Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to this review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Before we begin I would like to flag up that I will be referring to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at various points throughout. Such a comparison may seem obvious, lazy, or unhelpful but I hope you will trust me when I say that comparing this latest Sci-Fi epic to The Greatest* Science Fiction Film of All Time™ helps to put the film, and its critique, into context. Happy? Then I shall begin.
A few generations from now the world is not the technologically advanced utopia we have come to expect. Instead our planet is slowly dying. All crops fail apart from corn as dust storms roam across the harsh landscape of America. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former pilot and engineer whose time is now best spent running a farm with his children, Murph (Mackenzie Foy & Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet & Casey Affleck), and their Grandfather (John Lithgow). While Tom is happy enough following in his father’s footsteps Murph is fascinated by science. Sadly this is a world in which the scientists have failed and government money is better spent feeding the population instead of inspiring a generation.
Life is dirty and bleak; Cooper seems resigned to the daily struggle to put food on the table and keep dust out of his children’s lungs. After a certain series of events too convoluted for me to explain here, Interstellar‘s own large black monolith, Cooper and Murph stumble across the secret base of what is left of NASA. Now headed up by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) NASA are not looking for a way to save the world but for a whole new planet for our species to move to. With the help of a wormhole pioneering explorers have already travelled to distant parts of the universe to find a viable planet but now one final scouting mission is needed to travel through the wormhole and see how they got on.
Naturally Cooper is the best man for the job and after some contemplation, and vehement disagreement from Murph, he blasts off into the void with Amelia, Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Principal (David Oyelowo). As Cooper and company search for a new home for the human race they are forced to confront whether a human can truly put the interests of mankind ahead of personal safety and the lives of their loved ones. In an adventure involving relativity, the fifth dimension, and interstellar travel Christopher Nolan bends space, time, and your mind.
But is Interstellar any good?
Whatever my fellow audience members may have thought about Interstellar they have to admit that it is an ambitious and brave endeavour. Well… brave in the way a film can be; lives are not being put at risk here. The ambitious bravery comes in the form of including tricky science for the audience to absorb and risking people not understanding what is going on or simply getting sniffy because the science isn’t 100% accurate. It’s a difficult line to tread, teetering between incomprehension and derision, but for my money Interstellar succeeds. To fully understand the plot one has to take on a certain amount of understanding of relativity, the concept of time as a resource just like fuel, and experiencing the world in dimensions beyond time. In my opinion Nolan manages to get the basic scientific principles across well enough that nobody who is paying sufficient attention will find themselves adrift. Go to the toilet at the wrong moment though and you may want to borrow somebody else’s notes.
As for those who feel the need to take Interstellar to task for not being 100% scientifically robust, as happened with Gravity, I have very little patience. I am assuming that this a modern trend to make people feel superior by allowing them to apply derision to films that are otherwise enjoyable. No Interstellar should not be used in a science lesson but I wouldn’t use 2001: A Space Odyssey either. Did Kubrick get assessed badly for suggesting that evolution was sparked by the arrival of a large black obelisk or were critics able to accept this as a forgivable plot device essential to the story being told? Science Fiction is what it is because it is not factual. It is fiction. What is important is that the film in questions takes its own fictional science seriously and does not contradict itself. Interstellar has its own rules, explains them, and applies them. Turn your nose up and I will confiscate your light saber.
Rather than debate the laws of physics I suggest you instead just enjoy the unimaginable visuals and infectious sense of adventure that Interstellar has in abundance. Films with this scope and imagination are few and far between and should be appreciated as such. What Odyssey lacked in emotional weight (or baggage) Interstellar is bursting with. While Odyssey‘s Dave struggled in space without any sign of a family, his wife only appearing in a sequel (played by Mary Jo Deschanel), McConaughey’s Cooper is constantly aware of his family back home on Earth. The weight of the mission to rescue mankind is made apparent through the adversity experienced both in a distant galaxy as well on the planet we call home. Interstellar wants to tug at your heart as well as muddle your mind and is mostly successful. While I did feel the struggle felt by Cooper and family occasionally the Nolan brothers’ script pulled a little too hard. One particular speech by Hathaway’s Amelia is more likely to deliver sniggers than sniffles. Bend space and time all you like but don’t over deliver on the sentimentality. In a film with two prominent female scientists it is a shame that one finds herself compromised by emotions.
The overall effect of Interstellar is one of awe. Despite some flaws the film as a whole is a visual feast and dramatic juggernaut that explores the flaws of humanity as much as it does the far reaches of the universe. Below you will notice that I have given the film a full five stars and I do this not because it is a perfect feature or my greatest film of the year, let alone all time. I give it five stars for ambition and execution. For trying something a little different. You may not like it; it might be too convoluted, too simplistic, or just try too hard for your tastes but hopefully it will give you at least one moment when your eyes widen in surprise and wonder.
Interstellar is in UK cinemas from 7th November 2014.