When it was first announced Interstellar was going to be Christopher Nolan’s next project, after The Dark Knight Rises, my excitement was high. As the film’s release date draws near, components of Interstellar was slowly revealed; the cast, the crew, and the synopsis. My excitement then reached to a boiling point, hoping and thinking that this would be Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious and strongest effort; surpassing the instant power that The Dark Knight and Inception delivered. About a week ago, initial reviews of the film surfaced and it seems to be divisive, therefore my expectations were dampened. Now, that I have sat through it, the big question is “Are the initial responses of the film dead on?”
Interstellar’s plot revolves around the ideas of humanity’s future outside of Earth, as the planet seems to be dying and it is becoming more difficult to sustain the fundamentals for human survival. The film early on, during scenes set in Earth, explores the function and structure of society. Though the film is set during the future, he first introduces us to a time and place that is within reach from our own, allowing us to empathise to the issues that are being addressed. The film also establishes human drama between Cooper and his daughter, which looks familiar and generic in its surface, but it hits quite hard when it strikes. I completely bought into the relationship and finding myself caring deeply about the impact that the separation has had on both characters.
Roughly around 40 minutes in, the film then transitions to Cooper and team’s travel to the far reaches of space, hoping to find a world that could sustain human life. This aspect of the film is accompanied with patient movements of spacecrafts and breathtaking backdrops of cosmos. As this is a Christopher Nolan, do not expect to find anything challenging in the film’s narrative mechanics; these space sequences are far from the ambiguity structure that was employed in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. With every pretentious moment in Interstellar’s photography, Nolan balances it out with scenes of plot-pushing conversations in order to navigate and maintain orientation from his audience. I did not really mind Nolan taking his usual approach in storytelling as it shows the director in a light that works; if he tried to push his films to create the same attributes of Malick and Kubrick, then the film would have lost that accessible touch that Nolan clearly cherishes. As the film delves in deeper into its journey, it does not lose its large focus; therefore avoiding the common struggles of this sort of journey, isolation, deep fear and anxiety, psychological and emotional disintegration. I actually thought it was bold for Nolan to remain focused and not create new shadings of the characters that are unnecessary in piecing the film’s bigger picture.
The film’s objective approach was sadly broken when Anne Hathaway’s character, Amelia, details the rationale behind her decisions. The film’s larger than life ideas suddenly became primitive, but thankfully the film takes a break from this issue and continues on to its primary goal. During the film’s second act, the film slowly explores the idea of time and its effect on the characters at a physical and emotional level; as the film does a strong job in establishing that relationship between Cooper and his children, it was even more impacting to watch the impact that time has had on his children. The film also spends a couple of moments on Earth, showing the planet’s disintegration, raising the stakes and desperation for a solution.
The film then reaches close to the end of its second act, encountering a plot point that completely changes the tone of the film, drifting farther away from 2001: A Space Odyssey and floats more towards Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. I was really disappointed with this approach as it almost threw away completely the themes that were established in the first act, and replacing it for an Inception or The Prestige style of climax that aims to viscerally enthral us, rather than to intellectually stimulate. I think it would have not been too much of a loss, if Nolan was able to craft genuinely thrilling and worthy sequences that shakes me off my seat; similar to the gravity fight sequence in Inception.
The film then reaches to a 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired sequence that speaks and explores both scientific and existential theories. Instead of leaving this aspect of the film as an ambiguous nudge of life’s unexplained mysteries, Nolan attempts to investigate it through visual representation; but he has made it so difficult to follow due to the lack of heavy establishment of its theories early in the film and instead were left in the background for the audience to find. Then it reaches to a conclusion that wraps itself up too nicely, lacking that emotional cliff-hanger that had been regarded as a staple of Nolan’s films.
Hans Zimmer’s musical score was certainly overbearingly heavy during the film’s big scenes, and hitting that organ note that acts as an inspiration from Kubrick’s film; but I found it to be way too repetitive, over emphasising even the film’s smallest plot points. Zimmer’s score genuinely shines during the film’s intimate and tender moments, using subtle tunes that sucked me in to the conversations of characters and the atmosphere of the scene.
The film’s strongest aspect is the acting performances from its cast, with a stellar delivery from Matthew McConaughey. There were multiple instances, concerning mostly Cooper’s family troubles, that left me emotionally stunned, delivering a heavier impact than the film’s visuals, and a lot of it is due to McConaughey’s performances; just watch the scene where he sheds tears as he sees videos from his children, is there anything more beautiful. The rest of the cast were great, but nowhere close to the level that McConaughey brought.
Interstellar fails to reach the instant classic that The Dark Knight or Inception was able to achieve, but due to its effective and deep first half, Interstellar is still an impressive feat by Christopher Nolan.