Interstellar is a visual masterpiece that has a human touch that propels it to greatness. It is perhaps one of the best space movies ever made.
Christopher Nolan isn’t one known to be taciturn when it comes to his movies. Even his smaller movies like Momento have grand structures bolstering their simple plots. However, Interstellar is easily is first brush with the epic — unless you consider the full Dark Knight trilogy as one. On paper, it should not work. A sweeping narrative covering different times and worlds would be eaten up by audiences. That’s why Gravity found so much success financially and at the Oscars. But Nolan does something completely different with Interstellar. He introduces science in a way that isn’t watered down or ignored. His film, according to astrophysicists, is completely plausible. Though that fact makes the movie a hard one to digest for viewers, the end result is an incredible study of human nature and our desire to survive.
Food is running out. The world is becoming overpopulated. The Yankees look nothing more than a high school baseball team. A crop blight is threatening the very existence of the human race. Nolan drops into this terrifyingly realistic future plagued with dust storms and the risk of the world simply ending within grasp. With this, the nation turns its attention to farmers and away from the sciences and engineers to save the world.
However, Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) who was once a pilot for NASA, maintains his faith in STEM. After a dust storm, a mysterious gravitational disturbance leads him back to the formerly disbanded agency. He discovers that NASA, led by Dr. Brand (Nolan regular Michael Caine) and his daughter Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) have discovered a wormhole. “One system with three potential worlds,” as Amelia puts. it. Something, or someone, has given the human race a chance to live by presenting them with potential new planets to call home.
Cooper is given the seemingly possible decision to leave his children forever, potentially, or save the humanity from extinction. Choosing the latter, he embarks into an incredible mission on the ship Endurance. He, along with Amelia, Dr. Doyle (Wes Bently), and Dr. Romilly (David Gyasi) set off to assess the three worlds to choose where to start a new civilization.
Back on earth, Murphy Cooper (Jessica Chastain), who grows up while her father is gone, begins to help Dr. Brand determine the formula to get humans off of earth in a mass exodus.
While wormholes and other worlds seem like the work of science fiction, the science is very real. Though throughout the movie it sometimes gets a little confusing, with a little thinking you can piece it together. Essentially, it’s the Neil DeGrasse Tyson of movies. The science is explained in a non-condescending way.
One of the most surprising elements of Interstellar is not the story or the science, but the sentimentality. It’s shockingly emotional and often heartbreaking. In fact, parts of it gutted me. Whether it’s surprising because of the director or the premise is anybody’s guess. However, the grasp it has on humanity is both refreshing and welcome. Especially in the science fiction genre, a human factor is usually missing. But Nolan and the screenplay exhibit human nature for all its beauty and destruction.
We have an innate desire to survive. That’s why the people on earth in Interstellar begin to lose faith in the dream to leave the planet. They are thinking of how they can solve the problems on Earth. The very idea of the movie is thinking of a way to save our race. However, the movie explores the selfish motivations we also innately have. The way it is explored is surprising and devastating.
But it’s not just the screenplay and direction that exudes that. The ensemble was tasked with accessing emotions that humans would actually feel in these situations. Overall, the entire cast is phenomenal. However, there are three standouts for me. The first is Matthew McConaughey. I think it’s very unfortunate that he won his Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club. Not to take away from that performance. His performance in Interstellar is an incredible meditation on one of the hardest questions for humans: how much will you sacrifice for the greater good. There is no better way to show this than when he is watching messages from his kids as the years go by. This is the best performance of his career.
The other two performances that stood out were the two actresses that portrayed Murph. Mackenzie Foy breaks any stigma surrounding child actors with a really naturalistic and heartbreaking performance. She has these knowing gazes that foreshadow the scientific curiosity that follows her throughout her life. Jessica Chastain is an incredible presence as the older Murph. She carries over the knowing gazes, but adds the emotional baggage of years of abandonment by Coop. It is easily one of her most memorable performances.
Masterpiece isn’t a word I take lightly. I’ve said it in probably two reviews on this blog (Boyhood and Moonlight – the former I’m less inclined to continue using that phrase). However, I’d call Interstellar a masterpiece of filmmaking. It’s as grand as it is introspective and as grounded as it is existential. By the end of the nearly three-hour running time — it goes by in a flash — you feel as if you’ve experienced something that is so rarely captured on film. If not for the plot or performances, watch it for the stunning visuals that haven’t been seen on the silver screen since perhaps 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think a decade from now we’re going to look back and wonder how we fell asleep to such a grand and sweeping epic. 9.5/10