You’ve got to give Christopher Nolan credit for tackling big
ideas, as he does in Interstellar, and
doing it in a big way. I saw the film in 70mm IMAX and there are moments that
are positively enthralling. By choosing the charismatic Matthew McConaughey as
his everyman, Nolan gives us someone we can relate to—and pull for—as he puts
himself on the line and sacrifices the thing that means the most to him, his
family, for the greater good.
Yet McConaughey is no ordinary guy: although we meet him as
a Midwestern farmer and single dad, he’s a trained engineer and former astronaut.
He has a gift for flying and the experience to lead a bold expedition to find a
habitable planet outside of our galaxy. As scientist Michael Caine tells him,
there is no hope of survival on earth: the only solution is to find a new home.
To do so, McConaughey must leave behind his father, son, and the sensitive,
highly intuitive daughter with whom he has a special connection.
This sprawling, ambitious nearly-three-hour film deals with
nothing less than the survival of mankind, the power of love, and the Theory of
Relativity! I can’t pretend to understand the scientific discussions that pepper
the screenplay; much of the jargon-heavy dialogue is just gobbledygook to me,
although it’s delivered with grave conviction.
What I find intriguing is that Nolan and his screenwriting
partner (and brother) Jonathan embrace both sides of the human condition. They
measure brilliance and knowledge against the raw power of emotions, and it’s
interesting to see what side wins out. Nolan is not a warm filmmaker, but Anne
Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and especially his leading man counterbalance that
coolness in their performances. McConaughey has never shed as many tears as he
does in this film.
Fortunately, given the film’s extreme length, it’s never
dull, but it does challenge the viewer as it shifts from one story path to
another. There are some real surprises along the way, not all of them welcome.
And, of course, the film is deadly serious: Nolan wouldn’t have it any other
The visual effects are majestically impressive, although
there are moments that I found all-too-reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I suppose that’s
unavoidable, but it did take me out of the movie, disrupting the immersive
experience Nolan is striving to achieve. Hans Zimmer’s thunderous music does
the job it’s supposed to do, but the director also makes canny use of silence.
When it was over, I came away from the film with mixed feelings
of admiration and frustration. Interstellar
aims high (no pun intended) and offers an adult approach to science-fiction on
a grand scale. Then, when you least expect it, the script veers into soap opera
and melodrama, invoking trite and mediocre sci-fi movies from years past. This
threatens to tear down everything Nolan has worked so hard to build up.
I wanted to be blown away, but I wasn’t. I enjoyed watching
the picture, with its masterful cinematography and production design, and I
always like seeing good actors at work, including John Lithgow as the hero’s
father. Mackenzie Foy gives an especially impressive performance as McConaughey’s
adolescent daughter. But Interstellar is
not this generation’s 2001.
Incidentally, I was delighted to be able to see the film at
the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, but dismayed that so much of the
dialogue was unintelligible, in scenes both quiet and loud. I don’t know if
this was a matter of acoustics or sound mixing, but it was maddening, to say