Similar to M. Night Shyamalan‘s brilliant Signs (the last flick before Shyamalan went off the rails), Interstellar keeps its “end of the world” story confined to a farmhouse surrounded by cornfields in rural America. In Interstellar, we don’t really get a clear picture of what has happened to the world. In throwaway lines of dialogue, we learn that food is in short supply, a lot of people have died already, and things are only going to get worse. It makes sense that Interstellar keeps its worldly view simple because, even though Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) heads off to save the world, he’s really trying to save his family.
Christopher Nolan has made some of the best films of the last 15 years. From Memento to Insomnia to Inception to The Dark Knight trilogy, he creates complex, powerful, epic stories presented in a vivid visual setting. Interstellar is no different, but he doesn’t hit the bullseye like he usually does. The film is ambitious to say the least.
Copper is a former NASA test pilot who discovers that NASA is still secretly functioning. Their leader, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), has a big plan to save the world, and he needs Cooper to pilot the mission. After making the difficult decision to leave his family and lead the mission to find a new planet for humans to live on. He’s joined by Brand’s daughter, Amelia, played by Anne Hathaway. Nolan guided Hathaway to one of her best performances as Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, but despite some strong moments, Nolan doesn’t give Hathaway much to work with here. She really doesn’t have any impact on the story, which is a shame, because Hathaway is capable of much more.
They reach one of the potential new planets, but time on the planet is drastically different. Every hour spent on the new planet is approximately 7 years back on earth. After the visit goes horribly wrong (the stunning sequence features an unbelievable wave), they lose almost 25 years in time. Once back on the ship, Cooper watches episodic videos from back home and sees his son (now played by Casey Affleck) grow up before his eyes as he goes to college, gets married, and starts a family. His daughter, Murphy, who was insistent on her father staying in the first place, refused to make videos, but she decides to make one on the day she turns the same age her father was when she left.
The adult Murphy is played by Jessica Chastain, and she floors you from the second she appears onscreen. It’s an emotional, arresting, luminous performance by the actress that just might be her return ticket to the Oscars (she has several contending roles this year). The movie basically boils down to the father-daughter relationship, and that’s where the film clicks, and I wish the film had just stuck to that more. Nolan muddles it with a lot of scientific dialogue that clouds the film’s primary message.
I couldn’t help but think of Gravity. Winning 7 Oscars last year, the film was stripped down to very precise moments and was extremely impactful. Streamlining this story might have really helped Nolan. Often Interstellar comes off as self-important and excessive (Hans Zimmer‘s bombastic score doesn’t help). The film is a mind trip like Inception, but that film managed to be more fun. Interstellar is weighed down by its endless exposition.
McConaughey gives an incredible performance heading this complicated story. He has the difficult job at maintaining the film’s emotional core and he does beautifully. Also, look out for the A-lister who pops up in the film, and does Oscar-worthy work in a brief role. The marketing has kept it a secret, so I won’t spoil it because it’s such an exciting reveal and the twist doesn’t stop there.
The final sequence is also a twisty one, but the film smartly planted the seeds for the ending throughout, which makes it much easier to comprehend. The film also keeps saying that humans can’t understand these multiple dimensions, so even if you try to criticize it, Nolan smartly behinds the notion of “you’re not supposed to comprehend it!”. Well played.
I’m never going to bash a thought-provoking, ambitious Hollywood film. Those are becoming less and less present in a superhero-obsessed Hollywood. There’s a lot of great stuff in Interstellar and it’s a visual feast. Nolan remains a unique filmmaker, and he gets incredible performances out of his cast (that also includes John Lithgow, David Gyasi, Ellen Burstyn, Mackenzie Foy, Wes Bentley, and David Oyelowo in a small role) and Chastain could contend for the win.