Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Christopher Nolan is one of the great directors already, having more than earned that right with a collection of genuinely brilliant films. He’s also one of my personal favourites and with Dunkirk on the way, I thought I’d delve back into some of his work. Nolan’s got a reputation for being quite the cerebral director with films that often make his audience ponder, especially with extremely ambiguous endings and the celestial epic Interstellar from 2014 has all of that in an abundance.
The proceedings start on a farm, in an unnamed US state, with the focus on Cooper (Matthew McConaughey); a widowed, ex-NASA test pilot that’s now left caring for his family and father-in-law (John Lithgow). He has two kids, his eldest son Tom (Timotheé Chalamet) and daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy). The latter more like her father in nature with an added feistiness. It’s set in the near future, though the actual date is never specified, but it would be fair to say that the world isn’t in a good place. In the midst of a decade long crop blight with even Coopers crop of choice (corn) beginning to fail. Strange happenings begin to occur culminating with an energy anomaly that leads to Murph and Cooper tracking down strange coordinates to a secret NASA base.
Within this base is Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant scientist with an optimistic plan to save humanity. Well, two actually. One revolving around the simpler task (that should tell you something) of building a human colony on a suitable planet, whilst the other involves sending gargantuan spaceships into orbit with a sizeable portion of the planets population on board. Unfortunately for humanity, and despite his implied genius, the mathematical equation to make the second scenario feasible is proving impossible to crack. Which perhaps explains why Brand almost immediately asks Cooper (an old associate) if he’d be interested in leading the Endurance mission when their paths unexpectedly cross again.
The mission involves sending a four man astronaut team into a wormhole that’s formed near Saturn in order to confirm the findings from three potential, life bearing, exo-planets, within a solar system potential hundreds or thousands of light years away from ours. Professor Brand, you see, had previously sent ten other manned crafts through with only three signals returning and needs assurances of their suitability before forming concrete plans. Having long held aspirations of heading to the stars, Cooper of course, decides to accept the proposal in a final attempt to secure his children’s future and also save humanity, even if it does require him to perhaps leave them behind forever. This is really the key theme at the heart of Interstellar. Embedded within the epic sci-fi setting, is a powerful story about sacrifice, love and, more specifically, the relationship between Murph and Cooper.
It’s also very much a film of two halves. The first half focuses heavily on the plight of humanity and Earth, focusing on the mission and its progression up until the journey through the wormhole. The second half enforces a nice change of scenery and pace, switching to the more intimate environment of the spacecraft, but also the wondrous setting of the alien solar system. I have to say, I much preferred the second half of this film. It had a real emotional resonance that much of Nolan’s films have lacked in the past and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was close to blubbing when Cooper watched the 23 years worth of stored family vlogs from his children, this despite only having been separated for months (some crazy physics explains how that’s even possible and I’ll get into shortly). McConaughey’s multi-faceted acting performance in that scene alone was genuinely incredible.
Another reason for enjoying the second half though was the aforementioned mind bending physics and also the jaw dropping visuals (they were good before, but somehow got better). The teams forays onto alien landscapes were exhilarating and breathtaking in equal parts. Their risky journey to the oceanic planet to retrieve a homing beacon, where every hour spent equated to six months in Earth time (thanks to the immense gravitational effects of a nearby black hole) was an intelligent way of increasing the emotional stakes, and more importantly, all entirely possible in real life (if we could get close enough to a black hole that is). Whilst the show-off with Matt Damon’s, crazed, scheming scientist Mann on the stark, ice world brought a heart rending twist and a quick burst of action.
The most incredible moment from both a visual and story aspect however came when Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway, who was fantastic) and Cooper attempted to use Gargantua (the massive black hole) as a slingshot to reach the third and final planet in the solar system. At this point, Cooper chooses to make the ultimate sacrifice, jettisoning his part of the craft off across the event horizon of Gargantua along with the enigmatic and witty, blocky like AI character, TARS (Bill Irwin), who delivers a humorous performance very much in the vain of K-2SO. This sets up an even more mind bending, five dimensional trip that attempts to resolve the mystery of those earlier oddities in Murph’s room and also bring about a satisfying conclusion to the story. This ending divided opinions at the time and for many was so ambiguous and head scratching that it left more questions than answers.
Personally, I loved this damn ending, but I enjoy films that actually make me think. The key to everything in the end was both love and gravity. Cooper having interacted with the five dimensional being that created the black hole, discovers that he’s able to communicate with Murph, (thanks to said being/s creating a three dimensional surrounding to help him process things) using the love he has for his daughter and gravity itself to effect her environment and relay the necessary information to crack the equation. This is never properly shown might I add, but heavily hinted at, and ultimately, this makes it possible to get all or most of humanity off of the planet. It’s an ending that’s only rivalled by Arrival last year for me.
I can’t finish the review without heaping praise on both the cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytama and composer, the great Hans Zimmer. The score is so unbelievably beautiful in this film and there’s so many perfect little moments of genius where, for instance, the music will suddenly stop that add to film massively. The visuals are literally out of this world. The shot of the spacecraft passing Saturn was awe inspiring, as was the encounter with Gargantua’s event horizon and the planets all looked like realistic other worldly environments. The AI character TARS was also phenomenally well done.
I’ve prattled on quite enough, so I’ll keep the conclusion short. If you haven’t watched this for whatever reason then do yourself a favour and address that quickly. It’s an excellent piece of cinema with some really good performances, especially from McConaughey, Hathaway and Jessica Chastain (older Murph).