Warning: this is going to get long.
Not many directors come with such high expectations as Christopher Nolan and none of his films seem more hyped than ‘Interstellar’ has been. And by hyped I mean, ‘This film will be a gamechanger for sci-fi’, ‘Nolan once again demonstrates that he is an auteur’, ‘Interstellar’ is perfect, the Academy will lap this up’, and so on and so forth. That was the expectation; so high in the proverbial stratosphere that it almost launched into orbit. How could ‘Interstellar’ possibly live up to this pedigree, this masterclass, this godly pedestal upon which it was being imposed before it was even released?
Answer: It doesn’t.
But let’s backtrack for a moment. Let’s forget all this superfluous build-up. Let’s forget all the Oscar buzz. Let’s even forget the caliber of the director himself. Let’s imagine for a moment that ‘Interstellar’ is in a vacuum; an original film, completely off the radar with an upstart director called Christopher Nolan. And let’s start again.
‘Interstellar’ is incredible. It is brimming with rich characters, ideas and visuals to keep every corner of the cinema-going audience entertained. It is so well-tuned to the frequency of filmmaking that it could be presented as a tutorial in and of itself on how to instil awe in a person’s psyche using the tools of a movie director. ‘Interstellar’ has many ideas and characters to play with but at its heart is the importance of the big-screen cinema theatre experience. This film simply wouldn’t be the same on a small screen at home, no matter your TV’s resolution or your surround sound’s quality; it is tailor-made for giant tsunami-sized screens with out-of-this-world audio systems. And of course, the reason ‘Interstellar’ possesses this quality is the literally awesome use of cinematography and visual effects. There are countless scenes that left me both humbled and breathless, feeling the same emotions I’d imagine a first-time astronaut would feel upon seeing the Earth from the ISS for the first time. ‘Interstellar’ is beautiful. And what movie could invoke such beauty without an otherworldly score to go with it? Because Hans Zimmer’s orchestral music marries harmoniously with the images on screen. You won’t find an experience quite like ‘Interstellar’ anywhere else in time or space.
But a beautiful film with lovely music is still just experimental art at best. What Nolan achieves with ‘Interstellar’ is the almost-perfect unison of all the elements of filmmaking and this includes character and story. In terms of the former, Matthew McConaughey is superb as Cooper, the film’s protagonist, astronaut and most importantly father. His character arc is one long metaphor for the instinctive drive of a father to protect his children and set against such a vast, galactic backdrop, the take-home is small and humble and therefore touching. We really buy every moment of Cooper’s journey. We feel his emotions, his losses, his everything. Because McConaughey convinces us with acting at its most raw and intense. The supporting cast are all great too; Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon all give stellar performances. But McConaughey is the guiding sun, the true star.
The overall narrative of ‘Interstellar’ ties in closely with the theme of paternal protection that Cooper follows but on a large, post-apocalyptic, interplanetary scale. The writing and script aim big, just like every other aspect of the film. However, the dialogue doesn’t always hit the mark. Many lines are so corny they are dripping with butter and even a cliché or two slip past Nolan’s artistic lens. But ultimately, it all works because the heart and soul of the film, Cooper’s journey into the hall of fathers, carries through. The stakes are high in ‘Interstellar’ and there are plenty of edge-of-your-seat moments, where visuals, score and narrative coalesce to ignite drama.
Yet another thing ‘Interstellar’ gets right is its portrayal of science and physics. Okay, maybe not all right, but it tries. Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity play a key role in the film. How faithfully they are portrayed is debatable but it is rare for a film to attempt to be scientifically accurate and logical. Even when ‘Interstellar’ transcends science and enters true science-fiction it still does so within the film’s logical boundaries. Of course as with real science, this fake science often raises more questions than it answers and some remain unanswered. Because of this, the final act of the films is left with a large imperfect blemish in the form of mind-bending leaps of faith on the audience’s behalf and what could be perceived as faux-scientific deus ex machina. But as with the dialogue flaws, the scientific faults do little to inhibit the paternal through-line of ‘Interstellar’. Deep philosophical questions are raised here, existential even. The fact Nolan doesn’t provide all the answers is perhaps a sign that he trusts his audience to make up their own minds.
Now back to reality. ‘Interstellar’ does not exist in a vacuum. It comes from the director of ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy, ‘Memento’ and ‘Inception’. It is steeped in expectation. And so where should it stand? While its enduring value remains to be seen, I believe it stands alongside the rest of Nolan’s filmography as an equal. It deserves its company and in my opinion is very deserving of recognition at next year’s Academy Awards. Even if it isn’t the best film of 2014, ‘Interstellar’ is an experience you won’t find anywhere else in time or space.
READ: Daniel’s Review