Christopher Nolan is arguably the most popular director in the world. This is a double edge sword because his popularity is so polarizing: you love him unconditionally or can’t stand him. He described Interstellar as a passion project and his most ambitious adventure yet. This seems difficult to understand because of how ambitious his previous work has been. This is the man revived Batman and probably comic book movies in general. He then goes on to create some truly inspired work with Inception. So what makes this work so ambitious? It’s not the story, it’s the setting. Space is a place where many a movie goes to die and pulling a compelling sci-fi drama about space exploration can be tricky.
Interstellar is about an earth in the not too distant future. This earth is a very different place. Ravaged by global pathogen that makes growing crops extremely difficult. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former NASA pilot who is now a farmer of one of Earth’s last remaining crops, corn. He loves the time gets to spend with his family, especially that of his young daughter Murph. Advancements and research in technology have been globally halted instead to concentrate on survival, making farmers way more valuable than engineers. Cooper never got to go into space as a NASA pilot, and is barely coping with the realization that he’ll never get the chance too. However, circumstance find Cooper reunited with an old NASA colleague Prof Brand portrayed by Michael Cane. Who informs him that the situation is far worst than the public know. The only hope is a deep space exploration mission to find a brand new home world for the people of earth, and he wants Cooper to pilot the mission.
Cooper is very hesitant about the mission because he knows it will take decades to travel to another known galaxy. NASA has discovered a wormhole around Saturn. They informs Cooper that they have learned of 12 potentially inhabitable worlds on the other side of the wormhole. A decade ago, they sent 12 astronauts, one to each world. Each astronauts was responsible for landing on the planet and reporting back if the conditions are favourable for human life. They have signals from 3 planets and Cooper will pilot a second mission to learn the fate of these signals. This team would have two missions. Plan A is dedicated to saving the people of earth. Prof Brand has been using data previously learned from the worm hole to create an equation that will allow Earth to harness gravity directly. With this technology they’ll be able to build large space stations and transport the population. He isn’t done with the equation, but has hope he will be by the time the Mission concludes. If he is not done with the equation, or it’s deemed impossible. The mission will move towards Plan B. The shuttle will carry with it a “population bomb” a means to seed the human species. This would mean Earth is doomed, but the human race will survive on in another galaxy. Cooper struggles with the decision to go, the trip to Saturn will take 2 years each way. Not to mention, on the other side of the warm hole is a black hole. The proximity of these new worlds to the black hole means time moves slower on that side of the worm hole. Considering the stakes, he decides to go but it breaks Murph’s heart and he leaves on very bad terms.
With this Interstellar becomes a movie about discovery , and more importantly the cost of said discovery. Venturing into parts unknown is not only daunting, at its core its pretty terrifying. Nolan captures this aspect of the film with remarkable poise. He very elegantly captures the beauty and wonder of space exploration and still reminds you of how scary it is. You feel the weight of Cooper’s decision to leave his family, what it means. In that sense your both elated that he gets to live his dream. Yet feel your heart-strings get pulled when he doesn’t have the confidence to tell his daughter when he’ll be back. McConaughey is the vehicle for which he wants the audience to experience. Just because the mission is in the name of science, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an emotional foundation. As much as the movie is about deep space exploration and theoretical physics, it still has a humble foundation based on the interpersonal relationship between a father and daughter, and how it literally can span over a galaxies. It’s actually not a very casual affair, which will probably throw off some people. This isn’t a fast pace thriller , or deeply dramatic. It’s very much in the vein of other beloved space films like Contact or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Those films were more concerned about being imaginative and hopefully instilling more questions than answers in the audience. Nolan has always been a very cerebral director, never being shy at getting his audience to think , reconsider and re-think again. He also gives you plenty of time to do so with this moving being just shy of 3 hours long. When I saw this movie, they announced before hand that no previews will be shown. I have never experienced that in a regular movie theatre. I knew then, I was in for a long ride.
Nolan also gets alot of points for the technical marvel the film is. Always the fan of IMAX, dedicates over 45 minutes of film specifically for IMAX viewing. They make a full model of the spaceship in question, deciding to use no CGI for any of the ship sequences. Instead of using a green screen, all the effects were rendered on a large display outside of the ship. So from the inside of the ship, it really looked and felt like it was in the middle of space.
This is only further complimented by the overall art direction and design. This isn’t just seen with the shots in space, but even the shots on earth are very beautiful. This is all more so captured by the show stealing of Nolan’s interpretation of Black Hole. This is a very impressive feat because it wasn’t just something pulled out of Nolan’s head. Nolan commissioned the help of astrophysicist Kip Throne, who with the help of 30 people, thousands of computers and 800 terabytes of data created the most scientifically accurate render of a Black Hole to date. This movie literally aided scientifically to the advancement of our understandings of Black Holes as a species. That’s pretty damn awesome.
Now this movie isn’t all good things. To be honest, it suffers a lot from things Nolan typically does. It is deafeningly loud both physically and cerebrally. I don’t quite understand Nolan’s affinity with loud drum/booming sounds. My best guest is how he wants to inflate the tension or excitement of a moment. I mostly just think… “man… this sure is loud”. There is a tremendous amount of over exposition. Characters just shovelling exposition for minutes of a time. Space movies normally suffer from this because space travel isn’t necessarily a common sense subject. However, Nolan just added to this because he loves the sound of his characters talking. It wouldn’t be so bad if all the characters were as fleshed out as Cooper, but that’s not the case giving some characters an empty shell kind of appeal. For instance, Cooper has a son. Oh wait? why didn’t I mention that earlier than now? It’s simple because his son is in no way relevant to this movie. He is literally there just to be there, I can’t even think of what he was maybe symbolically trying to represent. It’s very literally all about his daughter Murph, Cooper is definitely playing favorite. In a way, Interstellar becomes a shining example of why Nolan is so good as a director. This film probably puts all his weakness or caveats on display. Despite this, this movie is still damn good. It’s impressive technologically , its thematic, its scientific, and still humbled through this very basic relationship between a father and his kid… I mean uhhh kids.
This movie isn’t for everybody, even though mostly everybody will see it because Nolan’s name is attached to it. This movie may not fit the mold of the casual movie goer but it is still a very impressive screenplay. It has some truly intense moments and emits a sheer wonder and respect for notion of space travel. Not everything in this movie is accurate and it shouldn’t need to be. Its still a fictional sci-fi story, but it’s one of the better ones we’ve had in a awhile.