Interstellar

Posted: November 23, 2014 in Film reviews
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Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Mathew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine.

In the near future Earth has been ravaged by a series of blights that have irrevocably killed off whole strains of crops, to the extent that mankind has had to revert to a more agrarian society. As one teacher says, the planet now needs farmers, not engineers.
Widowed former NASA test pilot Cooper (McConaughey) is working as a farmer and trying to raise his teenage son and young daughter, Murphy. When Murphy starts talking about there being a ghost in her bedroom, their investigations lead her and Cooper to a secret NASA base, run by Professor Brand (Caine) a man who knew Cooper back when he was a test pilot.
The Professor tells Cooper that mankind is doomed unless it can leave the Earth behind. With no other habitable worlds in the solar system the only hope comes from a recently discovered wormhole close to Saturn, a wormhole that leads to another galaxy where multiple, potentially habitable, worlds have been discovered.
Someone has to determine if any of these worlds would be viable to relocate humanity to, and Brand wants Cooper to fly the mission, because he’s the best pilot NASA have left.
The trouble is, it may be a one way trip, and even if he does return the nature of the time dilation effect means that many more years may have elapsed for those left behind. As Cooper explains to Murphy, when he returns they may be the same age.
Despite not wanting to leave his children, Cooper realises that his mission is their only hope, and so he sets out on the mission, accompanied by the professor’s daughter, Amelia (Hathaway) and two other scientists.
Once on the other side of the wormhole however, the explorers will face challenges they could never have imagined, whilst on Earth time passes more quickly, and humanity’s plight becomes ever more desperate. Will humanity be saved, and will father and daughter ever be able to reconnect?

It’s fair to say that in many respects I am more a fan of Nolan’s earlier work as a director; Memento, The Prestige, Batman Begins…too often after this he’s succumbed to the trap a lot of great directors fall into, the inability or unwillingness to edit their work, to compress their stories. You see it with Spielberg and Peter Jackson amongst others. With greater creative control comes longer, oft times more bloated films. And so much as I enjoyed the second and third Batman films I felt they were too long, and much as I find Inception intriguing I find it not only too long, but also a little too convoluted, with Nolan inserting too many sublevels within the dream world that diluted, to me, what was a great concept.
And so it’s curious to say that, despite its three hour run time and convoluted time twisting narrative, I did not find the same concerns bothering me with Interstellar. Despite it’s near three hour runtime I’d be hard pressed to suggest what you could remove without the film losing something good and necessary, in fact if anything there are times it feels like you’re still missing some parts of the plot, in particular with relation to Jessica Chastain’s Earthbound portion of the story. And whilst the narrative could be perceived as convoluted, I personally found that the plot made complete narrative sense, and when the final reveals were made I received them joyously rather than with irritation.
It is a majestic film that contrasts the very best of humanity with its baser nature. When faced with the Blight in one respect humanity comes together in a common cause, and yet at the same time bigotry raises its head, only in this instance it is not other races or cultures that suffer, rather it is science and technology, with school textbooks now claiming that the moon landings were faked. It is easy to see why this happens, as Michael Caine’s character suggests, spending billions on space travel when people are starving doesn’t play well with the public.
It is an argument that is regularly trotted out in our own time, and despite its future setting Interstellar feels very pertinent to the world today. For the Blight read global warming, and for the backlash against science read creationism.
Similarly two narrative strands within the film hang on lies told by individuals. In one instance a man lies for what he perceives is the greater good of humanity, whilst the other lie is told purely for self-interest, yet both lies impact upon the course of the story and both reflect the nobility and selfishness in humanity’s heart.
The film is gorgeous to look at, from the dust storms that cut swathes across the unnamed American state where Cooper and his family live, to the grandeur of space; from our first glimpse of Saturn to a mind bending portrayal of a wormhole that isn’t actually a hole, and the black hole of Gargantua that resides on the other side of the wormhole.
And then there are the worlds Nolan creates in orbit of that black hole. Iceland has been used a lot in films of late, Prometheus and Oblivion were both shot there, yet Nolan still manages to give us something different. Each world we encounter is unique, and each replete with its own dangers, be they physical or more temporal in nature.
And this is a film that is concerned as much with time as with space, with the gravitational forces at work meaning time passes far more slowly for some characters than others. It is a dizzying concept but for the most part Nolan keeps things grounded. This does mean a lot of exposition at times, but this doesn’t derail the story, and it is certainly good to have a film that makes you think.
Whether the science behind the story always holds up to scrutiny is debatable, and certainly the final portions of the film may stretch the viewers’ credulity, although in fairness it’s probably only the final five minutes where I feel the story goes a little too far.
For all its epic scale and visual glory at its heart this is a film about humanity, and it’s the characters that make it. McConaughey continues his incredible renaissance as an actor (the McConissance!) and provides the solid heart of the film. With his laconic Texan drawl and laidback intensity he utterly convinces as a test pilot come astronaut, you could almost imagine him being strapped into a Gemini or Apollo capsule back in the 1960s, but he’s just as convincing as a loving father as he is as the all American hero.
Hathaway gives him compelling support as Amelia Brand, showing a character as fragile as she is strong, capable of scientific rationality but also very human emotions.
Back on Earth Mackenzie Foy does a great job playing Murphy, an intelligent child with a huge sense of wonder, who’s heartbroken when her father leaves. Michael Caine doesn’t exactly stretch himself, but frankly Michael Caine not stretching himself makes for a better performance than you’ll get from most actors at full pelt. Jessica Chastain forms the core of the Earthbound sections though, a woman damaged by loss, caught in the middle of what may be the death of humanity, yet a woman who hasn’t lost hope, who still believes they can be saved.
The rest of the cast are uniformly good, I could say more but I’m trying not to spoil things. And I haven’t even got to the robots yet; clunky, utterly functional things unlike any cute robot you’ve seen before, yet in one case actively hilarious, and much of the film’s humour comes from the interactions between Cooper and T.A.R.S.
Epic in scale yet intimate in places, with homages that are obvious (2001 is a clear inspiration) with some that are less so (The Black Hole, Event Horizon) this is a film that is as much about the bond between father and daughter as it is about the indomitable nature of the human spirit and the grandeur of space exploration.
Yes it’s long, and perhaps the science doesn’t always hold up (though if that’s all you go to the movies for maybe you should just stay at home and watch documentaries) it’s convoluted and you might wonder just what the hell is going on near the end, and it still does leave a few questions hanging, but it’s visually stunning, exciting, funny, touching, and it’ll make you think more than the entire back catalogue of Michael Bay films.
It’s probably not my favourite film of the year (lacking the sheer exuberance of Guardians of the Galaxy) but it’s pretty darn close.
Out of this world!

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Comments
  1. Mim says:

    It definitely seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it film. I’ll probably wait for it to come on Netflix!

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