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INTERSTELLAR – Review
November 7, 2014
No words can do justice to the sheer magnitude, fearless technical experimentation and creative bravura Christopher Nolan has achieved with Interstellar, his latest magnum opus and undoubtedly most personal film to date. I’m not just referring to the hardships of discussing it whilst making sure not to slip out any story elements that might spoil the complex narrative’s several twists and turns. More than anything, I believe it’d be presumptuous of me to think I could genuinely convey the emotional and intellectual impact that this cinematic journey is able to affect its audience members with, at least those open-minded and open-hearted enough to let it shake them from within.
If you thought Inception had given you a headache, brace yourselves because Interstellar puts you right in the middle of an excitingly scary and awe-inducing intergalactic travel experience that feels authentic and overwhelming, especially if you’re lucky enough to witness its movie magic in IMAX, the original format the film has been conceived and (mostly) filmed in. Christopher Nolan is one of the most adamant supporters of still shooting his projects on film, despite the industry has now converted to digital and trust me, beholding Interstellar on an IMAX screen, projected on 70mm film is a thing of sublime beauty that most definitely takes the fruition of this masterpiece to the next level of greatness. And let’s not forget Nolan’s craftsmanship at reducing the use of CGI at the bare minimum, preferring practical visual effects to enhance the authenticity of the experience. This time he’s outdone himself in that respect offering a stylish retro feel to the production design which adds a believable and unique touch to the futuristic side of things.
Set in an undefined yet clearly not too distant future, where a blight has decimated crops with only corn left to grow (though not for very long), and toxic dust storms striking on a regular basis due to what’s implied as the result of most likely pollution and global warming, mankind is on the verge of extinction. Yet people try what they can to keep normality in their lives in spite of the huge hit society has taken, where in order to limit the damages they already predetermine people’s career paths since high school. In this pre-apocalyptic stage the world needs farmers rather than people with any other special skills that are not priority for the survival of the species.
Fresh Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey plays one of those farmers, Cooper, a widow who lives on his family farm with his teenage son Tom (Timothée Chalamet), his preteen daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and his father in law Donald (John Lithgow). But Cooper used to be a test pilot and engineer and he feels clearly trapped in the forced role society has assigned to him. He’s an adventurer, an explorer and a dreamer, and he also truly believes that “mankind will find a way to survive like they always have.”
That’s why when contacted by a former acquaintance, professor Brand (Michael Caine), who leads a team of NASA (leftovers) scientists and engineers working in the shadows on a secret mission of intergalactic travel, Cooper is definitely intrigued by the possibility of contributing to what could actually change the course of mankind’s doomed fate. After discovering a mysterious disturbance near Saturn, a wormhole, that could allow reaching another galaxy in order to find a new habitable planet to move mankind to, professor Brand has gathered a team that only misses a pilot.
The project has already sent other brave explorers who discovered at least three planets with potential to build a new life but none of the men relayed reliable data on whether any of the planets were viable. The new mission is to reach them and hopefully get a positive answer, although the odds of finding any of those astronauts still alive are quite low. It is a literal leap into the unknown but given the disastrous situation on Earth, professor Brand is convinced that the only hope for survival is to leave our planet and find a new home.
However, space travel for a heavy and overcrowded cargo hasn’t been achieved yet and Brand plans to continue working on a formula that can defy gravity, hoping that by the time the team comes back with a positive match, he has succeeded at making that kind of cargo able to travel. In case of failure the back up plan would be colonizing the newly found planet by sending over embryos, although that’s not an option Cooper wants to think about.
Despite his intrepid courage, Cooper is still a family man but the fear of leaving his children behind with no guarantee of ever seeing them again is nothing compared to the terror of not being able to save them. Yet his sacrifice is hard to be understood and accepted, especially by his daughter Murph. Whilst his son Tom is more at peace with the way things are and likes working on the farm, Murph is a free spirit like her dad and she’s also obsessed with space travel. Their bond is very special and Murph is devastated when Cooper decides to leave to the point of not even wanting to record video messages to send to her dad whilst he’s in space.
And so with a heavy heart Cooper takes off on the most heroic mission mankind has ever attempted with a team that includes professor Brand’s daughter, Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), astrophysicist Romilly (David Gyasi) and scientist Doyle (Wes Bentley). The perils that lie ahead of them can’t be talked about but needless to say the first sacrifice they sign on is losing time over the people they left behind. It would take lifetimes to reach another galaxy if it wasn’t for the wormhole’s ability to bore through a higher dimension of space and time, but it also means that hours or days for the space team correspond to years for the people on Earth.
Early reviews from the States haven’t all necessarily been generous with Nolan’s vision, accusing him of manipulating our feelings with cheesy oversentimentality and making us scratch our heads with cryptically scientific over-expositional dialogue and moreover they’ve pointlessly ignited the comparison with last year’s Gravity considering it superior. As much as the juxtaposition is ineluctable, I find it quite silly to call Interstellar cheesy and oversentimental when in Gravity you have an astronaut who’s mourning her daughter’s loss and sees George Clooney’s ghost in order to find the strength to survive.
