Christopher Nolan, a director who is worshiped by college-age fanboys who may not actually have any filmmaking knowledge, and is punished for his excruciating, mesmerizing plot-breaking holes by the skeptical, steps perhaps outside his comfort zone of practical visual effects to present what might be his masterpiece. Nolan is no slouch, nor a pitiful director, but instead a premier filmmaker of our generation, thriving in usually rich, twist-heavy plotting, and bout after bout of symbolism, basked in shadows of metaphors, leaving his audience questioning not only the film they just ingested, but pondering life and various other ambiguous queries.
Yay, upon first reading of Nolan’s new film “Interstellar”, back in early 2013, I still raged uncontrollably upon his “Dark Knight Trilogy”, which no doubt set up Warner Bros and the entire DC comic universe back into competition with Marvel, its more powerful and established action film rival. Nolan and Bruce Wayne himself, Christian Bale, declined interview questions which dove into speculation about a fourth “Dark Knight” film, which might chronicle Joseph Gordon-Levitt, rising into place as the new Batman. I digress, for a purpose, because despite the hype of Nolan’s previous entry into the comic universe, he dwelled more secretly on this unknown space opera, “Interstellar”.
Enter mid to late 2013, where our romantic comedy star Matthew McConaughey picked up nods for his fantastic work in “Mud”, his Oscar-winning portrayal of electrician Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club”, his unforgettable short cameo in Scorsese’s “Wolf on Wall Street”, and his necessary foray into cable television with Primetime Emmy winner “True Detective”. Before these actions, I was yet another skeptic, but production on “Interstellar” continued. Nolan rehired Anne Hathaway, Sir Michael Caine, and a few first-timer Nolan stars we wouldn’t expect until their mysterious appearance on-screen.
My long monologue here is necessary, because the end result of Nolan’s contemptuous secrecy with his films, especially with the present gross reporting habits of the media, is the mastermind, Nolan’s, buildup to an epic masterstroke of filmmaking genius. This interview barely holds together, because there are few words or phrases to describe “Interstellar” outside of magnificent, breath-taking, monumental, or sheer brilliant. This does not make “Interstellar” the greatest film of 2014 thus far, however, as it is marred by a number of shortcomings, but the resulting product is nothing less than incredible.
I want to spend very little writing recounting the details of the plot of “Interstellar”, as I’m hoping you’ve already seen it while reading this; hopefully in IMAX, you fools. Nolan said in an early interview about his film, that “Interstellar” is more akin to “2001: A Space Odyssey”, rather than his “Dark Knight” franchise. The scope of “Interstellar” is unbelievable. While the photography here isn’t entirely mise en scene—or, how every element within the frame is arranged properly to assist in using subtlety to tell the story—each and every shot in outer space is absolutely brilliant; see, I used that word again.
“Interstellar” refuses to capitalize on the success of 2013’s “Gravity”, but instead, likens itself very closely to Kubrick’s work in “2001” and at the same time, paves its own path into the stars. Hans Zimmer works alongside Nolan once more, and delivers a marvelous galactic score (a la Johann Strauss) that assists ear-splittingly in rendering out the spectacle of what existing in space might be like. The crescendos of Zimmer’s soundtrack match the razor blade tension we feel as Cooper (McConaughey) and Brand (Hathaway) struggle for the survival of both themselves, and the human race.
Opening with some real-life interviews of elderly men and women, recalling their survival of what we thought was the Great Depression, in fact was instead the dying resolve of the Earth to remove its inhabitants with relentless dust storms, relinquishing all but corn crops. It’s not even dystopian, but it’s clear humanity has ruined our only home. Thus begins the struggle of Cooper to live out his interstellar fantasy of piloting a starship into space.
Nolan doesn’t beat us over the head with fancy HUDs, a la “Iron Man”, rather all technology, despite its advanced structure, seems eerily similar to what we might have already. Bill Irwin plays TARS, an advanced defense robot, who acts as comic relief (literally), and engineering genius to its human counterparts. We all expected the clichéd “robot on turns on its creators” subplot, yet we are so lucky it’s human mutiny instead. It all makes sense, as every character seems to be searching for their own way in the universe, but ultimately, chooses their own path, even if it’s in the wrong.
(As a side note: Even though Dr. Mann seems to pull treachery on his fellow astronauts, it’s so clear he was acting on the morally right thing to do. Yes, we might be on Cooper’s side, but Dr. Mann desired the right thing, not a personal ambition.)
“Interstellar” is packed with scientific hooey about wormholes and black holes and the beyond, and none of it would make sense to us even if it was presented like we were five years old on “How it Works” or in a two-hour PBS special on traversing the Andromeda Galaxy. Nolan is infamous for driving a dump truck of exposition over the top of his audience and slow-dumping its entirety onto our heads, while we sit wondering why it’s necessary. Well, it’s not, but while directors like Hitchcock, or P.T Anderson might do it better (infinitely better), this is Nolan’s style. Might he be a better filmmaker for switching up the pacing and style? Perhaps, because this leads to lengthy sequences of trigonometric, algebraic equations and conundrums that no NASA specialist in the audience would acknowledge.
To take a leap from screenwriting, into character development, I’m still on the McConnaissance bandwagon, as he continues to play his heart into his characters. Cooper is a man who appears to be a great, caring father, yet stumbles into possibly making his personal goals more important, by choosing space (and the future of humanity) over raising his children. Yes, likely the most powerful moment in “Interstellar” is after his time trip to the water world, where he sees the lives of his children, years passed by, flash through in a mere moment. It’s soul-crushing to see Cooper weep, as it was only an hour or so for him, and 15 minutes for us.
The weakness of “Interstellar” is not Nolan’s fascinating portrayal of the unknowns of space travel, because anyone who didn’t immediately google search wormholes and the like after viewing was foolish. The issue here is with Nolan’s thematic systems of the purity and everlasting quality of love. Where the “Dark Knight” trilogy stood true to justice and the preservation of precious life with Batman’s denial of murder and perseverance to eliminate the darkness of tyrannical villainy, “Interstellar” maybe tries to make a mumbo jumbo point on love and how it crosses all boundaries or something. It’s likened to a crappy 80s pop or R&B song about love being everlasting, or maybe Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. This is a really a pity. Imagine Cooper singing this to his daughter, Murph (Jessica Chasten, or Mackenzie Foy, take your pick) as he floats within the 4th dimension, poking his finger into the space-time continuum, in a realm he created himself, using love. It’s preposterous, maybe more so than Batman popping his shattered spinal cord back into place after Bane blasted it to shards.
Despite it’s blatant downfalls in whatever the heck message this movie is sending, it’s visuals are more than stunning, and easily make up for the weird dialogue choices. Nolan’s sound design, music backdrops, and “who cares if it’s accurate” science are the stars here, and oh, do we profit from it.
I can’t stop recommending “Interstellar” to friends and randoms I meet at coffee shops, or co-workers. It’s maybe Nolan’s most prominent work and has the makings of something so clearly designed to be seen in theaters. It’s a sci-fi, but refuses to clobber itself with old clichés and it pays off for being so unique in that way.