Interstellar is not the kind of movie you see once. In fact, even after multiple viewings, it will still be impossible to comprehend the magnitude of the work. To say the film is a sensory and mental overload is an understatement; to say it is exciting, mind-blowing and ambitious is much more accurate. So, how in the world do I write a review about this film?!
The feeling Nolan builds around Interstellar makes me think back to the days when movies were events, complete with a build-up of anticipation, fanfare, and audiences going to theaters knowing basically nothing about the plot. Ah, the good ole days before social media spoilers. Without giving away too much, because the film really is best when you go in knowing nothing, the film opens on a different kind of Earth. This world has no big government, no war, no armies, and schools are now teaching that man never actually went to the Moon, it was a conspiracy to bankrupt the Soviet Union. However, world peace and weird conspiracy theories do not an idyllic society make.
Coop (Matthew McConaughey), a former test pilot, engineer, and now farmer, is busy trying to raise two kids, Murph (Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet and Casey Affleck), while also maintaining his crop of corn after plants worldwide are infected with blight. Though his corn was spared (so far), the effects of the blight have created an international food shortage. Not only that, like in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, the lack of plants creates huge dust storms that decimate living conditions and create terrible pulmonary illnesses.
When Murphy notices a weird anomaly in her room that she calls “the ghost”, she and Coop are pointed to a NORAD bunker that is housing a secret enclave of NASA scientists led by Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway). The father/daughter team let Coop in on just how dire the situation is on Earth. Not only are there issues with food, if Earth loses its plants, the nitrogen and carbon cycles will be disrupted, which would thus lead to eventual human suffocation. As they put it, Murph’s generation may be the last.
Now comes the big decision. Over the past decade, NASA embarked on secret exploratory missions to space (Operation Lazarus) in order to find habitable planets that they could use to relocate humanity. Scientists sacrificed themselves on one-way missions to these planets using a wormhole that mysteriously appeared near Saturn; three of them sent back promising news. With this information, NASA created a new ship, which will leave Earth to verify the scientists’ data and choose the right planet for relocation. They just need a great pilot. What a coincidence! Coop is back in the rotation (even though it doesn’t appear that he has flown a plan in years). Coop agrees to pilot the mission to try to save his children, and all of humanity, but will he ever return home and will Murph forgive him for leaving the family? (Remember how I said I wasn’t going to give too much away? This is only about the first 20-25 minutes of the film.)
Interstellar‘s major themes are the strength of love and the preciousness of time. Broadly, there is the time humanity has left on Earth before we exhaust all of our resources. And, on a more personal level, there is the time we have with our loved ones. When outside forces affect these critical concepts how will humans react? Will love be able to conquer all?
Is it more a criticism of me or Interstellar that at times I felt too stupid for this movie? I’m going to go with this being a “me” problem. Whenever I hear words prefaced with “quantum”, my brain immediately goes into survival mode and I black out. Of course, I had issues with the expository dialogue, but honestly, how else am I going to be able to understand what a black hole is? I will let it slide this time, Nolan. Along that same line, the more technical parts of the movie were, at times, too convoluted. But the thing is, you don’t need to understand all of the scientific theories and verbiage in order to enjoy the movie. At its heart, Interstellar is about the love between a father and daughter; it could have been set anywhere. I hope upon future viewings (and with the help of Wikipedia) I will be able to better understand some of the more scientific aspects of the film. Leave it to Nolan to make a more Stephen Hawking-centric film than The Theory of Everything.
The performances in the film are the glue that holds the entire thing together. There would be no movie without this strong cast. In his best performance to date (yes, even better than Dallas Buyer’s Club), Matthew McConaughey puts forth more emotion than I have ever seen from him. He leaves his “alright alright alrights” behind, in order to portray a father, heartbroken over leaving his family, but trying to look forward to their future and the future of humanity.
The other real standout in the film is (per usual) Jessica Chastain. With less screen time than I would like, Chastain gives an Oscar-caliber performance, bringing poise, intelligence and emotion to her role as the adult Murph; something lacking from many onscreen characters. Usually intelligence and emotionality don’t go hand-in-hand. Murph was originally supposed to be male, and Interstellar was going to be about a father/son relationship, but that was changed when Nolan decided he wanted to cast Chastain. When I spoke to Jessica at the premiere of Interstellar in Washington, DC, she said they didn’t even change the script along with the gender change. So wait, now you are telling me Jessica can play men AND women roles? Look out Hollywood, she can do everything (but we already knew that, didn’t we?)
If you don’t see Interstellar right now, on the biggest screen possible, with the best sound system possible, you’re doing it wrong. So what if it costs a little more money to see the film in IMAX, it is TOTALLY worth it. Nolan shot the entire movie on film, and about an hour of that was shot with an IMAX camera. Along with the better picture of 35 and 70 mm film, the sound in IMAX theaters is so nice and loud (except in the space scenes when it is supposed to be quiet), it will provide an added bonus of drowning out any annoying neighbors!
For an almost three hour movie, I was completely entertained the entire time and dumbstruck as the credits began to roll. What in the world did I just watch? An innovative, original screenplay, brilliant filmmaking (including Nolan’s use of practical effects as opposed to CGI), and Oscar-caliber acting are just a few of the reasons to go see Interstellar. You won’t be disappointed, but your brain may hurt a little.
My Review: A