In an age of teenage romances, classic trilogies, and epic superhero movies, it could have been easy for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar to get lost in the mix. It could have been downplayed as a leech on the heels of the Academy Award-winning Gravity. It might have been brushed off as another sci-fi flop in an era of sci-fi flops bound for two week runs and dusty mega-store media shelves. But it seems Interstellar was destined for much, much more.
Nolan, famous for his turns at the helm of the latest Batman reboot and the head-spinning Inception, pens an interesting take on the concept of a dystopian future. Limited university accessibility. Career predetermination. Governmental budget cuts to massive science programs and “unnecessary” ambitions. Years of drought and climate change have ravaged agriculture on a global scale and the population is slowly starving, but in an orderly fashion.
Planted in the middle of the waning cultural landscape are farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former fighter pilot and brilliant engineer, his children, Murph (Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Casey Affleck) and their Grandfather, Donald (John Lithgow). Cooper spends most of his days working the fields, chasing down old military drones, and worrying about their future and trying to find a way to keep them all going.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars,” Cooper reminisces to Donald one night while sitting on the dusty porch. “Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”
After unintentionally stumbling across a hidden NASA compound one afternoon, Cooper is presented with an excruciating choice: stay on earth and comfort his family until the food runs out, or leave his children and begin a perilous journey into deep space to discover a new home. NASA head Professor Brand (Michael Caine) advises, “We’re not meant to save this world. We’re meant to leave it.”
What keeps this film–for lack of a better term–grounded, is its spectacular undertaking of such a complex theory. Interstellar tackles heady topics like wormholes and time dilation with finesse. It takes the time to explain things twice. For astrophysics newbies, Interstellar is the movie equivalent of a Carl Sagan or Brian Greene book–crisp definitions and simplified behemoths punctuated by a scattering of dry wit and breathtaking visualizations.
The first time you see this film (and believe me, you’ll see it more than once), you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the powerful score that drowns out all speech at some points. Good. Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer wanted it that way.
“Many of the filmmakers I’ve admired over the years have used sound in bold and adventurous ways,” Nolan told The Hollywood Reporter last week. “I don’t agree with the idea that you can only achieve clarity through dialogue. Clarity of story, clarity of emotions—I try to achieve that in a very layered way using all the different things at my disposal—picture and sound.”
There are, indeed, parts of the film where it’s near impossible to hear what the actors are saying, leaving many audience members confused. But what it seemingly does wrong makes the film that much more thrilling–instrumentals were at some points recorded in tandem with the dialogue to put the viewer in the driver’s seat, and it works. Heart-pounding imagery is made that much more intrusive and intense by supplementing in a swell of orchestral strains.
McConaughey delivers a phenomenal performance as Cooper, giving him an intellectual realness and a portraying him as the tragic multifaceted protagonist he should be. Anne Hathaway is brilliant as usual. Chastain plays heartbreaking like no one else before, giving a solid performance as an embittered abandoned daughter to McConaughey’s Cooper. The supporting cast pulls their weight well enough to make the film more than enjoyable.
There were a few fumbled moments script-wise, but Interstellar still crushes its competition. It sets the standard for epic science fiction to come and has an global box office record of $327 million to prove it.
Interstellar is Gravity with some meat on its bones. It’s The Dark Knight with his space-wings. If you’re looking for a way to spend the weekend, make it a point to go see Nolan’s latest heavy-hitter. Just be sure to take some tissues.