Nolan’s stellar sci-fi epic
Any film that takes 168 minutes to tell its story can’t help but reveal its flaws as well. But in the case of Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” neither its length nor its flaws should be a deterrent to any film fan who loves epic science-fiction—because that’s exactly what Nolan has delivered in his cosmically beautiful new film.
There isn’t much material here that is pioneering in and of itself – space exploration, time travel, fifth dimensions, earthly apocalypses, Dylan Thomas poems (okay maybe that last one isn’t so common)—but it is Nolan’s singular vision that makes his film go to where few films of the genre have gone before. But despite its otherworldly ambitions, at the heart of “Interstellar” is a terrific father-daughter story that grounds the proceedings in compelling pathos with rarely a moment of false sentiment.
Matthew McConaughey is occasionally too soft spoken but compellingly heroic nonetheless as Cooper, a former NASA pilot and single father to a teenage son (Timothee Chalamet) and a precocious young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy). “Coop” ekes out a meager living on a farm raising one of the few crops that can grow since the Earth became plagued by famine and drought. A collapsing ecosystem causes huge dust storms, and humanity appears doomed since all space travel appears to have been shuttered and the planet’s inhabitants seem resolved to wait for the bitter end.
But it turns out a mysterious, clandestine group of scientists has a plan to find a solution for Earth’s population, and Cooper is tabbed as one of the crewmembers who will be jettisoned to a wormhole that may lead to a new home for Earth’s survivors.
Complex without being complicated, the script (written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan) uses time dilation (people age at different rates depending on the speed they travel) to pitch the ultimate parent-child separation conundrum, which dismays little Murph to no end. It seems daddy can’t be both the astronaut who saves mankind and a good father.
There are good performances all around from Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain and John Lithgow. But the normally exceptional Anne Hathaway as fellow scientist and crewmember Dr. Brand seems a little fragile given her character’s credentials. Any more discussion of the plot might spoil some surprise twists (and one A-list appearance) but there’s no disguising the whole body-clenching tension that is sustained for most of the movie, dutifully anchored by Hans Zimmer’s pulse-pounding score.
Combining the best elements of Kubrick, Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan’s early work, Nolan has crafted a graceful, stirring epic. “Interstellar” may not set new standards for the genre, but it does give today’s audiences a reminder of what visionary filmmaking looks like—and just as importantly, how it feels. For the record, it feels great.
Rated PG-13 for intense perilous action and brief strong language.