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INTERSTELLAR (2014) review

November 14, 2014



written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
produced by: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Lynda Obst
directed by: Christopher Nolan
rating: PG-13 (for some intense perilous scenes and brief strong language)
runtime: 169 min.
U.S. release date: November 5, 2014


In Christopher Nolan’s science fiction film, “Interstellar”, Earth’s landscape is no longer a sustainable place for humans. Coincidentally, movie theaters are no longer a sustainable place for film enthusiasts – what with all the entitled moviegoers and their annoying behavior. Nolan upgrades the landscape of movie theaters with the escapism of “Interstellar”, by creating a cinematic experience with amazing and beautiful visuals, utilizing IMAX film more than he has in any of his previous films. The breathtaking spectacle of Nolan’s space odyssey is expected, but what comes as a surprise is how emotional and moving this movie is.

Set in the “near-future”, which has become quite a popular sci-fi subgenre, “Interstellar” finds scientists and astrophysicists scrambling to find another planet out there suitable for mankind. If they don’t, they’ll either wind up fat and floating in space like in “WALL-E” or living high above a ravaged Earth, like Tom Cruise in “Oblivion” or, depending on your economic class, like the denizens of “Elysium”, either inhabiting an overpopulated and polluted Earth or among the wealthy (and healthy) amid an idyllic space habitat. The near-future of those films lean more in the category of “post-apocalyptic” or “dystopian”, but the Earth’s populace in “Interstellar” isn’t quite there yet.




The focus is on a struggling Midwestern farm, run by widowed former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), who, along with his father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow) is trying to raise his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and son Tom (Timothée Chalamet), while becoming increasingly restless, yearning to return to the stars. Murph shares her father’s interests and the two of them stumble upon a mysterious gravitational pull that is sending them a binary code message which that leads then to a nearby abandoned NASA base – only, it’s not.

Cooper discovers there’s a secret group of specialists, led by his one-time mentor, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who’ve found a wormhole that’s been “placed” near Saturn. They that believe opens the door to a galaxy with potentially habitable planets. In fact, they’ve already sent three pilots (Miller, Edmonds and Mann) into the wormhole for surveillance as part of the Lazarus Mission. Now they need a capable pilot to helm a mission to follow-up on the work of the previous pilots and Brand makes it clear Cooper is the guy to do it. The time is now, since the only remaining crop left is corn and even that isn’t going to last.

Realizing what’s at stake, Cooper agrees to pilot the mission, understanding that he’ll be abandoning his family with no certain return time-table. He leads a team consisting of the Professor’s daughter, Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romily (David Gyasi) and geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), as well as two A.I. robots named TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart), that will travel two years aboard the Endurance, an experimental spacecraft to get to the wormhole. This obviously doesn’t sit well with Murph.




As we follow the crew into space, we witness breathtaking images amid the quiet of outer space. It’s the opposite of last year’s “Gravity” which offered a hyper sound and vision spectacle and more akin to Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, an obvious influence on Nolan here. Instead of seeing the Endurance float among the stars to Strauss and Wagner, Nolan reteams with Hanz Zimmer for an inventive and eclectic score that incorporates pipe organs that adds to the excitement and deliberately placed crescendos to coincide with the emotional moments. Some of those moments require very little music at all. It’s all pretty apparent the toll this trip is taking on the crew.

Cooper tries to maintain everyone’s composure but the stress of the trip and all that is relying on it is the obvious elephant in the spacecraft. He’s confident and resourceful, but the gnawing of the unknown is building. Even the most talented or intelligent of individuals are prone to the stressors of space. Inside the wormhole, a place where time exponentially moves slower than on Earth due to the gravitational pull of a rotating black hole (so very cool to see on an IMAX screen) – a mistake is made, costing the crew twenty-three Earth years and valuable resources. It’s an extremely frustrating situation that none of them could anticipate, made worse by the loss of a crew member. It’s a loss all around.

Nolan co-wrote the screenplay with his brother and frequent collaborator, Jonathan Nolan and it’s at this point in the film that they have us feel the emotional weight of twenty-three lost years. This is where “Interstellar” is at its heaviest and most moving. Sure, it’s full of explanations of time, quantum physics and relativity as it includes an event horizon as well as a tesseract, which is all very interesting. Really. But, what truly hooked me were the situations, problems and difficulties the characters experience. That’s something I wasn’t prepared for and the more I think about it, it’s at this particular point in the film that really got me. To say anymore would be too much and I don’t feel like getting choked up again.




