Interstellar…Interstellar…where to begin? I’m honestly having an incredibly hard time writing this review because I absolutely loved the film, yet I’m still just the tiniest bit disappointed in Nolan’s storytelling. It’s a massively ambitious film that explores a lot of extremely cool topics in physics and astronomy but manages to remain grounded in a fairly simple story of humanity – namely the bond shared between a father and daughter. Honestly, this is probably just a case of me setting my expectations to an astronomical level
only to have the movie come up short (get it, astronomical and it’s a movie about space?). You know what they say…Murphy’s Law. That’s how that works right bro? Cause like…that was totally a theme in the movie or something.
No but seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The film itself is absolutely gorgeous yet gritty, the performances ranging from decent to slightly above decent, and it’s just really, really cool to see Christopher Nolan taking liberties in visually representing space phenomena. The storytelling isn’t quite on par with his other films, but I think that’s because he is dealing with incredibly technical content that your average movie-goer simply isn’t equipped to process. Very few people know what a wormhole is, and even less understand or could even comprehend how relativity or higher dimensions work. As a cynical astronomer I’m just going to take a leap of faith and say that interstellar travel doesn’t get talked about much around the dinner table – people still use dinner tables right? Sure this movie is littered with plot-holes and an overabundance of exposition, but don’t fault the man for not recreating his other masterworks – praise him for making something that grows the genre and mankind’s love of space. I think this is easily the most personal of his films and one that I whole-heartedly identify with.
The story (as spoiler free as possible) is centered around a former NASA pilot turned farmer (Matthew McConaughey) that ultimately has the call to action to save humanity from extinction. Cooper, as he is called, inhabits a post-apocalyptic Earth where the major crops have been systematically dying off due to some blight. If estimates are correct, the remaining humans will probably either starve or suffocate within a few generations. When strange gravitational phenomena start happening in his daughter Murph’s (Mackenzie Foy) bedroom, he is unknowingly led to Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway) who enlist him for a top-secret mission to save humanity.
Essentially the mission is to travel through a wormhole and determine which of three alien planets could be a candidate for human relocation. Cooper is ultimately caught between a rock and a hard place because undertaking this ambitious mission means the possibility of never seeing his family again – despite the fact the mission is meant to save them. Naturally his 10 year old daughter resents him for leaving and his goodbye is not a pleasant one. Cooper is joined by a group of scientists including Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley as Doyle, and David Gyasi as Romilly on the long and desperate mission across the stars. Matt Damon even shows up later in the film as the much talked about ‘Dr. Mann’ to offer up more cryptic poetry and existentialism…because there’s no symbolism in the name ‘Mann’…
You’ve got your traditional three act narrative and the total screen time comes out just below three hours. That being said, if you’re like me, the first act will probably leave you annoyed that they’re taking so long to actually get to space, but that’s unfortunately the structure of the three act system. You’ve got your setup, you’re conflict, and then finally your resolution. The first act is all exposition and there is a whole lot of cryptic and often contrived dialogue to set up the other 2/3rds of the movie. Why do they have to go to space? Wait, why is that ungrateful little daughter so upset? Time Dilation – what’s that? Its slow and kind of boring, but to someone who isn’t a seasoned sci-fi fan and hasn’t spent the last 6 years studying Astronomy and Aerospace, I’d definitely recommend that you pay attention upfront in order to not be completely lost later in the film. Some might say this is restrictive storytelling, but I’d say Nolan might have had too much freedom in penning this screenplay.
Nolan does a great job telling very simple stories through increasingly complex plot devices. We see it in Inception, we see it in The Dark Knight Trilogy, and here again we see it in Interstellar. Yeah Murph is an ungrateful bitch throughout most of the movie and the whole ‘love conquers all’ thing is a bit pretentious, but it’s completely necessary and miraculously grounds the audience in a story that is otherwise filled with black-holes and wormholes and plot-holes.
Now my best advice to you, even if you’ve already seen it and plan to see it again, is just enjoy Interstellar for what it’s trying to be. Don’t get wrapped up in every little hiccup in the story or the scientific implausibility of certain scenes, just enjoy some really awesome visuals and a fun space-exploration film. You’ll probably get teary-eyed at a few scenes and cringe at a few pieces of dialogue, but it still accomplishes more than any other movie of its kind. That being said there are a LOT of things that don’t make sense and a lot of the post screening discussion will just be head-scratching and ‘why didn’t they do _____?’
Very clearly Nolan is paying homage to a personal favorite of his, 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as The Grapes of Wrath and a host of other classics. While I personally think that 2001 is too pretentious and over-hyped – albeit visually timeless – I think it inspired Nolan in ways that the world should be eternally grateful for. Not only is Interstellar entertaining, but it also has led to actual scientific progress regarding the nature of black holes. You’ve probably seen the picture below and thought ‘that’s completely unrealistic’, when in fact, it’s the closest representation of actuality we have. Kip Thorne, the renowned physicist, contributed so much in terms of technical consulting for the film that he actually earned himself an Executive Producer title.
