INTERSTELLAR is “INTER-less than-STELLAR,” but at least it reaches for the stars. Just opened in IMAX and theaters everywhere, INTERSTELLAR–Christopher Nolan’s gorgeously shot and directed 3-hour extravaganza– is an immersive experience, part sci-fi adventure/thriller, part family saga; but the meshing of those elements by way of a screenplay co-written by the brothers Jonathan and Chris Nolan is not always seamless.
INTERSTELLAR stars Matthew McConaughey as a hotshot pilot named Cooper whose wings have been clipped. Food is scarce, and he and many others have been reduced to farming a landscape that looks like the dustbowl revisited. A widower, Cooper lives on the family farm with his father-in-law, his teenage son, and his young daughter Murph who is imaginatively gifted and a lot like her rebellious dad. There are odd, inexplicable things at play in the home– ghosts, strange occurrences that will prove significant later on, but that Murph wonders about. Eventually, Cooper is enlisted in a secret program along with scientist Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway )to travel through a wormhole to other galaxies in order to find a new home for what’s left of the inhabitants of a dying planet earth. It’s a race against time and space.
OK — get out your physics text books and prepare for lots of talk about gravity, relativity, quantum physics, and the space/time continuum. Much of this is exciting and even thrilling, positing as it does dimensional realities we can only wonder at. These musings fly by at what feels like the speed of light, so hang onto your hats. I was actually glued to this part of the film; the limitless possibilities suggested here were made to seem plausible and concrete. Visually, the film is pristine and beautiful, from the first shots of a soon-to-be blighted cornfield in shadow, to the sense of infinite silent implosion within a black hole. In fact, Nolan’s use of silence and a quiet, shimmering score affected me more deeply than the loudest explosion ever has.
That INTERSTELLAR was shot and is being shown on 35mm film rather than the more sterile and controllable digital format, reinforces the “humanity” of what Nolan is ultimately after here. But it’s in this dimension–when the screenplay attempts to inject the emotional world into the equation– that the film loses its gravitas. In the course of the action, various father/daughter relationships (Nice break from the usual father-son dynamic!) are at stake and become crucial to the problem solving. I do not want to spoil any of the plot, but the last third of the movie involves an emotional leap that feels a tad forced, however visually splendid. “Love” becomes an unquantifiable variable that holds the key to the future, but I wasn’t exactly buying it.
The references to other sci-fi films, among them Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, are apparent, but the film is not as emotionally believable or satisfying as the former, nor as grandly mysterious as the latter. Nolan also has less finesse directing his actors. Matt Damon emerges at one point (My audience actually laughed out loud at the shock and miscasting!) and goes on to give a clunky, obvious performance. Matthew McConaughey overdoes his renegade, cowboy thing, slurring his words into the next dimension. Later, we’ll see Jessica Chastain running down a corridor with what just might be the key to unified field theory and the universe in her hands, and giddily tossing it into the air; it did not fly. There’s a robot on the journey with an indistinct voice who is meant to be funny, but his punch lines get lost in the ether.
All of my quibbles aside, INTERSTELLAR is surely to be praised for its scope. Underneath all the science and the love, the film is asking all-important questions about truth and revisionist history, the care taking of the planet, the needs of the individual versus the needs of the larger society, and where human nature will ultimately lead us. It’s a conundrum that has perhaps too neat a resolution in the “world” of the movie, but the “fact” of the movie itself, its imaginative reach, suggests–though I can’t prove it– we are more than the sum of our parts.