There have been some snipes and gripes from some critics regarding Christopher Nolan’s latest epic, a space odyssey attempting to address such vast and universal themes and/or concepts as relativity, love, gravity, and survival. Many of these gripes are unfounded from this writer’s perspective, but even those founded are so minor as to have virtually no effect on the enjoyment or appreciation of the filmmaker’s newest foray into science-fiction. Between the exquisite visuals on display, particularly in the last twenty minutes, the great performances from Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, and the mind-warp of a twist in those aforementioned last twenty minutes, Interstellar might be Nolan’s most ambitious movie to date.
Despite a first act focused on world-building a world where Earth is so environmentally destitute that food is scarce and dust storms are the norm, there is fortunately no environmental message shoehorned in for distraction. Regardless, the script is at times thematically incoherent due to the simple fact that Nolan is trying to juggle many themes and ideas at once. The plot oscillates between explaining science (wormholes, time, gravity, the 5th dimension, etc) and explaining the power of love, on occasion to its detriment in the form of expository dialogue that isn’t exactly unrealistic, but too much of too much all the same. It’d be nice if the Nolan brothers had told the characters to pipe down from time to time. Nevertheless, these characters are wonderfully drawn from modern archetypes: the caring father who’s not sure he can save humanity if it comes at the cost of never seeing his daughter again, the scientist whose stubbornness blinds him from true wisdom, or the daughter of said scientist whose heart, not brain, is driving her across the cosmos. A scene where that caring father Cooper, played by McConaughey, watches videos of his family’s evolution in the time he’s been away (relativity, remember?) is heartbreaking stuff, and might be the actor’s finest moment. And that’s where the film’s biggest success lays, in those moments where family members, friends, and colleagues relate to another beyond the confines of science. Nolan’s films have often been criticized for being too cold. “Interstellar” is never cold. It’s not Spielberg-esque or Kubrick-esque. It combines the best of both worlds.
Such heart is largely due to the cast, every one of whom should be commended for taking dialogue that is at once brilliant and clunky and making it real, in particular Hathaway, Wes Bentley, and David Gyasi, who are given the brunt of the scientific theorizing. Mackenzie Foy impresses as young Murph, Cooper’s daughter left behind who grows into Jessica Chastain, a headstrong scientist for the underfunded NASA who’s torn between her passion for their mission and her anger towards her father’s abandonment. It’d be dishonest to say Chastain has never been better, but she still makes her mark amid of flurry of cross-cutting and booming organs from Hans Zimmer. Speaking of Zimmer, his “Interstellar” score is a high note in a long career of high notes, simultaneously evoking the bombast of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the subtle emotion of something we’ve never seen or heard before. Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, David Oyelowo, and Bill Irwin fill out the supporting cast, with Irwin as the voice of a sarcastically amusing robot whose sense of humor is a welcome respite from the sometimes unending tension that Nolan tends to employ. A third act reveal introduces a famous face I won’t reveal, an actor of great power who sells his mysterious role, a scientist previously lost on one of NASA’s target planets, but can’t overcome the murky motivations that come into play when his character turns for the worst. While his character might be the worst aspect of “Interstellar,” his role almost immediately precedes the last twenty minutes of the film, which is perhaps the best stretch of cinema that Christopher Nolan has ever produced. It’s a visual and cerebral feast that will send most people headed straight for the water-cooler.
After this film and “Men, Women, and Children,” there is no doubt that the critics occasionally miss a step or two. Supposed gaps in logic relating to Chastain’s character can be answered with simple human nature, and the heady dialogue is a minor nitpick relative to the monumental ambition on screen. While Christopher Nolan would do well to give his characters, and thus the audience, a breather from exposition and conflict here and there, he hasn’t missed a step from his many gargantuan successes. “Interstellar” might be a notch below “Inception” or “The Dark Knight,” but as far as I’m concerned the man is a perfect 7 and 0 in his career, and he doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon.