Christopher Nolan has made a career out of making some of the most unique films in recent history. Aside from his mostly tame Dark Knight Trilogy, he has made mind bending films like Memento (about an amnesiac trying to solve a mystery) and Inception (about a dream, within a dream, within a dream…). Now, he and his brother/ fellow screenwriter have decided to tackle what happens when Earth can no longer sustain human life, and in doing so, they have built one of the most ambitious, large scale projects I’ve ever seen put to film.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a retired engineer for NASA, that now spends his days farming the only crop that still grows on Earth, corn. Daily, he struggles to provide a life for his children as a virulent disease known as “blight” spreads across farm fields on a global scale. During one particularly bad dust storm, Cooper’s daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) discovers that a “ghost” has been leaving messages in Morse Code in her bedroom. Together, the two discover that the messages are coordinates, and after some searching, they discover that the coordinates lead them to a secret NASA base, where a species saving mission to other habitable worlds is underway. The project leader, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), and his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), instantly see the potential in Cooper, and asks that he pilot a space station as it goes through a mysterious anomaly near Saturn that apparently leads to other worlds. Cooper reluctantly agrees, knowing the trip could take decades, and that he may never see his children again.
That’s really all I can say without spoiling a lot. For those of you who thought Inception was a mindfudge, well…
This movie deals with a lot of heavy physics, theoretical and factual, to help viewers really understand the massive scale of the story. Taking place not just in our solar system, but all across several other worlds and dimensions, this is probably one of the most epic films I’ve ever seen. Because of that, there’s a lot of explanation to help the non-physicists in the audience understand just what the hell is happening. Sadly, this means you’re going to be in for a lot of lectures about either the scientific concept behind a scene, or a general explanation of the events taking place within a scene. In one case, Cooper, and his robot friend, TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin), literally go step by step through the events in a scene, explaining everything to the audience. While this type of hand holding is certainly necessary sometimes, it happens A LOT in this movie, and it does wear on the overall experience. Especially in a movie that is as long as this one. By the third or fourth character/physics/whatever lecture, you might be a little bored.
In spite of this one major flaw, Interstellar is still a solid film. The whole cast delivers good performances all around, with the real stand out being young Mackenzie Foy, who was more than capable of keeping up with McConaughey in some of the films most emotional scenes. The real star of this film though is the setting. Space. The Final Frontier. Nolan and his effects team masterfully create an utterly picturesque vision of our solar system, and the fantastic worlds that lay beyond it. For that matter, everything in this film looks good, from the dust laden farm fields of America, to the inter dimensional rift in time and space near Saturn that Cooper and his team use to find new worlds. Honestly, this was half the reason I enjoyed this film as much as I did.
Best of all though, was the way Nolan, and his brother Jonathan, create this epic time and space spanning story. This is one of the most mind bending films I’ve seen since The Matrix, but the difference here is that much of it is based on reality. In the opening to Apollo 13, Jim Lovell mentions how small he feels while he gazes up at the Moon. Watching this film, I had a very similar feeling. The amount of thought and depth put into the universe inside this film is astounding. This is a film that really feels as epic in scale as a film like Ben Hur or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
I was hoping that this film would unseat Gravity as my favorite sci-fi film of the past five years, and sadly (in spite of several thematic and visual similarities), it did not, but I still walked out of the theater feeling satisfied. This might not be the best film of the year, but it is a damn good one, and the perfect film to check out this Thanksgiving holiday.