That being said, yeah, Interstellar runs a little too much with certain scientific theories, but unless you’re an astrophysicist, they aren’t glaring. For instance I, although pleased with the visual representation of ‘Gargantua’ the black hole, spent the better part of the movie trying to figure out how interstellar gas and dust were bright enough to cast such a ghostly halo. I got bogged down on an unimportant detail and probably ended up missing something trult beautiful about the film. Interstellar doesa fairly good job of constraining itself to science fiction for the first half or so of the movie and then switches over to more science fantasy about the time they get to Mann’s Planet. The key difference between the two distinctions is that science fiction lives within the current realm of scientific understanding and science fantasy indulges more in imagination. This means something like Star Trek is more sci-fi and Star Wars is more sy-fy.
Obviously the director takes a few artistic liberties once they start getting into trans-dimensional travel and the nature of singularities, but remember, IT’S JUST A MOVIE. Seeing higher dimensions represented in 3 dimension space was pretty neat and highly inventive (though again, the resolution is a bit of a mind-fuck). Before you start talking about how accurate something like the movie Gravity is with Sandra Bullock, just remember that the tiniest micro-meteoroid is still going at least 25k mph. If she doesn’t miraculously avoid every flying piece of debris and space junk, she’s dead in seconds as her blood boils out and she’s subjected to the harsh realities of space. Treat Interstellar like a movie and not an exposition of science and you’ll be fine.
Interstellar indulges a lot in some regards and isn’t consistent in a lot of its own explanation but who really cares? Yeah, the gravity from the black hole would have probably compressed them to an infinitely thin strand of material and yeah, the ship probably isn’t capable of interstellar travel if they’re using traditional rockets to launch into space – the point is that without actually finding out firsthand how a black hole works, writers can improvise to their heart’s content. That was actually the most glaring issue I had with the movie since they very clearly have ships that are capable of getting from the surface to space later on in the film. Or perhaps it was simply the naming of the movie. Interstellar is pretty bold and cool sounding but *SPOILER ALERT* they don’t actually travel to other stars. They travel between galaxies and the only other star they come across has been crushed into a singularity under the weight of all the plot-holes.
I understand why he included some of these obvious errors; he has to make the film seem familiar and realistic to a broad range of folks. The audience needs to feel in control and gradually weaned into a more complex and unfamiliar space (pun definitely intended). Hans Zimmer’s score for the film is absolutely mesmerizing as it slowly builds along with the film and dominates at each act’s crescendo. Yes I get the whole ‘there’s no sound in space’ issue, but other than myself and a few hardcore sci-fi fans, who is really going to pay to watch long drawn out scenes in silence? I personally like my sci-fi long and seemingly boring, but I’ll make exception if its beautiful and engaging. The pacing of the film is exactly what I feel it needed to be in order to maximize Interstellar’s resonance with the audience. Whereas 2001 or Solaris are too slow for the bulk of movie-goers, you also can’t suddenly ask the audience to jump from rural farmer Cooper to surfing the Event Horizon Cooper.
The beauty of this film is that it takes its time, offers up some explanation when necessary, and treats us to enough visual treats that you don’t get bogged down in the various pitfalls of the story (and there are a lot of them). The problem I feel is that Interstellar might just be a little TOO ambitious for its own good. It’s a human story wrapped up in a massive space exploration adventure that also tries to convey a philosophical and metaphorical ode to humanity’s place in the universe. Thanks Dylan Thomas… There are times it feels like a three hour movie and there are other times where you wish it would never end.
Despite its flaws however, Interstellar comes with my highest recommendation. You can say what you will about the performances or the faults in storytelling that go along with telling a massively ambitious tale, but at the core of Interstellar is just a beautiful and inspiring sci-fi film. For the most part it looks believable and Nolan does a lot of inventive camera work to actually create an accurate representation of theoretical space phenomena. The soundtrack is extraordinary and complements the visuals all throughout, the action isn’t overbearing or dull, and despite the third act being inherently confusing, it doesn’t give off a self-proclaimed feeling of superiority.
I love ambiguity in films and I loved Interstellar. Go see it, go try and research the science behind it, and argue, argue, ARGUE with your friends. We need more ambition in movies and the only way they’ll get made is if you see the seldom found diamonds in the rough like Interstellar.
The Bottom Line:
It’s visually breathtaking despite it being an incredibly challenging movie to make. It’s thought-provoking albeit a bit confusing at times, but that shouldn’t deter you from seeing this gem. Nolan creates a believable world with very human characters that are tested far beyond the capacity of our imagination. We literally feel the isolation of the characters dripping from the screen and marvel with them at the scope of their adventure. Hardcore fans of Nolan will probably be disappointed that this isn’t on the same level as his other, more recent blockbusters, but I contend that this is by far his most personal film and a rare treat for fans of Science Fiction.