Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 wormholes. This space epic could be considered Nolan’s most ambitious film yet, and like always, this film feels like it wants to be something greater, something completely different than simply a reinvention of the blockbuster wheel– the fact that it still does reinvent that wheel in some way as opposed to merely spinning it well, does deserve some credit, then. But for its grand scope and far reach, even this achievement feels like falling short.
Interstellar takes place in a future where earth is running out of food and thus everyone is forced to be a farmer, including Coop (McConaughey), who was once destined for something far greater, before the world was ravaged by dust storms and famine. But when his daughter, Murph, starts receiving messages in Morse code and binary in her bedroom, one thing leads to another and Coop finds himself with a group of mysterious scientists and explorers: NASA. With Coop as the pilot, this group sets off on a journey through space and time– a wormhole has been discovered, through which another galaxy exists, a galaxy whose planets have been tested for how well they’d be able to sustain human life when the earth no longer can.
The stakes are high and Nolan’s human touch is certainly improved here– he has a keen grasp on, and conveys powerfully what these characters are sacrificing by leaving their home planet (Coop’s relationship with his daughter remains a particularly important and poignant force in the narrative), especially because time is such an unknowable thing for them; an hour for them on one planet could be seven years or more at home, where things could be deteriorating even further with every passing minute. The idea is that Murph’s generation might be the last to survive on earth, but Coop may be doing all of this for her without ever even seeing her again, which proves a devastating possibility to him.
Of course, many people who have been anticipating this film eagerly were probably most excited for– and expecting to be blown away by– the visuals. And, again, they’re spectacular enough– impeccably executed and constructed intelligently. In fact, the whole film boasts an almost pretentious intellect, but as far as blockbusters go, I’d say that’s a commendable thing more often than it is a flaw. Despite all this, there was still something lacking about the film, as much as I enjoyed it. Even with all the questions of science and the human relationships driving the story, it still felt like the impressive visuals themselves were hollow, motivated by and operating on the thinnest possible pieces of those other components.
That is, there was a disconnect, for me personally, between its breathtaking technical elements and its more grounded, emotional elements. For instance, I thought the performances were wonderful, even if its script at times carried that same air of poetic, brainy pretension I mentioned earlier. And the film’s use of sound was deeply effective– the way the film would go from moments of extreme loudness to eerie, empty silence in a matter of one jarring edit was one of my favorite technical aspects of the film. And the trippy wormhole scene was clearly another exercise for Nolan in aesthetically manifesting meaningful, philosophical questions about our physical dimensions and their boundaries; it was predictable, but still beautiful nonetheless. This was all effective, yes, but only when considered separately, somehow, like an equation that just doesn’t quite work out in the end as perfectly as its parts seem to dictate that it should.
Interstellar is science-fiction at its most indulgent and, for better and for worse perhaps, it often takes a more introspective approach despite its outwardly intergalactic scope. It is a film that feels like it was meant for greater things, a film that has overachiever written all over it. It isn’t necessarily a disappointment, speaking as someone who went in with few expectations at all, and it certainly is not a bad film. It is awe-inducing, but it never induces quite as much awe as it boasts so self-assuredly that it can; a mission too big to accomplish fully, it comes close, which is admirable enough and certainly entertaining on some level, but for many more expectant fans, Interstellar may feel like a bit of a black hole.