Truth is that, to put it in the words of Sir Michael Caine: “in private life, Chris Nolan is a family man, and whether he’s making a thriller or a big space adventure, his films are always informed by his essential humanity.” That humanity is beautifully captured by Matthew McConaughey who seamlessly shifts from the reckless bravery of his selfless heroic side to the loving father who heartbreakingly sobs in front of his children’s ultra-delayed video messages in space. He’s aided by the incredibly raw vulnerability of newcomer Mackenzie Foy (The Conjuring) and the well renowned mix of female empowerment, grace and emotional range of the brilliant Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Tree of Life) who plays adult Murph.
My biggest criticism if I were to play devil’s advocate is the way Cooper’s other child, Tom, feels underdeveloped hence both the promising Timothée Chalamet (teenage Tom) and the talented Casey Affleck (adult Tom) are underutilized. Yet you could object that Tom needs to counterbalance Murph’s exuberance and bright mind but this kind of diatribe sounds preposterous to me. Clearly there’s a lot going on in the movie and something’s got to give. Considering how much it’s packed in those nearly three hours of running time, you can cut Nolan some slack.
I won’t be the first one to tell you that Interstellar gorgeously hails to the elegance and grandeur of space classics like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) but also to the lyricism of Malick’s The Tree Of Life (2011). And of course you will notice the common theme of human resilience against all odds that defined Cuarón’s Gravity last year. However the scope of Nolan’s intergalactic journey is inevitably far more ambitious and it’s one that hauntingly portrays in an almost tangible way the feeling of how small we are and how lonely we could potentially be in this vast universe, like no one has done before. Once again Nolan confirms he has no rivals: he’s still the smartest, boldest, mainstream filmmaker with the most epic, yet poetic cinematic vision. His cinema is spectacle that serves the story and the story is aimed to entertain but also stimulate your intellect and stir your emotional core.
Science may be the language of Interstellar but humanity for better and for worse is the heart and soul of it. The brilliant filmmaker and his brother and writing partner Jonathan, don’t shy away from posing big philosophical questions about the meaning of life and the lengths we can push ourselves to as a species. As the space team’s ship gets farther from Earth, Amelia (Hathaway), poignantly reflects on how despite jumping into the unknown and likely to face life-threatening risks, they’re actually leaving evil behind them since what’s in front of them is just the natural way the universe is. And she couldn’t be more right: all the evil in the world lies within us, just as much as the love we need in order to defy our dark side.
It’d be hard to ignore the relevance the film has to this moment in our history where a sense of uncertainty and precariousness abounds and where in spite of how much we’ve evolved on every level, we keep making the same mistakes, letting our selfish impulses take over and create division. The power of love is the central theme that drives the narrative and to those cynics who are going to or have already raised an eyebrow I can only say: go see this film once more, preferably in IMAX and just let yourself go to the most important journey of all, the quest for love. It’s what got us thus far as human beings and if we focus on that, maybe there’s still hope for us to resiliently push forward in time despite the darkness that our flawed nature keeps casting over the path towards the light.
Interstellar is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Limited Digibook edition from March 30th
Blu-ray Extra Features include:
The Science of Interstellar — Extended cut of the broadcast special.
Plotting an Interstellar Journey — Discusses the film’s origins, influences and narrative designs.
Life on Cooper’s Farm — Bringing Americana and the grounded nature of a farm to a sci-fi space movie.
The Dust — Learn how cast and crew avoided sand blindness, and see how to create, and clean up after, a catastrophic dust storm.
TARS and CASE — Designing and building these unique characters and how they were brought to life on set and in the film.
Cosmic Sounds — The concepts, process, and recording of Hans Zimmer’s unforgettable score.
The Space Suits — A look at the design and build of the suits and helmets, and what it was like to wear them.
The Endurance — Explore this massive set with a guided tour by production designer Nathan Crowley.
Shooting in Iceland: Miller’s Planet/Mann’s Planet — Travel with the cast and crew to Iceland and see the challenges they faced in creating two vastly different worlds in one country.
The Ranger and the Lander — A look at the other two spaceships in the film.
Miniatures in Space — Marvel at the large-scale models used in the explosive docking sequence.
The Simulation of Zero-G — Discover the various methods that the filmmakers used to create a zero gravity environment.
Celestial Landmarks — Explore how the filmmakers used practical special effects informed by real scientific equations to give the illusion of real space travel for both the actors and the audience.
Across All Dimensions and Time — A look at the concept and design of the Tesseract, which incorporated a practical set rather than a green screen.
Final Thoughts — The cast and crew reflect back on their Interstellar experience.
Digibook Extra Features include:
– All bonus features from Blu-ray edition
– Forty-eight page picture booklet edited from “Interstellar: Beyond Time And Space: Inside Christopher Nolan’s Sci-Fi Epic”
– Note: this item is limited to 20,000 units in the UK
Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor