I’ve now had the chance to watch Interstellar four times since it landed in cinemas back in November 2014. Perhaps that doesn't sound like much, but you need to remember that this isn’t really your average movie that you can just stick on one afternoon on a whim; it’s an event that requires the proper setting (dark room, big screen, booming speakers). In any case, over the course of these viewings, I’ve come to realise something about the film which definitely wasn’t present during my initial reaction: it’s an honest to God masterpiece.
One of the beauties of film is its ability to yield completely different reactions, not just from different people, but from the same person who’s maybe viewing it at a different time in their life or with a new mindset. It can sometimes be that a reaction to a film is clouded, however unintentionally, by variables like the general opinion at the time of release, or by expectations leading up to it – and one thing Interstellar certainly wasn’t short on was expectation.
I couldn’t count the number of times I saw a film at the cinema and didn’t think much of it, only to completely re-evaluate upon subsequent viewings. Chef springs to mind (I gave it 3 stars initially; now it’s one of my favourite movies). As does Drive – thinking about how much I love that film now, I still can’t believe I first walked out of it with a mixed opinion.
Perhaps, now, Interstellar is the most drastic case of my opinion changing. While it may not appear so, considering I went from unsure to head-over-heels in love with Drive, it’s the fact that I missed just how important Interstellar is to cinema which makes it a special case. It’s not just a great film; it's going to go down in history like Kubrick’s 2001 or Ridley Scott’s Alien. A film that’s important and innovative to our time, to be studied and dissected by film classes in years to come. It’s no secret that it’s not universally appreciated yet, but I genuinely think Interstellar is one of the best films to come out in my lifetime.
It’s not just the sprawling, ambitious narrative or the messages it carries that make so special, either: a lot of it’s to do with the plain old surface…which, actually, isn’t very plain at all. Aided by a first collaboration with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, Nolan’s distinct visual design lends the film a gorgeous backdrop. Even the scenes set on Earth have a sort of grand, epic look to them (those IMAX cameras have a way of doing that).
But it’s in moments such as the Endurance travelling through a wormhole, as space warps around it and we’re consumed by an imitative optical illusion laced with Hans Zimmer’s grandiose, organ-inflected score, that the film really exploits the potential for visual stimulation – hence the reason for that aforementioned "proper" viewing environment. If you have that, it’s a beautiful, majestic assault on the senses.
But Interstellar does, of course, have that sprawling narrative which carries with it an abundance of ambition and profound ideas. On one more ostensible level, it’s about the Earth running out of food and a team of astronauts travelling into deep space to find potentially habitable worlds. On another, it’s a story about love’s ability to, as Anne Hathaway’s Dr. Brand puts it, transcend the dimensions of time and space – specifically, the love between a father and daughter who have been torn apart by both.
Cooper and Murph’s relationship is both joyous and devastating, and becomes the fundamental platform for the film’s unexpected, abstract and profound third act. It’s hard to fully absorb and comprehend its implications after just one sitting (for me, at least), as Cooper finds himself in a 3D rendering of time constructed within a fifth dimension, yet a little examination shows that it all makes perfect, inspiring sense.
What really becomes apparent is that we’re watching a film being invigoratingly ambitious. How many mainstream blockbusters do you see climaxing with a revelation about higher dimensions paving the way for us to communicate through time within our tangible three dimensions? How many space movies take an hour to get into space?
It’s so easy to forget, sometimes, the majesty that cinema has to offer. Films like Interstellar remind us. They inspire, reduce us to tears and reveal things about ourselves, all the while blowing our minds on a technical level. “This isn’t Nolan’s masterpiece, but while it may not yet be wholly understood, Interstellar is destined to go down as one of the great science fiction films of its time.”
Well, I was at least partly right the first time – but this is Nolan’s masterpiece. A big, bold, beautiful masterpiece.
What do you think?