Back at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, Christopher Nolan and Matthew McConaughey gave a press conference that was a masterclass in promoting your film, but telling you nothing about it. That’s the best way to go and see Nolan’s latest multi-million dollar epic; the less you know, the more you’ll enjoy it.
The plot starts off simple enough. In the near future, earth is dying, and food sources are dwindling. Ex-astronaut Cooper (McConaughey) is sent on a mission to save mankind; to search an unexplored galaxy for a planet where the human race can live on. Not only is Cooper concerned with saving our species, he also wants to return home so he can see his family again. That’s all straightforward; then Christopher and Jonathan Nolan (who both wrote the script) throw all sorts of smart, original, occasionally genuinely bonkers scenes at you.
If you search the online reviews for Interstellar, a number of them suggest that Nolan has stolen from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. While some of the space exploration is definitely influenced by Kubrick’s masterpiece, Interstellar has a beating heart underneath the push the envelope visuals. In many ways, Nolan’s latest project is a throwback to the eighties, films such as E.T., The Goonies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the world and the skies above were to be explored: outside your front door, there’s an adventure waiting. Considering Nolan gave us the downbeat, real-world superhero Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar feels like it came from a more innocent, less complicated time. In Interstellar’s world, you either grow up to be a farmer or the gifted and talented become scientists. Children are taught that the moon landings never happened, just an elaborate hoax to bankrupt the Russians. NASA has been shut down for decades; planet earth has neither the time nor the money to spend on space missions. No one looks up at the skies any more, instead they shuffle round, surviving instead of living. McConaughey’s Cooper is your traditional hero, the same mould as Raiders’ Indiana Jones, or The Goonies’ Mikey. Cooper is a Texan rebel, refusing to be told what to do or have decisions made for him; he was never meant to live an ordinary life, working nine-to-five, only seeing the wonders of the world and beyond it on a TV screen.
As little as four years ago, Matthew McConaughey was the Go-To-Guy for Hollywood’s next lightweight, mediocre film. Drawing a line under his CV and taking lead roles in risky indie flicks such as Killer Joe, The Paperboy, and, more recently, The Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey is suddenly one of the most talented and surprising actors working today. Once again, McConaughey is on first-rate form here as Cooper. Despite all the science and theories that feature throughout Interstellar, what stands out is its theme of family, how strong the bond is between two people who love and care for each other. McConaughey never squanders this; Cooper might be saving life on earth, but his priority is getting back to his children. It’s not spoiling anything to say that the mission does not go according to plan, and a scene where Cooper is forced to watch the consequences play out in front of him is heart-breaking to sit through. McConaughey has this rare talent of being able to draw you in with a flawlessly judged, absorbing performance, without chewing the scenery or overacting.
As you would expect with a Nolan film, all of the performances are strong, but most deserving of a mention is Jessica Chastain, who plays Cooper’s ten-year-old daughter, Murphy. McConaughey and Chastain’s scenes together are what Interstellar is all about. Murphy is her father’s daughter; unlike her peers, she is obsessed with finding out what our world and the stars have to offer. Chastain is McConaughey’s partner in crime, but she also gives him the dressing down he needs when he goes too far, putting himself in danger. The scene when Cooper tries saying goodbye to his daughter, Murphy refusing to speak to him, pretending he never existed, will have plenty of people welling up at the cinema.
Interstellar needs to be watched on the biggest screen you can find (I saw it on IMAX and it was borderline overwhelming!). Nolan swaps his long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister for Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let The Right One In, Her), Hoytema managing to get the balance just right with visuals that are desolate, but also give a sense of grandeur. Planets made up of skyscraper-sized waves, or frozen clouds, will wow audiences who pine for the summer blockbuster season.
Nolan’s first attempt at science fiction proper just misses the mark of being flawless. Whereas Inception’s dream within a dream rules were carefully and subtly explained, occasionally funny or thrilling to watch, Interstellar bombards you with Stephen Hawking levels of physics and expects you to keep up. Once or twice, I was wishing I had a rewind button so I could go over an explanation one more time. The last hour of the film changes gear and delves into theories such as there being not three, not four, but five dimensions, as well as gravity being a force that can time travel. Personally, I thought the third act was both clever and unpredictable, but I can understand why someone would find it irritating and have no idea what’s going on.
Thankfully, you can overlook the science lesson exposition as it’s all sandwiched between an unashamedly human and touching narrative that will stun die hard Nolan fans. Wormholes, black holes, and the vastness of space all look eerily beautiful (it’s not a rip-off of 2001, it’s 2001 after nearly fifty years of cinematic advances), but Nolan also shows us how family, loving someone and treasuring your memories, can be just as special. For me, my favourite science fiction films are Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and Duncan Jones’s Moon. I’m adding Interstellar to that list.
5 out of 5