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Interstellar (2014) Review

interstellar

My anticipation for Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster film Interstellar was sky high. Being a life long space nerd and lover of the stars, I’ve always had a soft spot for sci-fi films that tackle space exploration in a realistic manner. So, after seeing the first teaser trailer for Nolan’s new science fiction film, I abstained from watching anything else, or reading any articles, or looking through any of the reviews that began rolling in.

So, for better or worse, when I finally sat down to watch this near three hour epic, almost every shot in the film was new to me. The “money shots” hadn’t been spoiled beforehand, I had no idea where the plot was going to lead, I didn’t even know all of the main cast. It was so refreshing to go into Interstellar almost completely blind, putting my faith in the actors I knew were in it, the fact that it was a space film, and of course that Christopher Nolan was behind it.

The story centers around a not so distant future in which the world’s crop supply is dwindling rapidly. This aspect isn’t really explored much, and with such a complex plot to come, I’m glad too much time wasn’t spent on it. Former NASA pilot Cooper (played by Matthew McConnaughey) finds a hidden base where the remnants of NASA are working on saving humanity from extinction. Cooper is persuaded to pilot the Endurance, a ship that will travel to Saturn to enter a wormhole to another galaxy.

Three ships have already been sent out through the wormhole, each landing on a potentially habitable planet in the new galaxy. It’s Cooper’s job to pilot the Endurance there too, with a team who will investigate the viability of these three planets as a new home for all mankind.

There is a lot of science in Interstellar, and luckily a lot of the exposition is fairly natural, and it doesn’t slow anything down as it’s all vital information for both the characters and the audience. Cooper’s primary struggle in the film is not piloting the Endurance, nor the responsibility of saving the world, but in leaving his ten year old daughter Murphy behind. He has a son also, but Murph took the news of his departure very badly. A budding scientist in her own right, she helped him figure out where the NASA base was, which kicks off the main mystery of the film.

Ice planet base

One of the three planets the Endurance team investigate.

 

Now that my own exposition is out of the way lets get to the meat of this. I absolutely loved this film. From start to finish I was hooked in. The ideas in the film are so big, and the mission through the wormhole is so huge in scope, yet the story is firmly rooted in human drama. Michael Caine does a fine job as Professor Brand, the man behind the secret NASA missions, and his daughter Amelia (played by Anne Hathaway) is a biologist who goes on the mission also.

Her character was a fairly hardened one, but Hathaway played her perfectly, which a real undercurrent of emotion that slowly peels back in pivotal moments. McConnaughey was fantastic as Cooper, really selling the internal hardship of leaving his daughter behind for the greater good of everyone else on Earth.

Cooper and Amelia Brand

Matthew McConnaughey and Anne Hathaway as Cooper and Amelia.

The score by Hans Zimmer is absolutely incredible. In such simple ways he manages to heighten the emotion in every key moment on screen with the eerie and affecting soundtrack. It’s a complete departure from his usual work with Christopher Nolan and seemed to fit the outer space, other worldly setting like a glove.

Then there’s the visuals. Of course they’re astounding. A genius blend of practical effects and digital imagery, creating a startlingly realistic vision of outer space and everything the crew encounters. Beyond this point, it’s inevitable to reach that dreaded “spoiler territory” so anyone who has yet to see this film, drop everything and go see it now! You have been warned.

My favourite part of the whole film was the character of Murph. Played by Mackenzie Foy in the first act of the film, she’s a very well written character, and I have to take my hat off to the young actress who was brilliant. She taps into something very genuine in the scene where Cooper is leaving, and if she only improves as an actress she’ll go on to big things.

Cooper and Murph, the central relationship of Interstellar.

Cooper and Murph, the central relationship of Interstellar.

Now when the crew from the Endurance set foot on the first planet, because of the time dilation, being so close to the gravitational pull of a nearby black hole, things get weird. After spending a very small amount of time on the planet, when they return in their shuttle to the Endurance, 23 years have passed. This is one of the many elements that makes the film so incredibly tense, knowing that not only is the fate of humanity at stake, time is easily wasted in an unfathomably accelerated way.

The scene where Cooper sits down to watch video messages from his children, now fully grown adults, is one of the most effective scenes of drama I’ve seen. Without saying a word, McConnaughey sums it all up with everything that’s going on inside him, a truly powerful, heartbreaking scene.

