The fault lies not in the stars…
[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00EXPOCNO][/pullquote] I’m going to throw some words at you. Staggering, epic, intelligent, glorious, beautiful, wondrous, cerebral, fantastic, lazy, self-indulgent, pretentious, long and nonsensical. This are just a few words that will be written in reviews of Christopher Nolan’s first post-Dark Knight film Interstellar. This is a film that will divide audiences and critics, and which will draw just as much praise as it will scorn. It is Nolan at his very best and his infuriating worst.
In the near future humanity is on it’s last legs. Overwhelmed and ill-prepared for a blight on the food which wipes out a large proportion of society, leaving the rest as farmers desperately trying to survive in a giant dust-bowl. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot whose chance at space travel disappeared along with hope for the future of Earth. However a chance discovery of what’s left of NASA, headed by Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) leads to him be told that a plan is in place and he must leave his family to venture through a worm-hole and look for an inhabitable planet. Aware of the stakes of the mission he leaves his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) and son Tom (Thimothee Chalamet) and boards the spaceship Endurance and ventures into the wormhole.
This epic science fiction storytelling is common in literature, but few film-makers would have the confidence to attempt a film version, especially one that relies so heavily on the latest scientific research in the field of quantum mechanics. Yet Christopher Nolan fresh off the success of The Dark Knight Rises grabs the material by the neck and steadfastly refuses to talk down to his audience. There is an assumption that his audience want to learn more about the science and through the exposition comes the explanation.
He deftly starts the first act on Earth, explaining what is at stake and comments on the path of of no-discovery that we’re leaning toward as a society. There is a clear love for exploration and learning to be taken from it, and maybe if we spent a bit more time looking to the stars and a little less time focused on ourselves or what some celebrity said or did to another we might accomplish so much more. This will be part of the reason for the staggering division ahead. Interstellar dares to stand above other blockbusters and proclaim that there is more to life than standard blockbusters provide.
Once the decision is made and the heart-wrenching departure happens we are quickly whisked into space with no further fuss. The family provide the base for the coming adventure and the film, like the director, wants to rove and explore. We travel to different planets and see how science and physics affect different areas in startling and jaw-dropping ways. Somewhere between the frozen clouds and the uber-waves you can’t help but feel that there’s some license being taken, but then you remember this is Nolan. A man whose creativity is only tempered by his desire for the truth in all matters. the fact that he brought on board theoretical physicist Kip Thorne to back up some of the ideas speaks volumes to his commitment to present a science fiction story that is heavy on the science.
Through our astronauts we learn about relativity, black holes, work holes and everything in between. Interstellar really isn’t a film to be taken lightly and nor should it be. In comparison to this, his previous exploration of big ideas Inception looks startlingly like b-movie fluff, but it is refreshing to have a big-money blockbuster challenge it’s audience. Aside from McConaughey and Hathaway the rest of the crew are mainly filler, there to dispense explanation to some of the scientific ideas, but a suprising highlight is the clunky, almost-out-of-place functional robot companion TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin). He brings much-needed levity at times when the film could become bogged down by its own self-importance.
Early reports of the film drew heavy comparisons with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which makes sense when you see the space station circling beautifully in the blackness of space and there’s even a joke from one of the ships robotic servants about throwing Coop out of an airlock. Where it differs however is in the familial relationships. McConaughey continues to impress as the father torn between love for his children and a burning desire to get out of a broken world and explore. Alongside him Anne Hathaway brings a colder more scientific edge while Jessica Chastain excels as a grown-up Murph.
If there has been a constant criticism of Nolan’s previous work it’s that it is emotionally cold. He goes someway to redressing that balance here, just holding his characters on the right side of hackneyed. How interesting that this emotional engagement should develop in a film that is so science heavy. It seems if you crave the emotional resonance you’re going to have to work for it, but there are other moments of beauty outside of the characters.
Interstellar dares to stand above other blockbusters
Long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister has taken the leap into directing it appears that his replacement Hoyte Van Hoytema knows what to do with a camera. His sweeping vistas, notably those in Iceland help provide wonder and beauty to the potentially barren lands of another planet. Out in the inky black of space it’s a different story as we are treated to renderings of black holes and fourth and fifth dimensions that might just be the most beautifully bonkers scenes ever committed to film.
There are of course problems here with some characterisation, dialogue and the final scenes, but these seem insignificant in a film of this scope. Interstellar wants you to think, to understand and dare to dream. But not dream in the sense of a contestant on a singing competition might ‘dream of winning’ but rather a more grandiose self-betterment sort of dream.
There is infinite space out there to venture into, so why are we spending so much time, effort and resources in the wrong places. To quote Cooper “We used to look to stars, instead of looking for our place in dirt.”