From the director of the intellectually engaging Memento and the epic The Dark Knight franchise, comes a project that combines both elements in incredibly swift and effective 169 minutes. If you are to see any film on the big screen this year, this should be it, as it makes the entire experience that much grander. Believe me, thanks to the sheer scope of the film, you won’t be disappointed.
The film itself is best to be experienced without knowing too much, even though the gist of the story is extremely well-known to modern audiences – “save the world”. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a pilot who in a not so distant, almost dystopian future, has dreams of exploration, of us being far greater then we, as a species, have become. The world around him has forgotten to dream big and rather it just struggles to keep itself alive on a planet that doesn’t seem to need or want humans on it. On this world, people are dangerously close to being wiped out by the harsh environment. Due to an anomaly in the space-time continuum, Cooper is set on a dangerous mission into the unknown to save mankind and his family. He has to sacrifice all that he knows and loves to rescue the very same things he holds dearest.
After the venture into space, it’s best to not be spoiled by different twists and turns and scientific theories and facts that have a big impact on the overall story of the film. Many might scare you that this film is a homework, that it uses confusing plot-devices. Do not worry, everything as usual for Nolan, is explained in great detail in the film, so that the audience is not kept in the dark. One might say the dialogue is too expositional and sometimes it feels like a lecture and that would be a fair criticism, however it is done so mostly within only the first hour of the film, allowing some of the less scientifically savvy viewers to catch up and grasp the concepts used in the film. By that time, everyone can just roll with the action and adventure. So the science is used only to provide background and support for the plot and after that we go on to full fiction mode, like 5th dimension beings, time-travel, wormholes and some other, purely theoretical concepts. It is a blast to see such a unique mix of science and fiction because even if some of these theories are very out there and some of it doesn’t always make sense within the film (Before you go, mind you that this is in fact science-FICTION, not science-FACT, the movie clearly wants to entertain), it still manages to make you believe it is possible and tangible because it is so grounded in real theory and thus the movie has the power to inspire and engage people into a conversation, which is the most you can really demand from a film. The other element to the film is the more “down to earth” story (pun intended) of a father-daughter drama. For the most part, it’s almost as effective as the space adventure, because it’s so closely connected to it and because the characters in the film are very relatable but there are some misses here – like the underdeveloped connection to the son, who by the end of the film is completely forgotten. But as a father-daughter story it is extremely well-done and manages to pull at your heart strings quite often.
One could not discuss the family element and the human connection elements of the movie without mentioning the acting. It’s not particularly amazing in this film, I don’t think, that other than Matthew McConaughey’s performance, there are many stand-outs. It’s definitely not a knock at the actors who do their jobs as well as any but for such a huge concept it’s not really an ensemble type of film, where characters get to shine. It is a character driven piece but that character is mainly Cooper and to a lesser extent Murph, his daughter, played mostly by Jessica Chastain. However, all that being said, McConaughey is great and delivers emotional gut-punches at just the right amounts and at just the right time. He has the most to work with and he uses it to its full potential, with him and his daughter having the real meaty character arks. Jessica Chastain works well enough, but it’s nothing to write home about. She’s a good actress that does a good job. The same could be said about every other actor in this film. The scope of the film is so grand that the secondary characters really don’t have time to stand-out. The only two exceptions are: one, a rather long cameo that I won’t spoil for you, which in my opinion is quite jarring, maybe because the actor is too big for such a small role. It’s a great part that comes as a big surprise and adds another extremely suspenseful layer to the film but the presence of this actor takes you out of the immersion for a little bit. The second stand-out are the robot characters. TARS is quite possibly the funniest creation in a Nolan film ever. You normally don’t think laughter and Nolan, even though there is always some humor in his films, but it’s definitely in short supply. If because of this, you think that Nolan can’t do comedy or at least funny, you might rethink your position on this, because TARS is a great tension breaker that comes at the exact moment you really want him to. He is voiced by Bill Irwin and the actor does a great job.
The visuals, as many say, are breathtaking and deserve to be seen in the best quality possible, hopefully IMAX, if you can see it there. DP Hoyt Van Hoytema and the rest of the crew use old-school techniques with new technology to present space travel in a never before seen fashion. In terms of technology, it’s not as ground-breaking as Gravity was, or it’s not too focused on creating new viewing technology as Avatar, but it’s as effective if not more than those films because instead of searching for something that might be fantastic in ten years time, the film uses the best of current technology to be as photorealistic as possible. To make the images feel like something you saw from Apollo missions or text books about space. Some of the imagery feels like inspired from Kubrick’s 2001 or even more so by its sequel 2010. Some of it feels like classic space films like Apollo 13 or The Right Stuff. It adds the new to the old school technology like lines and strings instead of heavy CGI to depict zero gravity. Again, Nolan uses relatable technology to fool us into thinking everything is plausible and in my opinion, he succeeds once again. All of this technical mastery on display helps incredibly well with the immersion - the tension in the story is enhanced by the visuals because it feels that much more real and engaging. As for the music, I think the main theme might be Hans Zimmer’s best work to date. At times it does feel like the film relies too heavily on that one theme, especially in suspenseful events but it is such a great score that I’m not shocked that he wanted to repeat it so often. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a classic theme in the future, because it builds on the tension and pushes you right into your chair.
I cannot recommend Interstellar enough if you want to see a true event on the big screen. In my estimates, the film should also hold up on smaller screens, in more intimate surroundings, because of its great story but it is undeniably meant to be seen on the biggest scale. The movie as seen in IMAX cinemas is an incredible spectacle that keeps the audience at the edge of their seats throughout most its running time and then it is able to make us emotionally invest on a much smaller, recognizable scale, thanks to a brilliant script and really solid performances. During the screening, I was pushed into my chair very often and, this might sound silly to you but I really had a need for someone to hold my hand at various stages of the film. The tension and stakes were so relentless! To sum up, Interstellar is a great experience, a true conversation starter, it’s grand, bold and even if you don’t love it quite as much as I did, it will really stick with you and hopefully reignite the fire that we once had to be explorers and to conquer our final frontier.
“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Interstellar - 9/10