To have the audience visualize the passing of time, the Nolans bring us back to earth, where we find an older Tom (Casey Affleck) and Murph (Jessica Chastain). Tom now has a family of his own and is busy maintaining the farm, while Murph went on to work with a deteriorating Professor Brand in order to solve a physics problem related to Cooper’s mission. It shines a sobering light on the old saying, “They grow up so fast”. Oh, the weight of time.

Again, I could go on about what else happens with the crew of the Endurance, but that wouldn’t help you. If any of what I’ve written has caught your interest, if you’re at all interesting in a science fiction film by one of the most ambitious directors working today or if you’re looking for a captivating and surprising science fiction film – well then, you’ve either seen “Interstellar” already or are planning on to. Just do yourself a favor and see it on a real IMAX theater (not those deceptive Lie-MAX screens), which will display Nolan’s magnificent visuals as he intended. The director uses actual IMAX film for “Interstellar” more than he has in any of his previous films and its his best use of the format yet.

“Interstellar” is indeed a film about the survival of the human race, yet at its core is the motivation behind that quest. There’s mention of scientific discovery and talk of scientists and pilots being pioneers and explorers, but the motivation behind our protagonist’s actions is love.




Now, if you allow yourself to take that in – the love a man has for his children and the desire for a prosperous future for them – then you will allow yourself to be moved by love. Are you willing to release cynicism and surrender to a moving story that, although it is packed with thrills and images that will find you awestruck, is ultimately a moving story about father/daughter relationships and the challenge that comes with making a sacrifice motivated by love?

I was moved and still am and likely will be again the next time I view “Interstellar”.  It seems crazy to me then that I feel compelled to present that question, but it’s within reason. There are critics that see the family melodrama in Nolan’s film as sentimental, manipulative and rote. That’s baffling to me. Here is a film which presents a fractured albeit functional family in an inviting and warm light. Are there typical conventions at play such as a single dad doing his best to raise and provide for his kids? Sure, but the performances are so natural and lived-in that such tropes are forgotten, or should be. Sentimentality and manipulation can be just fine if it is well-earned.

There’s plenty of well-earned sentimentality in “Interstellar” and not once did I feel manipulated in any direction. Instead, I felt connected by the characters and lost in their story. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. I just let go and allowed it to happen. It’s possible.




Along with the criticism of sentimentality and manipulation, “Interstellar” is also accused of being repetitious. Granted, there was one particular element of repetition that comes to mind, which is Professor Brand’s incessant reciting of a Dylan Thomas poem. That got old pretty fast. What else is repetitious? I have no clue. I was too busy getting lost in space. That doesn’t mean I think “Interstellar” is perfect or a masterpiece (maybe a near-masterpiece), since I do have few issues with the film, certain aspects of the ending, to name one. Still, it never reduced my enjoyment of the film though.

What I won’t tolerate is hearing some say the actors here are miscast, Hathaway and McConaughey, to be specific. That’s just crazy. I can only think this comes from those who already have some dislike for these two, because their performances here are some of the best in their career – especially McConaughey (which is saying a lot when you consider all his roles over the past four years). Does Topher Grace, as Chastain’s doctor colleague, pretty much have a non-role. Yes, but the majority of the cast is spot-on and quite diverse.

It’s been over a week now and I’m still thinking about “Interstellar”. That doesn’t surprise me at all since there’s quite a bit to think about. From the unique design of the A.I. robots to the worn look of the vehicles and locations, there are images and scenes that will stay with me and no doubt be discussed for some time. Pay no attention to all the online chatter about what “Interstellar” doesn’t get right about science. It’s science fiction, after all. If it’s really bugging you though, flip through The Science of Interstellar, a book written by Nolan’s consultant, theoretical physicist Kip Thorne.

This is a film that I believe will benefit over time. At least I hope it will. It would be great if it could be rereleased in IMAX on its 10th or 25th (maybe 23rd, heh heh) anniversary, so a whole new audience can see what all the fuss was about and maybe even the current nitpickers and naysayers will come around.




RATING: ***1/2





3 Comments leave one →
  1. Frank permalink
    November 15, 2014 9:25 am

    Thoughtfully considered David. I thought the Hanz Simmer soundtrack rose almost to the level of one of the films stars. Like you observe, the silences were the most provocative and stirring. While I am not a McConaughey fan, he ably carried the film. The film just may be this year’s recipient of many award nominations.


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