I N T E R S T E L L A R
A FILM BY CHRISTOPHER NOLAN
RATING : 10/10
I had the chance to attend to the premiere of Interstellar in Paris in 70mm film (I’m French so I’m already sorry if you don’t understand me, but I think it will be comprehensible). In this “uncut/extended” review of the latest film from Christopher Nolan, Interstellar, I’ll try to be as honest as possible about my experience. As a critic, it is likely that it contains descriptions of scriptwriting and directing, so potential spoilers for some people, although I will not reveal any details of the elements including twists and turns of the script that we mean by spoilers. It is therefore preferable that you have seen the movie too, but also if you’re planning to experience it soon.
So what can I say about this movie, or rather, about this experience? Let’s put things back in their context, Interstellar was expected as a promising film and taking it to a specific fact: this is a film by Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception), so it is a highly anticipated film. However, this fact creates in the audience a kind of apprehension effect of believing in advance that this film will be a great movie, because it's a film by Christopher Nolan, and also because the marketing campaign is very effective. However, I managed for my part, even though I’m a Nolan admirer, to extract myself from this apprehension and go see the movie with my mind detached of all my expectations. And yet, from the beginning to the end of Interstellar, I have not managed to be disappointed for a second. Not one, and I have my reasons. I will try to explain it to you now.
Let us quickly recall the synopsis of the film: Matthew McConaughey, obviously still at the peak of his talent, plays Cooper, former NASA pilot who became a farmer despite himself at a time when the Earth is painfully lacking in resources and seems to be destined to die in his own torments ; Cooper rhymes with dreamer, and this is a man who dreams to find a forgotten glory. However, in strange circumstances that will be explained later on in the film, Cooper will get in touch with a fallen NASA, but working on a mission to send a group of explorers aboard the Endurance to explore potentially habitable worlds. From hesitating between the stars in search of a new habitable world and stay with his children, Tom and Murphy, Cooper finally decides quite naturally to get on board, and leave his family behind, on that poor Earth...
The film begins by establishing at his own rhythm its ambitions: men overexploited land resources, which is why the only goal they have left is to survive. But this life is not enough for Cooper, brilliantly played by McConaughey who gave body and soul to this unusual character. But all of this wouldn’t hold without the total control of Christopher Nolan, based on the original and languishing soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, the luminous and impenetrable photography of Hoyte Van Hoytema, and the sincerity of Nolan’s directing. Indeed, the emotions that are passing through the characters, especially in the emotional bond between Cooper and his daughter Murphy, are never exaggerated or present as a sort of blockbuster necessity that Interstellar is not meant to be. These emotions are transmitted naturally, they are never overplayed, and have a specific role in the course of the film. So I was from my perspective transported into another perspective, Cooper’s perspective : when he finally decides to go for a journey he does not know the outcome of, how Nolan manages to film the characters and to find the right cut at the right time, always in harmony with Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, gives the film an aspiring and inspiring dimension that was missing in hollywoodian films (and not just hollywoodian ones) for many many years. Thus we are transported into the same cockpit that Cooper, we feel the same remorse that he can already feel, we feel the same gravity, and we feel the same fear of the unknown melted with the force of his will. All of this is brilliantly illustrated in a very simple directing choice, which from my point of view is the first and decisive impetus of the film: to directly jump from when Cooper leaves in his truck, leaving his family behind him, to when Endurance takes off. This inspiration, this simple editing decision allows Nolan to give an original movement to his film, and it is extremely important to notice the alliance of this scene with the musical crescendo that makes us physically feel the sentimental break between two parts of the film, which correspond to two portions of the life of Cooper. Symbolically, combining these two scenes is not innocent; it will only strengthen the feelings of Cooper that he left behind him, and that he will carry (which is why that editing choice has a purpose) in the vessel with him to the destiny that lies above him.
Interstellar has placed its bases. It only needs to take off now. Then, the film takes us on a journey where the future of mankind is at stake. Visually, Nolan stays true to himself, meaning that he surpasses himself once again, a scene to another. One scene is particularly striking, when the Endurance’s crew approaches Saturn. Everyone is on his side, Brand (played by a fantastic Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and the robot named TARS are part of the ship. And Cooper comes to Romilly, who expresses his fear of being so close to death, his anxiety about the emptiness of space which extends to infinity and yet is just a few inches away, behind the walls of the vessel. And Cooper answers this to him : “Most of sailors leaving alone at sea do not even know how to swim. If they fall into the water, it's done : it’s over for them. Us, we are explorers. ". Following this, we listen to the sounds of Mother Nature (thunder, wind and rain) resonating on a disproportionate level (in the good sense) where the Endurance passes by the gigantic planet that is Saturn. I leave you all the happiness to interpret this passage as you wish, but to me it simply means that whatever the journey is, regardless of the distance, we always carry with us a part of what we relate the most easily to : a home. Pushing this idea a little too much to its climax, this would correspond to the image of a turtle : wherever she goes, she will keep its shell on its back. But let's not go further into analogies between human and animal, it will be confusing.
