I’ve been putting this review off for a long time now, and now it’s time I finally start writing.
But really, how can I accurately get to the core of such a perplexing and polarizing film as Interstellar? Two weeks since I’ve first seen the film, I still don’t think I’ve cracked all of its secrets. Christopher Nolan has never been one to shy away from heady stylistics (such as in films like Inception and Memento), and with this film (originally intended to be directed by Steven Spielberg), he’s created his most head-scratching film yet. I find everyone either loves or hates this film for its intentions, and I can’t deny that I don’t see those same issues.
In many ways, Interstellar is very much Nolan’s 2001. An at once beautiful, but flawed piece of cinematic art, Interstellar ironically proves to be so ambitious that its heady concepts almost work against it. Is it a destined cinematic masterpiece that will grow in appreciation for generations to come, or is it a pretentious slog where Nolan’s intentions run more rampant than ever?
I have no clue, but let’s take a look at the film as is.
In the opening scene of Interstellar, we see a world weary Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) overlooking the overgrown and dusty crops surrounding his home, bleak, grey, and beyond control. This is the way of the world in Interstellar’s future, where a badly abolished and overpopulated earth has resulted in staggering dust storms and depletion of most food aside from corn. Cooper is an engineer in a time when more old-fashioned professions like farming are needed desperately, and in this time of hardships, it makes it harder for him to provide for his family.
By chance, his daughter (Mackenzie Foy) comes across strange, almost supernatural forces occurring in their home, which eventually (I dare not spoil how) lead Cooper to a secret facility where a select few dare to venture through the galaxy to leave earth, and find inhabitable planets to save the struggling human race. There’s a powerful gravity (no pun intended) to this situation, as Cooper will likely be away from his family for years, but wanting desperately to provide them with a better life, makes the sacrifice, joining a group of scientists to investigate several ideal planets.
And that is where I should stop, because anymore would reveal too much of the film’s numerous twists. Just know that the film is not as deceptively simple as it may sound, and will likely require several viewings. So before I dive into some of the more hard to talk about elements of the film, let’s take a look at the film’s immediate strengths and weaknesses.
For one thing, as with any of Nolan’s films, the technical work of the film is of the highest order. It’s probably going to be the best showcase of overall aesthetics and sound I see this year. The photography by Hoyte van Hoytema is utterly gorgeous, effectively giving the earth sequences a very bleak and washed out lighting to highlight the decay of our planet, contrasted by the more colorful and expansive framing to highlight the hopeful grandeur of the cosmos. Nathan Crowley’s production design establishes a suitable balance between the decayed overpopulation of earth, to the massive, but isolated planets of the film. Film Editor Lee Smith cuts the film with masterful pacing and clockwork precision. The sound mix has divided viewers for its harshness and difficulty understanding certain dialogue from segments of the film, but I think it’s a terrific showcase of counteracting the emptiness of space with a properly underlined sense of intensity. Richard King’s sound design (and lack thereof) is very eerie and nerve wracking, while the effects supervised by Paul Franklin are a gem of imaginative realization and wonder.
As for the acting, it is uniformly impressive. Matthew McConaughey is simply fantastic as Cooper, tapping into the character’s worrisome worldview and unconditional love, but also not shying away from the character’s immense regret that such a sacrifice will bring. McConaughey has to walk a tricky tightrope of devastating emotions, and the result is tremendous. The rest of the cast is also made up by the impressive likes of Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, and especially Anne Hathaway as a scientist joining Cooper on his mission, a scientist guided by her instincts and intuition, but often questionably so.
From an analytical standpoint, Christopher Nolan’s direction is enthralling, undoubtedly the work of an auteur. However, where most viewers will find themselves tested is by the comparatively weaker writing. While his direction may be impressive, his writing is Nolan-esque to an occasional fault. The film is loaded with the director’s heavy make-or-break exposition, and isn’t immune to some pretty cheesy dialogue, and it will most likely vary for the individual viewer how naturally it comes across. It leaves plenty things to be desired, and can even meander unnecessarily.
But now the real meat of the film lies in the film’s thematic constructs. One of the core themes of the film is a semi-religious allegory of love transcending time and space like guidance from higher powers, while also featuring recurring analysis of knowledge and inheritances passed down to generations to come, and the psychological effects of mankind's fight for survival. These themes especially come to a head in the final quarter of the film, wherein a particular scene will be a leap of faith for many viewers, and will likely be the deciding factor for the overall experience.
I can’t go into much detail for fear of spoiling much substantial, which makes the film especially hard to talk about, but I appreciate why the film is not for everyone. It doesn’t always move quickly, and as I’ve said before, its intentions threaten to work against it. The film’s ideas are fascinating, but at the same time, I’m not always sure they pay off. This all makes it one of the hardest films I've ever had to review, so much so that I almost didn't even want to try.
From a personal standpoint, I can definitely see big flaws present, but regardless of those issues, I still have to say I love the film. It is a film that will likely be rewarding on repeat viewings, but even if it doesn’t hold up as well on those subsequent viewings, it’s still a film brimming with topical concepts and enthralling analytical value, meaning it shouldn’t be entirely dismissed. Whether or not the film will be regarded as a future masterpiece will certainly be revealed in time, but even if it doesn’t, it’s still a film that deserves to be seen and debated.
Also, for the purposes of this review, take my rating with a grain of salt. I don’t want to let hyperbole influence my decision, so until I’m able to see the film again, this is in no way final.
****1/2 / *****