Alright, alright, alright.
I have been waiting to see this film since I first heard of its announcement and saw the teaser posters. I think it ought to be noted that over recent years and due to his fantastic care taking of my most favorite comic book hero, Christopher Nolan has emerged as one of my favorite directors. In between filming The Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan also put out two other wonderful pieces of film in The Prestige and Inception. Both of those films were fantastic on their own and somehow Nolan found the time to string together five movies that helped raise the bar in Hollywood over a short period of time.
Now, enter Interstellar. The story is quite simple really. It’s not even a newcomer to the silver screen. The film is set in a future that could be not too distant, or maybe even 100 years from now, but the idea is that mankind has used up the Earth’s resources, or at least some of them. It is implied that there is very little rain or water available to water crops, which are being killed off in droves by some blight or other. The only thing mankind has left seems to be corn, but the clock is ticking there too. Essentially, we’re starving, and we’re suffocating and although slowly for now, the end is near and time is running out.
Throughout much of the first act of this film, the relationship between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his ten-year old daughter, Murphy is much of the focus. Here is a small hint at what is to come. Murphy is played by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn. Cooper also has an older son played by Timothee Chalamet and Casey Affleck. It is implied but never really explained that the mother/wife figure has passed away sometime earlier. We’ve seen that plot device before, but we can deal with it here. Her role is filled in by John Lithgow, who portrays her father and he lives with them in their beat up, dusty farmhouse.
In another career, in a different time, Cooper had been a brilliant engineer and pilot who worked for NASA, but due to the changing state of the world, he becomes a corn farmer like everyone else. Murphy (or Murph, as she is affectionately called) still has some of her father’s appetite for exploration within her and at the same time, feels that she has been continuously visited by some unseen “ghost” or paranormal activity. A small discussion over breakfast revolves around said “ghost” and its likelihood of existence and Murph is told to weigh the evidence against science and come up with an educated reason behind why random books keep falling out of her bookshelf. It is this continuous occurrence coupled with a gigantic dust storm that propels Cooper into finally listening and investigating his daughter’s “ghost.”
What they find is a journey that leads them to a military installation in the mountains that Nolan wastes no time in identifying as what is left of NASA, or at least a re-invention of it. It is led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a group of similarly brilliant minds and his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway). At this point we also get introduced to another amazing advancement in technology in the first appearance of a handful of differently functioning artificial intelligence entities that look like next generation automatic teller machines that are mobile and vocal. Two such entities are simply known as T.A.R.S. and C.A.S.E. They will later become very valuable shipmates and travel companions.
Professor Brand wastes little time in attempting to convince Cooper to captain their upcoming mission. It is heavily implied that the two gentlemen have a past. I’m guessing Brand was one of Cooper’s professors while he was in college, or maybe they worked at NASA together before. We really don’t need to know that, I suppose, but it is a nice little addition to the character development that the brothers Nolan did such a wonderful job at developing throughout this film.
I think the character development is one of the main reasons this film is so powerful. There is little time wasted before one begins to feel affection toward everyone in the movie and the seed of hope is planted early, perhaps nestled in between the stalks of corn that are struggling to survive the constant barrage of dust. Watching this film as a father was especially difficult because I felt like I was the one leaving my children to go on this timeless, endless journey and no one in the film or watching it has any idea whether success will come. It is with that heavy notion that Cooper and his crew (including Amelia Brand) blast off in search of a new home for all of us.
Once the crew is in space, and on their way to Saturn, which is where they hope to find a wormhole that mysteriously appeared there approximately 50 years prior. Throughout much of the interactions between Cooper and the Brands and the others at NASA, it is learned that they have already sent several astronauts on loner missions through the wormhole to attempt to find a new home for humanity. They have received promising data transmissions back from a few of the astronauts on a few of the worlds and so, they set off to investigate.
Now, I must say, if by this point in the film you have not noticed the beautiful cinematography captured by Hoyte Van Hoytema, then you have missed a lot of the feeling behind this film. Hoytema has excelled before in the photography in Her (which I really would like to review also, but have not found the time to do it justice) and The Fighter. Here, in another one of Nolan’s universes (surprisingly not shot by Wally Pfister this time), Hoytema captures the desolation and desperation of those left on Earth with the warm, monotone sepia filters. The basic idea: there is a LOT of dirt and dust and very little green left. There is wonderful juxtaposition between the scenes shot on Earth and those shot in space or on the other worlds. On one world the warm filters continue, but this time in a blue monochrome because the entire surface is water and as much as I would like to talk about the events that occur there, I will leave that spoiler out. The next planet, where a great deal of the next act of the story resides is more monotony but this time we’re greeted with bright whites and grays because most of the world is ice and snow and not much else. This is the world that they think may have the most promise. This is also the first world where we encounter one of the astronauts sent before our crew.
