WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS
If I were to describe Interstellar in one word, it would be "ambitious." Humanity, love, space-time, and honesty are some of the many themes covered in Christopher Nolan's newest film. Covering so many themes, including some that humanity doesn't fully understand yet, is a daunting task. The end result, however, is a mind-bending experience guaranteed to stir up serious conversations for some and serious head-scratching for others. On paper, Interstellar is a movie about travel through wormholes, but at its core, it is a story of emotion, and how it transcends space and time to be its own dimension.
The initial setting is in a modern-day, worldwide dust bowl that has the world's food supply dwindling fast. Sustaining life on Earth becomes more and more impossible each day. The main character, Cooper (played brilliantly by Matthew Mcconaughey) is forced to raise his family in a small rural town. The dust build-up is so bad that they have to wear masks in public and keep their dinner plates upside-down so they can eat off of them.
Things have gotten so bad, that the idea of space travel has been shunned in the public eye. People want food to feed their families, and see space travel as a waste of time. School textbooks, to appeal to public opinion, have even been revised to say that the 1969 landing on the moon was a staged conspiracy to bankrupt the Soviet Union.
To a lesser extent, this serves as a scathing commentary on how school textbooks are revised in real life to suit the public's opinion. To a larger extent, the entire first act is a statement on humanity's fear of space travel. Even if the Earth was dying, would people feel safer on a withering planet than in the infinite unknowns of the universe? Would people look at a dying planet and say: "we can't afford to leave it, and we don't know what's out there, so we should stay here"?
One day, Cooper is lead to NASA by an anomaly in the form of coordinates spelled out by dust trails in his daughter's room. There he is assigned on the big mission of the movie. Long story short, Cooper and his team must visit three planets through a wormhole on a spaceship (called Endurance) to collect data from a previous mission and decide which one humanity must move to.
What follows is not only a visually stunning space epic, but an ambitious drama about love and the emotional impact of interstellar travel. These themes are demonstrated extremely well throughout the story.
In one scene, the mission is delayed by an hour after the ship is hit with mountain-sized waves on a planet completely covered in oceans. One hour of lost time on the ship results in twenty-three years passing by on Earth. In what is relatively a blink of an eye, Cooper's children have grown into adulthood and his father-in-law has died.
Cooper's reaction perfectly demonstrates how unprepared humanity is for interstellar travel, and how one's feelings are a constant entity, unlike time and space. Cooper is visibly shaken by the news, and is reduced to a teary mess. Though he and his crew are in a part of the universe where time is slower and the planets are of completely different nature, the love and longing for his family does not change a bit.
It's also worth noting that Matthew Mcconaughey sells the scene brilliantly, giving a raw, emotional performance. In fact, the entire cast is absolutely brilliant, giving performances that are appropriate with such an intense film with the theme of human emotion at its core. Some may call it melodramatic, but I thought it worked perfectly. It's no surprise that the performances were more convincing as a result of Christopher Nolan's decision to cut back on green screen and project the effects on the set.
Speaking of the effects, it's pretty much needless to say that they are absolutely outstanding. One planet's frozen and clouds make for a surreal, dream-like visual. It looks like a mirrored image of a snowy, mountainous landscape.
Furthermore, When the characters arrived on the ocean planet and mistook the waves for mountains, it was clear to see why. When the camera tilted upwards to show the sheer size of the waves, it elicited a few gasps from the audience. Therefore, I can recommend from experience that you see this movie in Imax.
With that being said, I still had a few minor issues with the film.
There is a LOT of scientific jargon in this movie that initially went over my head. At one point, Cooper takes out a whiteboard on the ship to explain how gravity and time work. In a way, it felt like a science lesson, and I couldn't help but feel that it could have been explained easier. In addition, I had a couple of small issues with the ending.
Overall, I enjoyed the ending considerably. The idea that fifth dimensional human beings that can control space and time share the same love and care for humanity that ordinary humans do really says something about love transcending time, space and evolution itself. The fact that such an evolved race could care enough about humanity to save it proves that love is a separate entity, completely distant from space, time and nature.
However, despite how ambitious this ending was, it still led itself to a couple of cliches. The idea that Cooper was guiding himself to join the mission, while surprising, has been done before in other time traveling stories. The "stable time loop" trope is nothing really new, so it was a little disappointing to see it in such an ambitious movie.
Additionally, before the movie even came out, I had a feeling that when Cooper returned to Earth (or what was left of it), his daughter would be an elderly woman on her deathbed. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. Still though, I'm not sure if I just found this predictable because I just guessed it well. I'm still not sure whether to view it as an emotionally satisfying ending or a manipulative and predictable one.
These faults, however, are not necessarily the screenwriters' faults. No matter how ambitious your screenplay is, there will always be at least one familiar story element.
Despite these small drawbacks, the film is an experience that must be seen. With amazing set pieces, incredible visuals, top-notch performances, and an engaging story, Interstellar is one movie you will not want to miss, especially in Imax.