This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 9th November 2014
Last summer, I picked Interstellar as one of five movies to get excited about in 2014. I wasn’t being particularly prescient – the clues are in the director (Christopher Nolan), the lead actors (recent Oscar winners but also frequent genre-busters Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway – come on, she sang live in Les Miserables!) and support provided by the likes of Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life, Zero Dark Thirty). Even my growing Michael Caine fatigue (he’s one of Nolan’s regulars) couldn’t ruin the anticipation.
Furthermore, following last year’s magnificent Gravity, surely no self-respecting director would ever again dare put out mediocre sci-fi. The webosphere has long been heralding Interstellar for its “accurate science” and its commitment to Kubrick-quality filmmaking. So there was much to get excited about.
Happily, thanks to a sophisticated and involved story co-written by Nolan himself and his brother Jonathan (who wrote the Dark Knight films and The Prestige) we are carried along effortlessly in an epic tale that pits McConaughey against that age-old problem of saving the world. Or rather, finding somewhere for mankind to move to once we’ve messed up our planet beyond repair.
It’s the end of the world as the environmentalists know it, and in this undisclosed future time period we are in desperate need of food. Stricken by dust storms which have ruined crops and are slowly destroying human respiration, McConaughey plays Cooper, a widowed father of two who used to pilot but is now a farmer. When events offer him the chance to reach for the stars once more, that old utilitarian chestnut of family versus humanity rears its head. It’s no spoiler to say Cooper joins a team of scientists to tackle the space-time continuum and go where no man has returned from before, in search of a future home.
With a running time of just under three hours, Interstellar must do a lot to live up to its hype – even in the stunning presentation provided by an Imax cinema (if you have one near you, it’s imperative you go), that’s a big ask for even the keenest viewer. Well, if you like your music loud and your picture vast and immersive, it’ll be worth every minute. Even a drive through a cornfield is exhilarating, and that’s just in the first thirty minutes, during which time the setting and set-up evokes an M. Night Shyamalan-like conceit.
Then, as soon as they’re Saturn-bound, the oohs and aahs are provoked by massive seascapes and imagined worlds that are at once harsh and beautiful. Space looks as magnificent as it did in Gravity, and the soundtrack (a curiously old-fashioned beast created by a fabulous cacophony of organ music) takes us back to Kubrick and other old masters, particularly when the photography evokes peaceful balletic moments in between the scenes of urgency and danger.
For those concerned with credibility, rest assured the science sounds sensible and yet is also accessible – apparently ground was broken during the making of the film in terms of how wormholes might be rendered visually, and the result is simply stunning. Jonathan Nolan studied relativity as he wrote the script, and theoretical physicist Kip Thorne acted as consultant on the film. So this is serious stuff.
Clearly dedicated to producing a smart, philosophical blockbuster, Nolan mixes themes of loneliness, family loyalty and self-sacrifice with poetry and classical music. He even attempts to convince us that “love transcends time and space”, so it’s perhaps inevitable that as Cooper falls down the wormhole into a multi-dimensional world, some viewers’ capacity for narrative convenience and pseudo-spirituality may be tested.
But overall, Interstellar is as mind-blowing and affecting as we had hoped, and the running time is a walk in the park. Once again, Nolan has taken a huge idea and run with it. It’s certainly worth the chase.