Between Interstellar and Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014 is shaping up to be a great year for sci-fi in Hollywood, and I can’t think of two more different kinds of sci-fi films. To put it simply, GOTG is Rock N’ Roll, and Interstellar is classical.
In fact, Interstellar isn’t really sci-fi. It’s science fiction in the purest sense of the term. It’s a movie about who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going as a species. Does it succeed? Yes and no.
The worst thing I can say about Nolan is that his ambition outweighs his ability. And Interstellar is arguably Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious film. But I think it’s also the most wondrous, beautiful, and personal film he’s ever made – if not the most satisfying.
You can probably gather the premise from the trailer, but here it is with a little more detail.
Interstellar opens as a documentary at some future date. Old men and women describe how dust penetrated every part of their lives. The world (or at least this part of The United States) is a dustbowl and suffering from massive crop failure. With all of humanity’s efforts going towards farming, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an engineer and pilot, is forced to eke out a living farming corn, the last viable crop, with his son, Tom, and his daughter, Murph.
Murph starts receiving ghostly messages in her room, and they lead Cooper to NASA – now operating in secret as hungry taxpayers aren’t interested in spending money on space exploration.
There he meets Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his astronaut daughter (Anne Hathaway).
Cooper learns that an artificial wormhole (created by some alien intelligence) has opened up near Saturn. NASA knows that three planets exist on the other side, and Brand sees it as an invitation to find humanity a new home.
As out there as that may sound, Interstellar is devoted to realism. The trip will be long, but only for those left on Earth. I won’t get into the theory of relativity, but all you have to know is the astronauts won’t age and everyone else will.
Interstellar’s drama comes from this scientific reality: Cooper watches from his view screen as his son and daughter grow up to be older than he is (now portrayed by Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain) and with every wrong turn or setback he knows that he’s missing more and more of their lives. Not to mention all of that business about saving humanity!
Interstellar is constantly intense. It’s either intensely dramatic or intensely… intense!
Hans Zimmer’s score kept my heart pumping, and, much like Inception, Interstellar sometimes felt like an exercise in holding tension for the longest time possible. It’s never boring but feels long.
The visuals are worth the price of a movie ticket, though: I was gripping my armrest when the spacecraft entered the wormhole, the alien landscapes look unbelievably beautiful (even if they are all water or all ice); and the robots, CASE and TARS, have a fascinating Rubik’s cube-like design.
But Interstellar also has a very lo-fi feel at times: the interior of the spacecraft looks weathered, the hibernation chambers they enter cover them with tarps and water, the footage sent from Earth is grainy. Even the Earth resembles an old photograph when the astronauts look back after the launch.
Interstellar clearly takes its inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but where that film was all head, Interstellar is all heart – sometimes to a fault. In one clunky scene, Anne Hathaway waxes philosophical about the power of love.
Nolan’s weak spot tends to be his writing, and Interstellar is no exception. The third act features some particularly groan-worthy moments between Chastain and Topher Grace. But it does offer up some very heartfelt scenes – like when Cooper struggles to explain to his daughter why he has to leave.
The last half hour will either win you over or it won’t. Interstellar goes into the unknown and Nolan fills in the blanks as best he can. Does he do it well?
Movies like this don’t come around very often. I’m just glad he got to do it in the first place.