s curiosity and restlessness, and early scenes between the two touchingly portray them as kindred spirits. This father/daughter relationship will become the emotional core of the movie, and manages to be every bit as compelling as the Big Giant Space Adventure, which all things considered, is pretty impressive. Ah yes, the Big Giant Space Adventure; the movie is called Interstellar, after all, even if it takes its time getting off the ground (literally). Due to a series of strange events that I won’t even try to describe, Cooper is recruited by the remnants of NASA to pilot a mission to a distant galaxy in hopes of discovering a habitable planet to be humanity’s new home… and we’re off.
Stylistically, the film has all of Chris Nolan’s trademarks: stark, muted color palette; an ever-present droning score that booms SERIOUS and IMPORTANT with every note; Michael Caine; etc. Nolan’s bombast isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Interstellar warrants it. This is a story in which major things are at stake on both vast and personal scales, and the film sells these stakes effectively enough that its self-seriousness almost always feels earned.
Interstellar’s overarching theme is the tension between two basic responses to a crisis — to hunker down and merely survive, or to boldly venture forth into the unknown. I know this is the movie’s theme because just about every major character says so at least once (or, in Caine’s case, every time he opens his mouth). The scenario plays out again and again on every level: in the mission to space, in Cooper leaving his family in order to save them, in a character forcing her sick relatives to leave their home to seek medical attention, etc, etc… This too is par for the course with Chris Nolan. His movies are thematic fractals: any given fragment of the whole, no matter how small, invariably contains the film’s entire theme. In a lesser filmmaker this approach would come across as heavy-handed (and ok, yes, Nolan can be pretty heavy-handed himself), but on the whole I tend to forgive him precisely because he pushes his themes so emphatically that all pretext of realism is left far behind. The dialogue in a Nolan film rarely resembles anything an actual human would say, but that’s sort of the point. You’re not seeing a realistic depiction of reality, but rather a stylized image thereof, like kabuki theater with philosophical soundbites instead of masks.
All of which is well and good, but the true joy of Interstellar lies in its unbridled sense of wonder. The first half of the film in particular has the spirit of a Jules Verne adventure tale, with the narrative details serving mostly as a means to pull the viewer along on a thrilling journey into the unknown. The film does a great job of building up the audience’s curiosity, and rewards that curiosity with dazzling visuals of the vastness of space, stark alien worlds, and dizzying space time anomalies. This is a movie that loves space travel, and wants us to love it too.
As the crew reach their various destinations this spirit of discovery begins to wane, and the middle of the film is largely driven by a struggle for survival, as well as a series of characteristically Nolan-esque plot twists, some of which are probably unnecessary. The ending, too, is overlong and requires a lot of suspension of disbelief as things get increasingly wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, but by that point the movie had thoroughly earned my continued attention, which it rewarded with a restrained but satisfying denouement.
Oh! Did I mention that there are sarcastic shape-shifting robots? There are sarcastic shape-shifting robots. Interstellar: loved it.
Robin Latkovich is Cleveland born artist, illustrator, and staff writer for GeekCLE. If you have any leads on how he can use this experience to become an astronaut, please contact him.