In Interstellar, Christopher Nolan has produced such an intense, plot-heavy, hypnagogic and, essentially, LARGE artwork, audiences will almost certainly be firmly divided down the middle about whether or not it is a masterpiece or a load of rubbish. The first act, focusing on Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper and his relationship with his 10-year old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), is some of the most visually immersive, emotionally engaging storytelling put on a cinema screen this decade. Once the action heads to outer space, the endless exposition and complicated science substantially bring down the mass enjoyment level, while the final act is so packed with explosive twists it’s hard not to sit forward in your seat and gasp in awe at what Nolan has managed to achieve.
While there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that Interstellar is A Christopher Nolan Film, the work of the ensemble cast is very important to discuss. McConaughey swaggers onto the screen “doing his thaaaang” but slowly begins to show unprecedented emotional depth in his interactions with both his family and his “Space Crew”. Mackenzie Foy, previously seen as Scary Vampire Baby in Breaking Dawn Part 2 is absolutely superb as Murph, the rare Major Child Character who is at no point irritating, overly-precocious or needy. Cooper and Murphy are a delight to watch as a father-daughter duo, and the extended set-up of their relationship that Nolan provides us with does wonders for the audience’s engagement with the characters throughout the remainder of the story. Anne Hathaway gets surprisingly little to do as Space Crew member Amelia Brand, with neither the intensity of her Les Mis role or the fun of Catwoman to work with, but she is as enjoyable to watch as usual. Wes Bentley and David Gyasi, as the remaining Space Crew-ees, are sadly underused considering both actors’ considerable talent, while Bill Irwin really deserves a lot of praise for his work as… ummm… another soul(s) upon the Endurance. Michael Caine, the one actor who literally transcends time to play younger and older versions of the same character in the film, is basically playing Alfred again, be it an Alfred who recites Dylan Thomas over and over again.
If you want to see stars, planets, wormholes and other visually mesmerising Space Stuff on the biggest cinema screen possible, you’re not going to get it much better than Interstellar. It’s hard to grasp that there could be a more immersive space adventure than Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, and while that film outdoes Interstellar in several areas (i.e. making button-pushing seem thrilling), this film is genuinely the perfect outer-space IMAX experience. One could argue that Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone is a more resourceful and independent female astronaut than Hathaway’s Brand, and they may be right, but Murph (played in childhood by Foy but later in life by, it’s not much of a spoiler to say, Jessica Chastain) is undeniably Interstellar‘s standout female role, defying more odds than Cooper and taking brilliant initiative to save the people close to her through basic common sense- common sense than not only Murph’s peers, but the audience- would have failed to use.
When Nolan confirmed that Hoyte van Hoytema would act as cinematographer on Interstellar, replacing his regular DOP Wally Pfister (off making his mediocre directorial debut Transcendence), some were worried that the Let The Right One In veteran would be unable to recreate the magical glow of Inception and The Dark Knight Trilogy. Any fears were utterly unnecessary, as van Hoytema’s visuals are arguably the finest in any of Nolan’s films, at first blurry and cold but gradually more slick and colourful. The cinematography, combined with Hans Zimmer’s surprisingly subtle score (if you’ve seen the very first teaser trailer you’ve heard the basic theme)- replacing the composer’s usual electric guitar and kettle drums with organ and strings, give the film a perfect tonal blend of epic and homely family drama.
The Space Exploration middle act of Interstellar has a number of problems, largely the excessive amount of action- which, interspersed with complicated scientific exposition, is somewhat headache-inducing- putting too many characters in too many places at once. This is cured largely before the “Grand Finale”, during which the multiple locations are edited together quite nicely, but ruins what would otherwise be a wonderful opportunity to take in an Iceland-shot Ice Planet with floating cloud-mountains. A mildly amusing in-joke extended to a full role is extremely distracting and makes some of the dialogue on the Ice Planet unintentionally laughable. As well all know, “unintentionally laughable” is not something you want to hear about a Christopher and Jonathan Nolan script!
Even with its many flaws and visible poor filmmaking decisions, Interstellar succeeds eventually in being an incredibly moving, thought-provoking arthouse-blockbuster crossover. Its homages to 2001: A Space Odyssey are at times embarrassingly obvious, but Nolan has made what Kubrick failed to do with his 1968 masterpiece: a human film. I, along with others I saw Interstellar with, thought deeply about our own relationships with our parents and children- past, present and future- after experiencing Cooper and Murph’s spellbinding, heartbreaking story. Interstellar‘s heroes transcend time and space. Christopher Nolan has transcended the cinema screen once more and reached out, grasping the hand of the audience and taking us on a truly magical journey. What shall our next adventure be?