“Interstellar‘s crowning achievement, besides its special effects work, is its human-centeredness, keeping the human characters in mind every step of the project.”
Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar combines two of the most basic principles of science-fiction stories, simultaneously being tense and immersing, but also manages to be somewhat perplexing in its manipulation of space and time. In that simple respect, the film is nearly a wash, but thanks to Nolan’s desire to constantly challenge and experiment with how far the realms of science-fiction filmmaking can go, he manages to concoct another crafty and commendable film that effectively compliments his decorated filmography.
Coming off of his acclaimed Batman trilogy, and his beloved mindbender Inception, Nolan further explores the concept of time manipulation with Interstellar. Set in the near future, we are greeted with an ugly America, reliant on agriculture and burdened by prolific and crippling dust storms that make life, human and agricultural, incredibly difficult and almost impossible. We focus on the family of a widowed-man named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who lives in a ramshackle farm with his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), his teenage son Tom, and his ten-year-old daughter Murphy. Cooper, a man with a passion for science and engineering, discovers moving books on his book shelf that are ostensibly the work of a paranormal entity. After dust is seen rising from his floor and spells out a message of a secret NASA institution, Cooper realizes it is a route of communication from an undetermined world or dimensional.
Cooper arrives at the secret NASA institution, led by one of his old professors (Michael Caine), who informs him that a wormhole has been discovered in the solar system and exists near Saturn. He states that a team of astronauts need to go into space and venture through the wormhole in order to explore new galaxies and potentially find a new place for humans to call home. Now that Cooper has seen this institution, there’s no turning back, and he must embark on an intergalactic mission with numerous others, leaving his family behind for an unknown amount of time. Being that many of these galaxies exist in the realm of time that moves either progressively faster or slower than what we’ve come to know, spending an hour in one particular location could warrant seven years have slipped by back on Earth.
Before we go any further, Interstellar, seems to be a modern reimagining or homage to Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cooper meets a unique looking robot by the name of TARS soon after he embarks on the mission, who doesn’t look or operate anything like the conventional, humanoid robots we’ve come to imagine and sounds very similar to the computer system HAL from the aforementioned film. In addition, interactions with relatives who Cooper hasn’t seen in years, the exploration of different galaxies, the impending commentary on scientific advancement and how far we’ve come, and even the adventure through the wormhole that reminds one of the scene in the classic film where the ship travels through the hyperspace all remind of 2001: A Space Odyssey. With that, it’s almost as if Nolan wanted to bring about an entirely more scientific angle to the story rather than one predicated on metaphors and interpretations.
For that reason, expecting Interstellar to be entirely original and unforeseen is foolish mainly because basic elements of the story seem to have been stripped from 2001 in such a way that renders them, not as lesser, but familiar. However, make no mistake in recognizing the true beauty that the film manages to summon almost on command. Interstellar is a gorgeous film, with Oscar-worthy special effects that find themselves immersing the viewer in different worlds and different places that are only limited by the imagination of the Nolan brothers, Christopher and Jonathan, and the impeccably-talented special effects artists who brought them to life. One of the basic principles of filmmaking is achieved here as Nolan and a devoted crew of special effects artist effectively transport us to different galaxies and cater to our unquenchable thirst for visions of the universe.
At the center of all of this is McConaughey, who I’m not afraid to call my favorite leading male actor working today, along the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Robert Downey, Jr., and Channing Tatum. McConaughey has effectively transformed himself into an actor of range and impeccable talent, with Interstellar being his most emotional project yet. McConaughey exhausts himself by circling all the emotional bases this particular story can offer, working best when his character is forced to watch his kids grow twenty-three years older in five minutes, creating the saddest scene in the whole film. It’s the kind of performance where you almost feel that the Academy cannot wait to announce his name as one of the nominees for Best Actor.
The only fault with Interstellar, as I’ve come to recognize with Nolan, is its ambition, where ideas are so grandiose they are difficult to follow if one isn’t either scientifically literate or willing to go several extra miles and indulge in a complex analysis. Yet, if Interstellar could be understood entirely after one sitting, it would perhaps be a fault of Nolan’s, as one of the beauties of his films is many require multiple viewings in order to pick up on various subtleties and different narrative pieces one doesn’t always catch the first time (and how would you expect them to, in this case, when the film is one-hundred and sixty-nine minutes long?).
This fact is somewhat shadowed by the fact that Interstellar‘s crowning achievement, besides its special effects work, is its human-centeredness, keeping the human characters in mind every step of the project. Even with grandiose ideas about existence and time etched into the screenplay, Nolan never loses sight of believable human drama and the real heartbreak in seeing your children age from, literally, another galaxy. Interstellar, even in a state that feels like an homage crossed with an extremely-ambitious tale of space and time, is a film that caters to the basic idea of why we go to the movies as a medium of entertainment.