By Nick Anstett
Elm Staff Writer
Christopher Nolan, despite decidedly humble beginnings as a thriller director, has quickly become the go-to source for spectacle with a tinge of intelligence and humanity. Nolan rocketed into the public space with his acclaimed (and rightly so) “Dark Knight” trilogy and just four years ago was driving audiences mad with the dream-heist film, “Inception.”
“Interstellar” represents his most ambitious work yet, tackling scientific and philosophical concepts with gusto and nuance. While it stumbles quite a bit on its way to the end, Nolanites and film goers in general are likely to find just the film they were looking for.
The Earth has been used up. A planet-wide dust bowl has made crop growing the number one necessity and utterly halted technological innovation. For some, like former pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his prodigy daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain), this world offers nothing for them. Born too late or too early, Cooper distracts himself by hunting down old technology until he stumbles upon the best kept secret in the world. NASA has remained running all these years, and is now on the verge of one last ditch effort to save humanity. A wormhole has opened up outside Saturn and NASA plans to launch a mission into its depths in hopes of finding a new world for humankind.
It’s hard to not compare “Interstellar” to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Both films aim just about as high as the sci-fi genre can get to tell a story that not only has spectacle and scientific theory but also philosophy about our own humanity. The influence is clear, and Nolan’s direction does a strong job on touching upon his Kubrick-esque origins but also flexing his own creative muscle.
“Interstellar” makes a commitment very early on to tell a sci-fi tale that adheres very strongly to true scientific concepts. Expect lengthy discussions and applications of relativity, wormholes, time, black holes, etc. This is one aspect that pervades throughout the film and even stretches into its hauntingly photorealistic portrayal of space and alien worlds. It’s a spectacle that awes because it steps as close to reality as we can possibly expect. It would be easy to excuse audiences of becoming lost in the extensive pseudophilosophical technobabble, especially when characterization will sometimes halt in favor of theory, but doing so would lose part of what makes “Interstellar” fascinating.
Script writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan ground lofty scientific ideas by injecting explorations of human pain, love, and endurance. These ultimately craft some of the film’s strongest moments with McConaughey and Anne Hatheway stealing the show. However, it’s also where “Interstellar’s” carefully crafted voyage begins to collapse. Because the Nolan brothers have committed so clearly to groundings in scientific principal and answering the film’s prevailing mysteries with extensive detail, the decision to base some of these on such a purely sentimental and metaphysical plot device feels like a breach in contract. It would possibly be excusable if this total jump in the film’s own internal logic were not so essential to the script’s overarching conflicts and mysteries. It’s constructed as “Interstellar’s” “Ah-Ha!” moment but is more likely to spurn headscratching and confusion.
If you are willing to embark on “Interstellar’s” extensive voyage and accept both its commitment to science and sentimentality, then you are truly in for an experience. The Nolans pose big questions and they are ones that will stick with you for days after the film has concluded. In a way, it feels as if the brothers maybe have reached just a bit too far. They’ve purposely overshot the moon, but are still reaching for the stars.