Christopher Nolan’s newest and biggest film places us in a near future landscape that echoes the 1930’s Midwest dustbowl. Crops are failing, dust storms cover the land, and career options are very limited. The story focuses on Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an ex-nasa pilot who was let go after budget cuts shut down space exploration programs, and his small family made up of his two children, Tom and Murphy, and his father-in-law. Something compels Cooper to stumble upon an opportunity to fly again, and perhaps even save humankind.
And so the stage is set, and a grand stage it is indeed that Nolan has chosen to put on his most ambitious show yet.
Michael Caine plays physicist Professor Brand (modeled after real-life physicist and producer Kip Thorne) who recruits Cooper to lead a final Hail-Mary mission through a wormhole to another galaxy that may contain a new home for humanity. Passing through this worm hole means that Cooper may give his life for humanity, or more optimistically, be separated from his family for an undisclosed number of years.
The team of explorers encounter unforeseen challenges including the warping of space time, limited supplies, and disagreements about the fate of mankind. Nolan goes further than making a straightforward adventure/survival film and asks the view to explore, or at the very least, listen to, different ideas about fate, family roles, theology, time, and our place in the universe.
The visuals are some of the most incredible (and mind-boggling) that someone is likely to see on screen, the score, worked by long-time collaborator and industry trend setting Hans Zimmer, is powerful and sometimes chilling. The music adds a great weight to several moments and was responsible for more than one tear-jerking moment.
There are many references to Nolan’s favorite sci-fi films, some more subtle than others, that viewers should take great pleasure in picking out. Many elements of the movie seem straight from other popular sci-fi movies, but collectively there is nothing quite like this.
At times the exposition can be a bit heavy-handed, but the actors handle the lines so well it is rarely a distraction. Inception featured so much exposition that it would have been aggravating had not the viewer been given someone to relate to in the case of Ellen Paige’s character who was as new to dream sharing as the viewer. Interstellar features almost exclusively scientists, physicists and such that it’s a bit harder to find a proper context to explain things to the audience, but it is largely handled well.
At nearly three hours long it would be easy to be exhausted, but there is very little here that could be trimmed. A few of our characters have VERY LITTLE character, but giving them mjuch backstory would have only lengthened your Mountain Dew-induced bladder anguish. It is long, but it is paced well, and keeps you thinking far longer than three hours after exiting the cinema.
Christopher Nolan has become something of an ‘event’ director. His movies are now subject to so much hype that intensified expectations and criticism make it difficult to view without considering where this will stand next to his preceding works. It’s less entertaining than Inception and The Dark Knight, less challenging than The Prestige, and less original than Memento. It is also longer than all of them. That said, it has some of the most powerful and gripping moments ever put on screen, and I can’t wait to see it again (with a smaller cup of Mountain Dew).