By Brad Shea
As the earth lies dying, former pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) must travel to the other side of the universe in search of a new home for humanity.
Interstellar is a difficult film to review. On the one hand, there is a danger of being so blinded by the spectacle that it is hard to heap anything but praise onto the film. On the other hand, the film is undeniably flawed. Picking it apart does reveal several problems in the narrative: but this is the silver screen, and sometimes in order to tell the greatest stories we have to allow for shortcomings. Much like Christopher Nolan’s earlier films, Interstellar invites us on a journey: here to the final frontier, one that perplexes, intrigues and makes us question our position as intelligent, sentient beings. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to outer space.
Saying that Interstellar is a homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps undermines Nolan’s own creation. Indeed, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema does evoke the imagery of Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography for 2001, but this is no bad thing; the film looks beautiful. As we travel through space, it is hard not to be in awe as distant planets and black holes are constructed in front of us. Importantly the films differ on a thematic level, Interstellar is about mankind’s determination to survive against all odds whereas 2001 can typically be read as a film about the dangers of advancements in technology. However, in 2014 these advancements are no longer something that can frighten us as we have seen a lot of progress already; so Jonathan and Christopher Nolan return to our most innate fears of death and extinction.
The characters at the forefront of this story are quite two dimensional, which is ironic considering the amount of exposition that goes into explaining that we are three dimensional beings. Matthew McConaughey, still on fine form after his Oscar win, breathes life into the frustrated astronaut, Cooper, who feels he doesn’t belong in this ‘caretaker’ generation. Jessica Chastain plays Cooper’s daughter, Murph, and carries her emotional scenes extremely well. Praise must be given to young actress Mackenzie Foy, who portrays Murph at age 10; if not for her performance in the films first act, we might struggle to care so much when Chastain takes over as she reaches adulthood. The rest of the characters, most of them scientists travelling with Cooper, are rather ‘cookie-cutter’ and disposable – perhaps with the exception of Brand, played by Anne Hathaway. This allows the film to be stolen by Tars and Chase, two ex-navy robots assigned to aid the team, who get all the best lines and provide the comic relief. This may come as a surprise to those who claim Nolan’s films take themselves too seriously, but try not to laugh as the team launches into space while Tars tries to ‘lighten the mood’ in a conversation with Cooper.
Interstellar may suffer because casual cinema-goers might struggle to understand the dense science, thus making it less accessible. But second viewings reveal that the story is not as complicated as it first appears. The film may feature a lot of technical jargon but not to the extent that we’re at risk of losing sight of what’s happening. The ending in particular, as with 2001, may confuse some viewers, but some classic Nolan exposition delivered by McConaughey manages to clear things up.
Yet Interstellar may be one of the year’s most entertaining films. The characters at times seem a little too familiar and the film may not be as smart as it first appears, but the visuals alone excuse this. Prepare to be astounded.