Movie Review: Interstellar

In the near future Earth has been devastated by drought and famine, causing a scarcity in food and extreme changes in climate. When humanity is facing extinction, a mysterious rip in the space-time continuum is discovered, giving mankind the opportunity to widen their lifespan. A group of explorers must travel beyond our solar system in search of a planet that can sustain life. The crew of the Endurance are required to think bigger and go further than any human in history as they embark on an interstellar voyage, into the unknown. Coop, the pilot of the Endurance, must decide between seeing his children again and the future of the human race. (IMDb)

Director Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is an ambitious and flawed piece of work.  Nolan is one of the rare few directors who is granted artistic license to match a grandiose budget. True to form, the scale and scope of the film is huge.

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar.

Reviews have been mixed, with the conversation orbiting around the film is at odds with the sentimental and the scientific themes heavily featured in the film. As we’ve seen with 2013’s Gravity, scientists, astronauts and physicists have opinions about how their work is translated to the big screen. The most favorable and entertaining coming in the form of tweets from Neil deGrasse Tyson, who praised the film, even if the science wasn’t “perfect”. According to Tyson, “when you approach a black hole, the black hole is distorting space in its vicinity, and this was captured beautifully.” He continued, “I enjoyed watching the surrounding imagery get distorted. … It’s a sophisticated ray-tracing problem, and if you’re a movie producer and you can get it right, then why not?” The film tackles theories of relativity, gravity, worm holes and the space-time continuum with sophistication and polish – a heavy feat for a blockbuster film.

I’ll allow gaps in scientific theory in film, and have done so for Nolan’s Inception (I never asked HOW we were able to enter the dreams of individuals), The Prestige and even for his Dark Knight series. The science and theories of this “interstellar travel”, while impressive, isn’t fully explained in the film, but is hypothesized in a strange mix of layman’s terms and visual effects. It is a beautiful film to watch in its intended IMAX platform – completely awe-inspiring.

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With a film as ambitious and grand as Interstellar, it becomes difficult to balance the elements of visual effects, science, and the very human element of the characters in play. At its core, removing all effects and theories, the film is relatively simple – a man’s decision to leave his family behind in hopes of saving them – and regret and longing that come with it. While science and impressive visuals are the big draws of the film, the human element in this film is personified by an engaging and impressive performance from Matthew McConaughey. The McConaissance is still in full swing, as he carries the brunt of the emotional weight and impactful scenes with a now-expected grace and charisma.

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The character building is a little uneven, as Coop’s relationship with his daughter Murphy (Murph) seems to outweigh his parental concern for his oft-forgotten son Tom (played wonderfully for a few scenes by the completely under-used Casey Affleck). Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain are fantastic as the young and grown up Murph – Chastain specifically bolsters the last half of the film with an emotional punch drawing on a fractured relationship between father and daughter. Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Dr. Amelia Brand is fine – but not memorable, and the rest of the cast, including Michael Caine (Professor Brand), Wes Bentley (Doyle) and David Gyasi (Romilly) don’t leave enough of an impression to match the magnitude of the film. It seems that outside of Coop and Murph, the most memorable characters are actually non-humans – console-like robots, TARS and CASE, which aid the crew on their adventure (with tons of sarcasm).

Hans Zimmer’s score is as loud and ambitious as the film itself. With grand organ solos and wonderful melody. It heightened the experience for me, where others may think it too loud and overbearing.

The film’s almost 3-hour running time is packed with idea after idea and multiple narrative strings – punching holes in the plot in ways that aren’t always answered or resolved. The plot also sways into some rather conventional and ludicrous areas in the latter half of the film (with an awkward and abrupt character introduction). The film really falters when Nolan attempts to resolve the theories and questions he’s created – leading to convenient and preposterous narrative choices that are a little disappointing when compared to the unpredictability, scope and aspirations of the beginning of the film. While the plot may suffer in moments, the gorgeously executed effects, action and a fantastic performance from McConaughey keep the audience enthralled.

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In one particularly heartbreaking scene which occurs after a mission develops problems – the theory of relativity dictates that minutes spent on the surface for them could mean years back home. Coop returns to the ship after what seems like hours, to find over 20 years of video messages from his children, one after the other, year after year. The camera not moving from McConaughey’s face as he watches, is easily the most affecting part of the entire film. The perfect marriage of the science and humanity that Interstellar strives to achieve.

Interstellar reaches for the stars, but doesn’t quite achieve the heights that we expected. It is a breathtaking show of ambition – beautiful, impressive, elaborate and ultimately human.

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