Christopher Nolan’s latest feature is not so much a cinematic blockbuster as it is a meditation on the future of the human race. The director of Inception and The Dark Knight Trilogy delivers a celluloid love letter to grand impossible dreams and ideas, coupled with a pioneering spirit. Interstellar is not, however, without its flaws.
Co-written by Nolan’s brother, Jonathan, Interstellar is an example of a film that would not have been made on such a high budget if it were not for the brand recognition of the brothers. The finished production takes the kind of risks with symbolism, tone, narrative, and overall clarity that would normally have studio executives requesting re-shoots and rewrites. In short, this is a $165 million art house film.
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 shared similar weighty themes of introspection, loneliness, and sacrifice for the better of others, as do both versions of Solaris, but Interstellar feels difficult to connect with on a basic human level. It is entirely possible that this was intentional, but it is hard to see why this would have been a deliberate choice. There is no doubt that this is a wonderfully acted and directed film, and that the cinematography is breathtaking; the problem lies with its execution of narrative, which is somewhat experimental.
The main thrust of the plot is simple, even if its execution is exceedingly complex: the human race needs a new home, Earth can no longer sustain them, and there is no food. The mission to find a new home belongs to a pilot-turned- farmer known simply as Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey. Cooper, a widower, will have to leave his children behind in order to find, for them and for the whole of humankind, a new planet. Nolan’s film has three distinct overlapping strands of story – the earthbound family saga, Cooper’s space opera, and a linking existential drama – and each feels as if each should be a stand alone fully developed film. Experimenting with narrative and a sense of non-linearity is nothing new – Quentin Tarantino practically built his career on it – but with Interstellar it comes with an unexpected sterility. There is no warmth or optimism in the sections which might be termed as ‘family drama’, and no grandeur or sense of amazement in the ‘space opera’ elements. The existential mystery, which forms the third strand, is the most contemplative and serves to bind the other two strands together, musing on love, the afterlife, and all things in relation to the other strands, in an interesting take on spirituality, which serves to add more meaning to the events in the other portions of the movie.
When the movie does elevate itself to the kind of drama Nolan excels at, we have random quotes from Dylan Thomas and fantastic stirring monologues that display every performer’s ability to handle complex material. Hans Zimmer delivers a perfectly executed score that could well be a career best, enhancing the truly poignant moments where Cooper has to watch his children grow up from afar. Yet for all its positive elements and cinematic beauty, the film lacks cohesion.
Interstellar is a film about moments, ideas, philosophies and heroic, if sometimes muted, sacrifice. It is a bold cinematic experiment that, though, initially unsatisfying, might benefit from repeated viewings in order to tackle its complex ideas, both epic and domestic. The film is highly cerebral, one that will stay with viewers as they ponder its deeper meanings long after the closing credits. Not many films have that effect on its viewers.
David MacDonald Graham