The journey continues, Interstellar is not about to be end, and we’re glad about it. The evidence that time is indeed relative, it is that a 2h49 boring film seems to last forever, while an extraordinary 2h49 film seems to be too fast. But I found no reason to be disappointed at the end of Interstellar. Every minute counts, every scene is heavy, every explanation or reversal is crucial. Some may not enjoy the intense scientific explanations reported by the film, but I would like to clarify this point out: the goal is not to understand what a "bulk", a "wormhole" or "quantum data” is. Firstly, the film is very understandable, you just need to use your common sense and stay focused. But it is also interesting to come out of the theater still asking questions to yourselves. Because questions about the scientific issues and the elements of the film lead us to ask film-making and philosophical questions, such as : what is it to be a human being, is there some physical limitations to our humanity, how far could we be willing to go to determine knowledge, is there other dimensions that we can not access to, and above all: what is the nature of this intact and immutable bond that unites us to others wherever we are in the universe ? Is this bond only intelligible, or is it also tangible ? All these questions resonate in harmony in Nolan’s Interstellar.
But a good film always needs a driving force. And here, it is the link between Cooper and Murphy. Murphy grew up (and Jessica Chastain shines in his role) while Coop 'continues his mission. The only thing that can be found in relation to the work of Nolan, is the proximity with a few elements from Inception’s directing. One of these elements is the simultaneity of two different times : time on Earth and time for Cooper in space simultaneously, as the simultaneity of temporary differences in the levels of the same dream in Inception. But it doesn’t put a stop to the inventiveness and originality of the film. Interstellar is itself a crescendo, increasing sensitivity and creativity. I use the term deliberately because it goes crescendo with the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, which is one of the most beautiful music ever scored for a sci-fi movie. We are witnessing a perfect musical arrangement, a total symbiosis, a bit like the music of Gravity which had understood very well how to match the image and the rhythm of a sequence to its own musicality. Zimmer’s crescendos are giving a new powerful breath to every new scene, whether it is in visually powerful & intense moments or in more intimate moments; it intrudes into our momentary feelings and sensations, and manages to extend them, sometimes almost to choking, before resting on the balance of the film frame along with our mind spellbounded.
I finally come to the third part of the movie, that you will easily recognize by going to see it, as it begins when the protagonists (Coop 'and Brand) will learn something that will change their views on the overall mission. In this third act, already heavily criticized, I have seen all the talent of the director that I knew he was outside the norm, but whom I did not know his capacity to reinvent itself. Because this is it: Interstellar is not an action movie, not really a blockbuster, and it goes not entirely but mostly again the expectations of common people who think they’ll see another film by Christopher Nolan as the director of Inception and The Dark Knight, and not as the director of his other films. It's much more than that. This is much more than just a sci-fi movie. It is unlike any of his previous films. Some hoped to see Interstellar as Christopher Nolan’s best film, and they were disappointed that this was not the case. And indeed, THIS IS NOT THE BEST FILM of Christopher Nolan. Why ? Because in a way, IT IS HIS FIRST FILM. I'm not saying that Interstellar is not as good as his other films, on the contrary, it goes beyond all of them. But to me Interstellar is the first film of a new stage in Nolan’s filmography ; it is a masterpiece as it the beginning of a work ahead. Interstellar is the proof that Nolan has finally managed, despite all the expectations that were placed on him after the success of The Dark Knight, to move away from his own reputation (somehow without totally separating from it) to create a personal work, original, humble, sincere and deeply, meticulously, measured. It had already happened with Inception, but it lacked of that deep breath close to his heart, that will of making a film without any obligations and dealing with the questions he probably asked himself watching films during his childhood and during his life. And he just did it.
Now, in this third act of the film, it all comes to life with unparalleled strength. Nolan poses and answers questions that raise others. But he focuses his attention on the great mystery of love, that emotional bond that can unite men and sometimes separate them (and this is apparently the case in the film), that can lead to hatred as to love more, to achieve the most disproportionate madnesses ; but the strength of this film and especially in its last act is to examine this link in unexpected places : Nolan is the only one that can successfully speak of love from a being to another in a film that mainly takes place in a another galaxy. From my point of view, only Solaris by Steven Soderbergh (2002), unfortunately neglected by the audience, was able to accomplish that. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) has nothing to do with Interstellar, although visually, Nolan sometimes pays tribute to him. 2001 is a philosophical tale about the technique and the ratio of power between animosity and superior intelligence, and in that way it is positioned outside of human nature. In Interstellar, a movie much more personal in his message, is based on a premise which is the following, which Cooper and his daughter are the interpreters : from terrestrial dust to the depths of space and time, we can never be separated from who we are as individuals and as a species, as we always leave a part of ourselves "behind” ourselves. In other words, if I tried to summarize what makes the heart beat of Interstellar, I could say that this is a human story, and even if we go as far as we want to, if we travel through the universe believing that we can be detached of the one we are fond of, we will only get closer to them. Because the separation, and thus the distance and time, then the survival and courage, then giving up, and then hope, can only ultimately reinforce the relationship between the people who really love each other. Because it is going to the end of the world, when we reach the end of ourselves, at this “end”, that we reach the singularity of the “black hole beyond the horizon” * : it is our humanity.
No, I wasn’t been able to find any bad flaws in the film. Not one, and I'm still looking. After all, Interstellar is like gravity, “all it takes is a little push ! “
*you’ll have to see the movie to figure that one out.
Félix Tardieu, November 1st, 2014
Last edited by john75
on November 2nd, 2014, 9:41 am, edited 1 time in total.