Matt Damon! It’s Matt Damon who plays Doctor Mann, one of their more brilliant scientists or “the best of us all” according to Amelia Brand. The next few scenes and sequences are some heavy stuff and you will really want to pay attention to what is happening, what is being discussed and what some possible underlying symbolism might be. Before too long, it might be understood that Dr. Mann literally symbolizes man as a whole. The best evidence for this theory is that of Mann’s actions while they are on this giant ball of ice. Since there are many plot advancements that occur with Dr. Mann’s character, I won’t say much, but I really hope that audiences will get the message. The struggle of man, the always-present desire to survive and succeed and explore and continue on as a species and as individuals. This is where some of the strong character development from earlier really starts to come out and shine. Cooper’s desire to get back home to Murph is palpable. So much so that you can feel it as you watch the film progress. In the dialogue, in the actions of his character, in the visuals and in the music, you can feel how strongly Cooper wants to succeed on this mission.
I will always say that a movie is made or broken on the merits of the music that accompanies it. Interstellar is a perfect example. I have read that there were many audience complaints about how the music, most notably the pipe organ tended to drown out dialogue and other sounds throughout the movie. I did not find this to be a problem. While that is true, I feel like without the way they handled the score, without the overbearing pipe organ, we as an audience would miss out on much of the emotion and tone that the characters were going through. Think about how quiet and soundless it must be while you’re floating through space. Think about how loud the thoughts in your head have to seem in that environment. This is what the score does. It brings out the turmoil and the love and the strife and any other emotion our characters might be feeling in a given scene and Zimmer and Nolan have pieced it together well. When the music gets so loud and almost unbearable, perhaps at that moment, if you were in their shoes in space, your own thoughts or situation might seem unbearable, inescapable or too strong to focus and survive.
I haven’t written this extensive a review in some time, and perhaps I dwelt a little much on the plot near the beginning but I think this film is worth it. There are so many aspects to this film that could fill pages of discussion and I have skipped over some. I forgot to mention how awestruck and giddy and overwhelmed I felt when Saturn appeared on the five-story IMAX screen. My favorite planet. There he was in all of his glory. I know it was CGI, but it seemed like I was watching images sent straight back in high-definition from Cassini. The browns and the blacks and the muddy gaseous face of Saturn and the shadows and the rings…breathtaking. As if that weren’t cool enough, later when we first see the stellar mass black hole that the main three planets they choose to explore orbit around…just wow. It’s not much, as far as visual effects difficulty goes, but it just looks so cool and so ominous and frightening. Just this giant blackness with small flickers of light glowing around its edges and also creating a kind of Saturn-like look. That could not have been accidental given the significance of Saturn and the worm hole just outside its orbit that leads to the galaxy where this black hole resides.
I have said a lot of things about this film and yet I know I have left so much out. I know this film won’t be for everyone, and I know there’s already a critical divide among critics and audiences, but if you really like space and Nolan’s films and movies that make you think, then this one will be wonderful. For those of you that really enjoyed Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, this movie is very similar in tone and photography and pace, but I think this movie is exactly what Sunshine was attempting to do but failed at the end (hint, I did not like said movie due to most of the second act and its ending). For those of you that are really into the science behind film or things in general, I believe this film did its homework, and Nolan and company really tried hard to do their due diligence in at least making a plausible story that involves Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Not only does it include said theory, but I think it does a great job of explaining it and showing its key points first hand regarding black holes and time dilation and the bending of space. There are so many layers to this film because of these aspects. I won’t even discuss the final act of the film, but does it ever provide a really awesome scenario for what black holes COULD possibly have in store for us if we every do end up figuring them out.
If you love good storytelling, great character development, cinematography, scoring and directing, please check out Interstellar. If you are a space and science buff, go check it out and weigh it against what you know. Obviously it’s a work of fiction, and takes those liberties, but you may be surprised. As I’m closing up this review, I’m sitting here listening to Hans Zimmer’s brilliantly heavy and ominous score for the film and I find myself wanting to watch it again, or wanting to drag my telescope out and look up into the stars (if it weren’t so bloody cold outside). I think I appreciate this film because I appreciate that Nolan told a very real and raw story, kept it human and focused and didn’t need a bunch of action or explosions or aliens to carry out the weight and the gravity of the film. With that, I leave you with a final clue as to what else becomes a large part of the focus of the film.
Go bloody see Interstellar!