In the future, a blight has run rampant across the world, killing off a large portion of the population and much of our food supply. Once an engineer and an astronaut, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), like many other former professionals, has been relegated to life as a farmer, a life that doesn’t suit him well. When an astronomical anomaly attracts the attention of his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain), Cooper follows a set of coordinates and discovers a hidden NASA compound. Here he is reunited with an old colleague, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who asks him to pilot an interstellar space flight into another galaxy in search of a new home for the human race. But as the state of earth worsens, Cooper’s task proves even more difficult than he might have imagined and as he wrestles with massive decisions in life-threatening circumstances, his ultimate goal of reuniting with his kids becomes his driving force.
I’ve been looking forward to Interstellar with great vigor for a very long time now and it was easily my most anticipated film of the year. I love Christopher Nolan, I love Matthew McConaughey (I’m still not used to saying/writing that without doing a double take), and I love space. Bringing all of those things together is like Hollywood coming directly to me and asking me what I would wish for in a movie then granting that wish. Thanks, Hollywood! I won’t tell you that all of those aspects came together to create a perfect film, much less the masterpiece that I might have quietly hoped for, but a great deal of this movie worked very, very well for me overall.
Interstellar borrows elements from a wide variety of sources, from films as varied as 2001: A Space Odyssey to Field of Dreams to M. Night Shyamalan’s criminally underrated Signs as well as any number of science fiction novels, most notably (in my mind) The Forever War. As such, you can’t call this film all that unique on its surface. But the ambitions of Interstellar, and ultimately that of Nolan and his writing partner/brother Jonathan, lie in the task of bringing all of these ideas, concepts, and plot points together into a cohesive and, dare I say, staggeringly beautiful whole. It is by far Nolan’s most sentimental film and while that may come across as heavy-handed to some, I found it to be a very personal narrative and a much more earth-bound point of focus than what the director usually goes for. The sentiment and the emotion of this film, while not overpowering, hit the mark for me and brought a sense of purpose that I think often times gets lost in a piece of science-fiction, especially one of this magnitude. And make no mistake, Interstellar is a HUGE movie with fantastic cinematography that puts on full display just how wonderfully real a film can be. The space sequences in particular are dizzying, powerful and gloriously loud. It’s intense and at times heart-stopping and left me completely riveted to the screen.
The performances take a back seat to the scope of the visuals and the complexity of the narrative, but at one time or another, virtually every major cast member within Interstellar is called upon to carry and scene or two and I can’t say I was ever disappointed. McConaughey does more serious work on the non-verbal side of things than he usually does and in the film’s most vulnerable moments when he has to bring the emotion home, he does his job quite well. Chastain, another favorite around here, is as majestic as ever. Even Anne Hathaway who always seems to aggravate me (and, it seems, much of America agrees) gives a solid performance, albeit in a role that could’ve been played by two dozen actresses. It’s unlikely that any of the talent cast members will receive award attention but each of them holds their own.
There are certainly flaws to be dealt with within Interstellar. As mentioned previously, much of the story is borrowed from a variety of sources which tempts the viewer to disengage and write off a plot point as a knock-off. That didn’t happen for me but I understand the potential for derailment is there. The dialogue at times is iffy and there’s a ton of exposition to be dealt with, though I felt like Nolan did an excellent job of navigating through those exposition-y spots with as much momentum as possible. And, without spoilers, almost all of the plotting hinges on a moment in the third act that is designed, quite pointedly I think, to force the viewer to buy in or get out. That great scene in The Shawshank Redemption when Red finds Andy’s map and Andy implores him to, “Come a little further” comes to mind in the final act of Interstellar. The relationship between science and theory is certainly tested in Interstellar but I took it as an invitation from Nolan to come a little further and fully invest in his vision. Some won’t be able to do that. As a result, this is bound to be a divisive film and one that will inspire outright love and total hate. So be it.
All told, I think Interstellar is worth the price of admission based solely on the stunning visuals and its substantial ambition even if, in the end, you can’t get on board for the full ride. In the end, though, this is not a movie that you see so much as it is a movie that you feel and whether or not you can find its rhythms and share in its emotionalism will dictate how well it works for you. I went in for the full Interstellar experience and I loved it. I hope you will too.
Grade: A (Rated PG-13 for some language and many intense sequences)
NOTE: A film of this scope deserves to be seen in the setting it is meant to be seen in. Much like Gravity last year, I fear if you see this on DVD, you will not be seeing the same movie. Get to the theater and moreover, get to an IMAX screen or a theater showing the film in 35mm. This is the rare film that's worth the added expense or inconvenience.