Interstellar Has Big Screen Imagery, Simpler Themes
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2014 5 Nov
DVD Release Date: March 31, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: November 5, 2014 (IMAX); November 7 wide
Rating: PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language
Run Time: 169 min.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow
Christopher Nolan has joined a short list of directors whose films are considered events. Ever since his breakout film Memento (2000), which played with basic narrative conventions by telling its story backward, Nolan's work has grown both larger and more complex. He rebooted the Batman franchise with Batman Begins (2005) and took up more sinister themes with The Dark Knight (2008), which explored both human depravity and the dangers of the security state. Between his Batman projects, Nolan wrote and directed The Prestige (2006) and Inception (2010), and he wrote the script for last summer’s Zack Snyder-directed Superman reboot, Man of Steel.
Nolan doesn't play directorial small-ball. He develops heady stories that are best absorbed on a large screen, where the visual presentation matches or exceeds his scripts' ideas. But Nolan often gets carried away. His biggest weakness as a filmmaker is a tendency toward bloated storytelling—the antithesis of the streamlined narrative on which he made his name with Memento. He sometimes just doesn't know when to quit.
Nolan's Interstellar, which he co-wrote with his brother Jonathan and directed, may be his most ambitious film yet, but it shows both his best instincts and his worst. An overwhelming visual and auditory experience, Interstellar starts strong but fades as it heads toward its conclusion. Despite an impressively loud presentation of space travel, Interstellar is at its strongest in its quietest moments, when children reflect on their parents’ legacies.
Interstellar starts at some point in the future, but there are no sleek landscapes, alternate forms of travel or other things we might associate with the science-fiction stories we’re most familiar with. Instead, there’s dirt. And corn. And discussion of the importance of farming. Much of the early talk in Interstellar comes from older people who, in recorded conversations, recall how plentiful and abundant life on Earth once was.
We learn the crops have mostly died off, and food is no longer readily available. The key to earth’s future is not in the STEM fields so popular among today’s students, but in farming. “We ran out of food,” we hear one character succinctly state. “We need more farmers.”
Farmers aren’t the only need for Earth’s inhabitants. Faced with a dire future, people have stopped having children—or having enough children. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club) has a daughter, Murph (played by McKenzie Foy as a child, and by Jessica Chastain as an adult), and a son, Tom (played by Timothee Chalamat as a child, and by Casey Affleck as an adult), but the older Donald (John Lithgow, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) tells Cooper he needs to "start pulling your weight" in terms of "repopulating the earth."
With the options for mankind’s survival dwindling, Cooper, a widower who once worked for the space program, stumbles onto a secret NASA office and is recruited to lead a mission to a wormhole in space that may lead to a new place humans can cultivate.
There is, of course, a catch. Cooper’s team, including Amelia (Anne Hathaway, Get Smart), knows little about what they’ll find once they pass through the wormhole, but they do know that, depending on where they go, time runs differently on the other side of the wormhole, creating a sense of urgency. By the time the team determines what it needs to know, it could be too late to save mankind. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Amelia's father (Michael Caine, The Dark Knight Rises), a professor, is working on one last missing piece needed for humans to prosper. He guarantees Cooper that he’ll resolve that issue by the time Cooper’s team returns.
The science behind Interstellar may test most viewers, who will be trying to keep up with the complex definitions thrown out by its characters about space travel, wormholes and the space-time continuum. But at its core, Interstellar is a story about parents and children, as seen primarily through relationship between Cooper and Murph. Cooper’s attempt to soften his departure for Murph ahead of his NASA mission is one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes, and later video transmissions between father and daughter heighten the pathos in Interstellar—something not common in Nolan’s other, emotionally chillier films. If viewers don’t find themselves sobbing along with the characters, they can at least identify with the toll such distance and absence take on a relationship, especially one as essential as that between a parent and young child.
As the story wends toward its conclusion, the pathos subsides and any sense of emotional payoff in Interstellar begins to wane—due not only to the film's lengthy 169 minutes, but also to its punishing Hans Zimmer score, which begins to grate. However, the film's weaknesses are offset by the beauty of much of its imagery and its more potent moments involving intergenerational relationships. In the end, all the talk of different dimensions, black holes and space-travel theories pale next to the tears, anger and love expressed between parents and children in Interstellar, proving that sometimes the most profound of messages can be the simplest, no matter how complex and confusing everything else surrounding that main message might be, and it's one that demands to be seen on the biggest screen available.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; the “f” word; several uses of foul language
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: Beer drinking
- Sex/Nudity: None; a man tells Cooper to “start pulling your weight” in “repopulating the earth”; kissing
- Violence/Crime: An explosion
- Religion/Morals/Marriage: Murph speculates about a possible ghost in their home; Cooper mentions a brain cyst that killed his wife; Cooper tells Murph he helped to get her suspended from school; a sarcastic suggestion that one character prays to his money; the mission to space is dubbed Lazarus; Cooper says we were born on earth, but weren’t meant to die here; a character is said to have not believed nature is evil; speculation that extraterrestrials led the U.S. crew to the wormhole; a character tells Cooper he should pray that he never learns just how good it can be to see another face, and says he has been literally raised from the dead
Publication date: November 5, 2014