Full disclosure: I’ve almost never been so unsure about what to say in a movie review as I am right now. I saw Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar last night at Hollywood’s gorgeous Chinese Theater in eye-popping 70mm IMAX and as the film went on my reactions to it were all over the place. I tried my best not to let that distract me or pull me too far out of the movie so I just kept saying to myself: “Worry about what to say after its over.”
I tried that.
It didn’t work. And I’ve been worried ever since.
For every mind-blowing visual or interesting scientific concept there was a moment where I found myself wondering, “Where in the film’s nearly 3-hour run-time are we? Is it almost over?” And that’s not to say I wanted it to be over. Far from it! I just literally lost all sense of time in a way that was borderline frustrating.
But what makes feeling that way about it so interesting is that this is a movie about time. In it, characters are dealing with the passage of time, the theoretical relations of time, and quite possibly the end of time as we know it. I’m quite sure Nolan had no intention of making me wanting to check my watch but its an interesting idea regardless.
Either way, what Nolan has assembled here is a big film with even bigger ideas and for that reason alone he is to be commended. In a time when the major studios almost never give a green light to a big budget film not based on some kind of existing property, Nolan continues to push the envelope with original storytelling unlike any other director working today. One only has to look at his Inception to get a taste for the kind of original tales kicking around in his head. They’re brilliant and I want to see more of them. Period.
But even the most masterful filmmaker can’t make EVERYTHING turn into pure gold. Nolan proves that with this film but he gets major points for effort.
If you didn’t already know, Interstellar introduces us to a not-too-distant future where the Earth is slowly succumbing to another dust bowl and the prospects for future human life are dim. In this dire setting we meet a former NASA pilot/current farmer named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) who, along with his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), discovers a mysterious set of coordinates that leads them to a top secret government base.
It is at this base where they meet Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway) who reveal that they are secretly working for the once-thought-to-be-defunct NASA on a mission that will take a group of explorers through a wormhole to another galaxy in hope of finding a planet where life is possible for humans. One group of scientists has already made the journey to scout out the best planets so this next trip will be responsible for making that final decision and then returning to Earth with the good news.
And because these scientists take cryptic messages very seriously, they believe Cooper was sent to them for a reason and insist that he be the one to pilot the vessel to this other galaxy. And after initially dismissing the idea in favor of staying behind to care for his two children, he reluctantly agrees in hopes of saving not only his own children but the children of everyone else on Earth.
Murph quickly resents her father for agreeing to leave and refuses to bid him farewell when the time comes to launch into the cosmos. What follows is an epic journey through space and time that will take your breath away from the sheer scope of it all. We are right there with Cooper, Amelia, and fellow NASA scientists Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) as they rocket through wormholes, dare to fly near a black hole, visit a water-covered planet with waves the size of mountains, and land on an icy planet where even the clouds are frozen. These moments and many more are a visual feast that are only more mesmerizing if you see the film on an immense IMAX screen in the 70mm format. No matter how you feel about everything else in the film – characters, plot, dialogue, etc. – these images will absolutely leave you reeling from their pure beauty, wonder, and believability. On this front alone the film is a masterpiece.
But the reason that a lot of these images are so powerful is that they are anchored very nicely to Cooper’s almost single-minded quest to return to Earth and be reunited with his children. And what makes this film an almost sci-fi answer to Boyhood is that the passage of time happens differently for those left back on Earth and as a result we get to see his children grow into adults in the form of Casey Affleck and the great Jessica Chastain.
Chastain, who takes on the more prominent role of adult Murph, convincingly pulls our heartstrings as a child who feels abandoned and betrayed by a father who appears to have little chance of actually returning to her after a 20+ year absence. Their relationship is a complex and interesting one that only gets more complex as the film goes on.
And I think therein lies the problem with Interstellar. In some ways it feels like a film that doesn’t know where to end. There are scenes and moments scattered throughout the last act that I personally think could have been sufficient and satisfying end points. That’s not to say that everything that comes after these points is terrible (far from it) – they just seem to exist to answer every remaining question and tie up every loose end. Some viewers may appreciate this but for me, a movie so operatic, mystical, and full of wonder would have left more of an impression by leaving a little bit left to the imagination.
Even though I didn’t walk out of the theater wanting to sing Interstellar‘s praises from the rooftops, I still highly recommend seeing it for the experience that it is. See it in the best theater, on the biggest screen, and with the biggest crowd you can find. What Nolan has assembled here is GARGANTUAN and I cringe at the thought of anyone ever watching it on their phone or laptop. This is a movie in the biggest sense of the word and it deserves to be seen that way.
It may not have a perfect script and probably runs far too much longer than it needs to but it made me marvel at space again in a way I hadn’t felt since I was a little boy. And sometimes that’s all a movie needs to do.