The fanfare which surrounds each cinematic release by Christopher Nolan has already gone full-circle from blind hero-worship to inevitable backlash, with a phase of staunch defense currently in session. Interstellar marks the director’s most complex story, his most visually pleasing genre piece and arguably his most complex film to date.
In the dusty fields of Midwest America sometime in an instantly recognisable near-future, Cooper, (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA test pilot now looking after a farm and two young children. Keeping him company is his father-in-law (John Lithgow), the two rugged men forming a bond of remembrance over a lost past and a deceased daughter/wife. The world they inhabit is swamped by a fine dust that is destroying the planets crops one by one.
Cooper chances upon a message that leads him to an old acquaintance (Sir Michael Caine), who has been secretly developing a way of saving mankind. The mission involves going through a wormhole which has mysteriously been placed in the solar system to find a planet that can host the dwindling population.
The choice is stark for devoted family man Cooper. Stay at home and watch his children grow up in a world without a future, or head off into the unknown… leaving his family behind but hanging onto the remote hope that he can save their future.
There is little point denying that ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, the concluding chapter of the superhero trilogy, proved to be a disappointment. Tonally, Nolan struggled to get alignment with his previous efforts, it was as if he was done with the series before it had actually finished. What ‘Interstellar’ provides is a fresh start, something the director has seemingly craved for a while, and in return for the massive budget and impressive cast-list, Nolan has delivered his most expansive film to date.
What links the three post-Batman movies is the theme of science, and moreover how the advancement of technology affect mankind. ‘The Prestige’ and ‘Inception’ dealt with magic and dreams respectively, whereas ‘Interstellar’ sees Nolan delve into a far more frightening prospect. What lies beyond science, and can we rationalise human emotions in such a formulaic way?
By all accounts the sums add up on screen. Whether it is numbers being used to show us how to blast off a rocket or how gravity can be used to travel vast distances, it’s all sound science. We know this because the characters go to great lengths to explain every element to one another, when in reality they are talking to the audience. There are several scenes in the film that feel like an extended take on the moment Doc Brown maps out time travel to a baffled Marty in ‘Back to the Future 2’, a scene which was almost entirely for the benefit of confused cinema-goers.
There is much to admire. The visual effects are superb, taking us from harsh landscapes on Earth to volatile planets light years away from us. The sense of acceleration in the flight sequences, heightened by the devastating use of silence in space, only intensifies the physical connection we have with the film. The emotional side is catered to by a wonderfully constructed relationship between Cooper and his daughter (the adult incarnation being portrayed by Jessica Chastain). In fact all the performances are pretty much faultless, including a blistering turn from Matt Damon.
Interstellar falls just short of perfection. Nolan detractors will find little here to convince them that the director has learnt how to advance the narrative in an organic manner, whereas his defenders simply won’t care. This looks and sounds like a film only this director could make, and that will ultimately decide whether you like it or not.