Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” Trilogy and “The Prestige” are often cited as art-house pictures masquerading as big Hollywood blockbusters. The case has never been truer for his most recent intergalactic traveling space film, “Interstellar.” As a matter of fact, there’s an argument to be made that this is Nolan’s most challenging work from a conceptual and theoretical standpoint, even more so then the reversed, fractured narrative of “Memento” (2000) and the mind-bending “Inception” (2010). Interstellar is one confounding space odyssey. Quite honestly, this is a film I’m still reeling from, so any opinion stated here is likely subjected to change, for better or worse, and that may take anywhere from a few months to a few years, or maybe it’s all the same depending on how we choose to interpret the space-time continuum.
Unquestionably inspired by Ken Burns’ documentary series on the 1930s Dustbowl, a near-future vision of Earth has been made irreparable by violent dust storms. Areas have begun to depopulate and the sustainability of our food sources has dropped significantly, the only lasting crop used for agriculture being corn. Now facing a global apocalypse due to starvation and inhabitable conditions, Earth’s population is faced with a bitter reality: Leave now, or die out. Meanwhile, Cooper (Matthew Mcconaughey), father of two and former NASA pilot, now farmer, follows a cryptic trail that leads to a finding that just might require him to partake in a near suicidal mission through the cosmos in order to save the planet. The only setback is that he’ll have to leave his kids behind, one of which, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), named after Murphy’s Law, who might never forgive him for saying goodbye.
After the semi-disappointment of 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” a solid standalone film, and a great Batman film, but a poor end-cap that was overly campy and comic-bookish in tone as the follow up to the ultra-brooding, realistic and serious police drama “The Dark Knight,” I was looking to see Nolan back in top form. His films aren’t mere casual weekend matinees, they’re events, and whether or not his previous film was problematic is beside the point. If Nolan’s name is attached, it’s a day-one showing, no question. But gathering the reception so far, it’s safe to say this is Nolan’s most polarizing film. While two-thirds of “Interstellar” are designated to be a gratifying experience, the first thirty minutes being pure Spielbergian, its last act aims to divide viewers with abstruse, meta-physical head games.
I’ll preface this by saying I have no affinity for the science being presented in “Interstellar” outside of the general understanding of a scientific theory introductory course, however, astrophysicist and cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson seems to be in unison with the film’s hypothetical accuracy, even if some of it is entirely fabricated, so that’s good enough for me.
This is a film that requires viewers to put on their thinking-hat. Time, a reappearing theme Nolan’s been exploring ever since “Inception,” is further analyzed to a brainy-magnitude and viewed as a non-linear, quantum construct. When gravity shifts slow the passage of time, the task of keeping up narratively is hardly unlike the individual dreams levels of “Inception.” Until “Interstellar,” Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” specifically Chapter 4: Watchmaker, was the only popular fiction piece to radically alter my perception of time.
Moreover, regarding plot on their spacecraft named “Endurance,” Cooper is sent hurdling through space and kaleidoscopic worm holes, in company with chief scientist and biologist, Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) in search for a new, habitable planet. Tagging along are Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi), and a Tetris, jenga piece resembling Robot named TARS whose offbeat humor can be adjusted in percentages. Upon reaching an oceanic planet, circumstances turn dire and the sense of danger becomes overwhelming. At least they have TARS, who’s sarcastic jokes never miss the mark.
There’s simply no denying that “Interstellar” is a visual extravaganza. Darting through worm-holes, attempting to optically comprehend extra-dimensional physics and 5th dimensions is an experience that goes unmatched. Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” might’ve had moviegoers on the edge of their seats, and “Interstellar,” is prone to do the same, but the paradoxical outlook of Nolan’s film is far more visionary. Chaperoned by Hans Zimmer’s God-like church cathedral score, “Interstellar” nearly becomes some sort of religious experience.
Above all, the film is about love, especially the parental kind, and finding spirituality and existential meaning in a universe of binary. Nolan aims to cast humanity in a flattering light and it’s quite beautiful. Hathaway spills out in big, weepy tears, “Love is the one thing that can transcend time and space.” Even if it’s laid on a bit thick, the spiritual gushiness of “Interstellar” is affecting. Nolan’s been criticized previously for leaving his audiences cold emotionally, here the sentimentality is through the roof and consequentially has also come under objection. I guess the man can’t win. I do agree that “Interstellar” has a few forceful “who’s peeling onions in here?” moments that are a bit reaching, nevertheless it’s hardly a knock against the film itself that’s big heart never quits penetrating our soul emotionally. And even if Mcconaughey’s rambling, southern twang voice has become a parody of itself at this point (It has: See Jim Carry’s SNL spoof of Mcconaughey’s Lincoln Commercial), the actor generates an incredibly poignant performance of a father being placed at opposite ends of the universe from his daughter, whose grown-up counter part is played by the equally melancholy Jessica Chastain.
Just shy of three hours, “Interstellar” is a seat-shifting long haul made all the more bearable by how astonishing a near ninety percent of it is. Even so, there are momentary pauses and stretches of dullness that I’ve never experienced in the past while watching a Nolan film. Although the writing is frequently substantial and weighty, there are scenes of verbal Ping-Pong that fall into the trap of plot exposition, Nolan telling us, rather then showing us. That’s to be expected by a film so permeated in abstract scientific theories, so it’s hardly a heavy blow to the film’s sturdy legs.
“Interstellar” simply has to be seen, preferably in theaters if you can make it out to your local IMAX. Seek out a 70mm IMAX projector screening to take in every inch of its spectacular glory. I found myself caught up in the film’s more intellectually heady ideas rather than its set-up, especially since the world building, at least on the home front, felt rather muted, the stakes not feeling nearly as high as they should. As a meditation on the human experience, and how both simultaneously frightening and angelic our place in the universe is, “Interstellar” works best when it makes the sensation of astronomical insignificance seem awe-inspiring and tear-jerking. Leaving the theater, I felt so negligible set against the boundless backdrop of our star system, and there was something celestial, rather then terrifying about that. A film that produces that type of contemplative reflection has to be commended in one way or another. Time will tell how it stacks up to classics such as Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972). It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Nolan’s bests (“The Dark Knight”, “The Prestige” or “Inception”), but for all its imperfections, “Interstellar” still remains one of a kind.
Rob Gabe is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RG770214@wcupa.edu.