After completing his Dark Knight trilogy, people wondered what director Christopher Nolan would turn his talents to making as his next feature film. Most people were surprised when it turned out to be a story that has been kicking around Hollywood for almost 7 years and was once to be a Steven Spielberg film. I would be curious to see that film. I can imagine his version of that film and I know that if it was 80’s Spielberg, it would be a breathless adventure that would have become a classic by now. If it was 2008 Spielberg , I am less certain of the outcome.
The Nolan version of the film is something that people are unfamiliar with, it’s a film with a lot of something Nolan is not known for: Heart.
It’s not that his films haven’t had emotion before, because Memento and Inception are full of emotions, but the emotion is cold and distant. I believe we have become used to a certain kind of film from Nolan and therefore we expect to feel a certain kind of emotion out of a Nolan film and Interstellar plays like a classic Nolan film for the first 2/3 of it’s running time but then during the final act, specifically during the last 20 minutes, something happens and Nolan introduces a different kind of emotion into the film: Hope.
By now I’m sure you at least know the general idea of the film: in the not too distant future, perhaps 50 or 60 years, the earth is in bad shape. There are too many people and the environment is on its last legs. Some kind of plague has decimated the wheat crops the world over and slowly killed almost all plants and vegetables as well. The only crop left that grows is corn and people are starving. The un-named plague has started killing the trees as well and we are running out of oxygen. The Governments have kept that last part a secret to prevent panic, but some people are beginning to figure it out. As Michael Caine’s character says in the trailers, “Your daughter’s generation is the last generation that will be able to survive on earth“. The planet and everyone on it are slowly suffocating to death.
Things are grim.
However, there is a small glimmer of hope. For unknown reasons and by unknown forces, a wormhole has opened up just the other side of Saturn. Probes have shown that through the wormhole, there are several planets that look like they can sustain life, the only trick is, figuring out which planet and figuring out how to get the people off earth and onto this new Eden.
Several years before the start of the film, NASA sent several human explorers through the wormhole to check and see which planet is the right one. None of the astronauts have returned. NASA has one last chance and one last starship able to make the journey through to find the Goldilocks planet and for reasons that are better left explained in the film, the chosen explorers are Mathew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Wes Bently and David Gyasi.
Along with two amazing, all-purpose AI Robots, named TARS and CASE voiced by Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart, the small band of explorers blast off into space and through the wormhole to find a way to avert the extinction of the human race.
Looking back over what I have written, that sounds like a slam-bang adventure film, with breathless action and cliffhangers. Lots of romance and pithy one-liners as well. I’m sure that in an alternate reality, there is a version of that very film. Perhaps directed by Michael Bay or McG.
In this reality though, this is a Christopher Nolan film and things go a bit different.
There is breathless action and several cliffhangers, but there is also a vivid sense of wonder. In the place of romance, there are musings on love and how it affects the human spirit. Above all else however, there is a sense of awe.
I am not going to do a point by point run down of the film, because, as I have said many times before, the joy of a film like this is sitting in a darkened theater and watching the film unfold. Watching how all the pieces fit together like a finely crafted swiss watch.
Things go wrong almost from the beginning of the mission and Nolan really lets you feel how alone these people are. They are literally on the other side of the universe and if things go bad, there is no rescue mission coming. They are forced to make hard choices and face the fact that they may never see another human being again, let alone their family.
The trailers have played up the fact that McConaughey’s “Cooper”, is forced to leave his daughter, who is clearly a daddies girl, as well as his son and he agreed to undertake the desperate mission to save them more so than the human race. The film makes this very clear without bashing you over the head with it. Nolan has always been accused of making cold and un-feeling films and while I don’t exactly agree with that, the fact that he doesn’t feel the need to strangle the audience and force feed them sadness really pays off here.
With just a few moments of wordless images: Cooper watching a video of his son introduce his new baby to a father he believes is probably dead, and his broken-hearted disappointment at never getting a video greeting from his daughter who believes he abandoned her. These scenes, shot stark and clean, without the obvious music cues, underline the sacrifices he has made. We understand without even being told, that the other astronauts have also made heartbreaking sacrifices of their own.
This sadness is the backbone of the entire film and everything else, from the jaw dropping vistas to the nerve-wrecking action sequences, have that as an unspoken foundation. This is very effective. It gives weight to everything that happens. Not just the bad time…and there are some very dark moments in this film. Moments when it seems all hope is lost. Yes, those moments are given a lot of weight because of the things I’ve outlined, but there is also the emotion I talked about at the top of this review: hope.
This is where we come to the part of the review where I really have to be careful because to spoil what happens in the last 30 minutes of this film would be a crime. But I think it’s fair to say that here is where a lot of critics are having problems with the film.
The problem they are having and that a lot of people are having is that the film doesn’t go the way you think it’s going to. It doesn’t crank up the action and adventure in the last act, if anything it slows down and does something that Christopher Nolan has never done in his films: It gets trippy.
I am attempting to write about this without going into detail and it’s not easy. The film goes very hardcore science fiction…almost to a Doctor Who degree. We have been told in the film that there is a “they” out there who have opened the wormhole and who seem to be guiding things along and it’s never said outright, but we are led to believe that its Alien intervention. Like an advanced species has decided to give a little helping hand to the human race in order to keep us from going extinct. In fact, in the original script, written by Johnathan Nolan and kip Thorne, that is exactly what happened. That original script, from 2008, is out there on the web if you want to find it, I did, and it’s interesting to see how a script like that changes and takes shape after a director like Nolan comes on board and shapes it.
I read it a couple of months back and even though it took some of the surprises away from the first viewing for me, it was helpful in a couple respects. One, I was able to understand some plot points that are only touched on in the film, but given in-depth explanations on the page and I was able to see how much input Nolan had in the final film.
I’m not going to say that the film backs away from the alien angle, but it does go in a different direction than I was expecting. For some people, the ending is frustrating for what it is and for other people, it’s frustrating for what it isn’t. For me, it was great. I enjoyed the film from top to bottom, front to back.
There are images in the film that are truly breathtaking. The vastness of space and the sight of the tiny ship moving across the vastness of space really drives home how alone they are and how truly astounding the cosmos really is.
The film is a lot of things, it’s an adventure, a cautionary tale about our future, a celebration of the human spirit and our drive to survive, but at its heart it is a love story between a father and his daughter. We can think about the human race in the abstract, but what drives Cooper throughout the film is the need to complete the mission to save, not just the human race, but his little girl. Returning to earth and to his kids is the driving force behind everything he does.
The last 20 minutes of the film is when the film really shows its hand and goes full Science Fiction, and shows the one power in the universe that can transcend time and distance and even death is love. Love is not just the key, it’s the lock, the door and the entire building. With this power of love, there is hope and freedom and salvation.
Like I said, it’s trippy.
I guess here at the end of this review, as I try to figure a way to explain the film without spoiling it, I will just give you a little insight into me. I am one of the few people who absolutely loved the ending of both Lost and Battlestar Galactica.
I also loved the ending of Interstellar.
That should tell you everything you need to know about the likely hood that you will enjoy the film or not. You might love 80 % of the film like many and just endure the ending, or you might be like me and embrace the film for daring to do what so many films of this type (180 million dollar budget) are afraid to do: Take chances and tell their story in the way they chose to. And the best thing I can say about this film is that you have never seen a film quite like it.
Everybody always says that they are tired of the same old stories and the same old films and they want something different. Well, I give you Interstellar.
See it on the biggest screen possible and keep your mind open. Be ready to be amazed.
Until next time, Keep the projector threaded.
5 stars out of 5