Movie Review: INTERSTELLAR (2014)
INTERSTELLAR, the latest film by writer/director Christopher Nolan of THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy fame is an instant classic, not only one of the best movies of the year, but also destined to be one of the all-time classic science fiction films ever made. No kidding!
INTERSTELLAR takes place in the not too distant future, a time when Earth is in crisis due to a shortage of food. People work as farmers, because the need for food is so great, even though the soil is dying, and the time is coming when the Earth will no longer be able to sustain life.
Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former astronaut/pilot who now works as a farmer, and he’s none too happy about it. He has to raise his children on his own, as his wife recently died from cancer, and he receives some help from his father, Donald (John Lithgow). Through an odd series of events, Cooper and his young daughter Murph find themselves inside a secret NASA base in which Cooper is reunited with his former professor, Professor Brand (Michael Caine).
Professor Brand informs Cooper that NASA is secretly working on a plan to save the human race. A worm hole has been discovered near Saturn, and Brand reports that they have already sent manned space crafts through the worm hole in search of other habitable planets. Now they need to send a new mission to seek out those previous missions in order to learn which planets if any are inhabitable. Brand wants Cooper to pilot the mission.
Cooper decides to go, against the wishes of his ten year-old daughter Murph, and even though he promises her that he will come back, she doesn’t believe him. Cooper leads the mission through the worm hole, and in a race against time, as their voyage through time and space will take years, they attempt to find a new planet able to sustain human life and then get the word back to Earth before the planet dies.
INTERSTELLAR is a compelling, exciting movie that works on multiple levels. It contains enough big ideas and gets enough of the science right to succeed as an exemplary work of science fiction, and it also scores high with the human element, as it contains major conflicts for nearly every character in the film to overcome. It also works as a melodrama, as it tells a riveting and oftentimes suspenseful story. It’s visually very satisfying, it contains great acting from nearly everyone involved, and it has a fantastic script by brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. And oh yeah, there’s the work of its talented director, Christopher Nolan.
Some of the ideas explored in INTERSTELLAR include worm holes, black holes, the theory of relativity, and time travel. The worm hole is the plot device which sets the story in motion, as it allows our astronauts to travel impossible distances through space in one lifetime. The theory of relativity also takes a prominent role in the story, as on certain planets years pass by as mere hours. Spend a few hours on the planet, and back on earth two decades pass. These are highly interesting topics, and they’re handled in this movie by screenwriters Christopher and Jonathan Nolan with near perfection. The science isn’t dumbed down to the point where it plays as theatrical fantasy, nor is it so highbrow that it flies over our heads. It strikes a nice balance.
Like last year’s GRAVITY (2013) it also gets the silence of space right, as scenes of space travel are shot in eerie silence.
Only the dealing with the black hole gave me pause— at first. The fate of someone entering a black hole is most likely death, and anything else seems somewhat less than believable, but since the truth is, we really don’t know what happens inside a black hole, there are certain creative privileges that go hand in hand with this subject. In other words, until there is definitive scientific proof of what really happens inside a black hole, writers can get away with certain creative indulgences, as long as they remain believable. What happens inside the black hole in INTERSTELLAR ultimately passes the believability test.
Nearly every character in INTERSTELLAR has a major conflict to overcome. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) in addition to trying to save the human race (yeah, that’s a biggie!) also wants to make good on his promise to his children that he will indeed return home. Fellow astronaut Brand (Anne Hathaway), Professor Brand’s daughter, is in love with one of the astronauts from the previous mission and thus is biased about travelling to his planet. Cooper’s adult daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) desperately wants to prove that her father didn’t lie to her, that he really planned to complete his mission and return home to her. Professor Brand (Michael Caine) in spite of his herculean humanitarian effort is harboring a terrible secret. It’s one of the reasons INTERSTELLAR remains compelling for all of its 169 minutes running time, because nearly every character has a conflict to work through.
Another reason it remains enthralling is it doesn’t play like a cold stoic science fiction tale. INTERSTELLAR is a heartfelt melodrama, with characters you truly care about placed in some very dangerous and life threatening situations. There are also some exciting scenes of suspense, including a fierce fight on an ice planet, and a nail biting sequence involving an impossible space docking maneuver on an out-of-control space station.
Matthew McConaughey leads the very talented cast with another neat performance, this time as Cooper, the former astronaut who makes the bold choice to pilot a ship through a wormhole into the unknown in order to save humankind, all the while believing in the improbable, that he’ll be able to make it back home alive.
Jessica Chastain is equally as good as Cooper’s adult daughter Murph, albeit her screen time is much smaller than McConaughey’s, but it is these two characters who drive this story along.
Anne Hathaway is also excellent as fellow astronaut and scientist Brand, as is Michael Caine as her father Professor Brand. Throw in John Lithgow as Cooper’s father Donald, Casey Affleck as Cooper’s adult son Tom, and a few other familiar faces, including a major star who appears unbilled, and you have the makings for a phenomenal cast.
Visually, INTERSTELLAR is impressive and doesn’t disappoint. Director Christopher Nolan fills this one with memorable scenes and images. Even better is the screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan. Everything seems to work. I was hooked within the first few minutes and remained so for the nearly three hours the movie took to reach its conclusion. It’s Nolan’s most satisfying film since THE DARK KNIGHT (2008).
Still, it’s not perfect. The logic behind the appearance of the worm hole, for example, doesn’t exactly hold up to scrutiny, and a key scene where Cooper attempts to communicate across dimensions to his daughter had me scratching my head.
But these are minor quibbles.
INTERSTELLAR is a superior science fiction movie. It’s better than the recent science fiction efforts like GRAVITY (2013) and PROMETHEUS (2012), and it deserves to be included in the conversation with some of the all-time greats, films like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968).
One of the best movies of the year, INTERSTELLAR is one voyage you definitely do not want to miss.