Casey Affleck plays his grown up son, in a difficult role to play with no real arc, but he did a great job. Jessica Chastain portrays the adult Murph, and from this point on, we intercut between the events of Cooper and Murph’s stories. Simply cutting between perspectives seems pretty routine, but when you’re cutting between galaxies, it’s quite astonishing that it holds up as well as it does.

Chastain is phenomenal also, instantly making Murph the best character I’ve ever seen portrayed by more than one actor/actress in the same film. It’s almost easy for McConnaughey to convey the urgency of the story to the audience by his surroundings and the larger than life visuals. Chastain merely has chalk boards and a crop field to burn to maintain that level of importance, and still manages pull it off. The father/daughter relationship is the emotional core of the film and there couldn’t be better talent bringing that to life.

Jessica Chastain as the adult Murph.

Jessica Chastain as the adult Murph.

Then we have Matt Damon who turns up unexpectedly on one of the three planets. He wasn’t promoted as being in the film as far as I’m aware, so even people who have been following the trailers were surprised by this. His first moment is brutally raw and human, a fine piece of acting. I’ve read criticisms of his character as being shoehorned in as a villain, but you really need to read between the lines, I found his motivations to be very sound and logical. If you were left alone in a whole galaxy on your own, with no certainty of returning home, you’d probably go through a mental crisis too.

The much talked about docking scene was truly an incredible moment (and at this point in my review I’m aware how much I’m overusing these words now, but I am trying to mix it up) that will likely become a classic scene in the future. A pitch perfect mixture of the pounding, pulsating score from Hans Zimmer, the wonderous visuals and the gargantuan sense of jeopardy in the situation, making for an obscenely powerful, beautiful, and adrenaline pumping moment.

Before moving on to the final stages of this review it’s worth noting there are some very good performances from minor characters also, particularly John Lithgow in the first act. It’s one thing to have great main characters, but when you have a lot of smaller roles written and performed just as well, it creates such a fuller sense of reality.

So, the controversial ending. Cooper leaves Amelia to investigate the final planet and leaves himself to be sucked into the black hole. The visual and aural experience in these fleeting moments of Cooper entering the black hole were sensational. Up until this point, great care was made to make everything as scientifically accurate as possible, but within the black hole named Gargantua, we enter the realm of pure science fiction and speculation.

interstellar-30

 

He’s inside a fifth dimensional space in which he can see in a ghostly way, the room of his daughter Murph. Inside a seemingly neverending tesseract, Cooper can float around and access any point in time and space. However, time does not exist here, and I think that’s where people may be getting frustrated. For he starts manipulating objects in her room, pushing books on the shelf, leaving messages in dust. The same messages that Murph discovered that led to Cooper finding the NASA base.

It’s a paradox, no doubt about it. Yet, again, inside this tesseract space, time does not exist, it’s fifth dimensional. Which gives the whole situation a very fate-like, “everything happens for a reason” feel. I think it truly comes down to how sentimental the viewer is, in regards to how they will enjoy, interpret or experience these final moments. The idea of love being the unexplainable crops up again after being talked about by Amelia earlier in the film.

Speaking of which, I really liked how the motivations of Cooper, and then Amelia were explored during the Endurance mission, as both of them had their own personal agendas to battle with. It made it feel more realistic, and rounded the characters off even more to explore those feelings in relation to the task at hand.

After Cooper has relayed the information to an adult Murph who can then figure out everything she needs to know, the vital information to save humanity, the tesseract implodes. This leaves Cooper floating in space near Saturn and I could’ve seen the film ending there.

The information he gave Murph, was related to gravity and how we can use it to reach a higher level of understanding the universe. It isn’t explained and it doesn’t need to be. When Cooper is rescued and taken aboard a space station near Saturn, over a hundred years have passed since he left Earth. Barely alive, and on her death bed, Murph arrives to see him one last time.

The elderly Murph is played by Ellen Burstyn, who is perhaps only on screen for two minutes, but makes such an impact in a highly emotional scene. This further cemented Murph as one of my new favourite film characters and an extraordinary achievement with three great actresses of three separate generations playing the same person (Foy being 14 years old, Chastain 37 and Burstyn 81).

I have to also sound off on my love of Nolan’s insistence to shoot this film on just that: film. This isn’t shot digitally and that’s becoming more and more a rarity in this day and age. Also, if Nolan wasn’t at the helm here, I’m almost certain this would be presented in 3D also, but he luckily has the power to make sure that doesn’t happen, which I’m very grateful for.

INTERSTELLAR

Christopher Nolan with an IMAX camera.

 

So overall, for me Interstellar is not just a great film, but an outstanding one. Everyone was firing on all cyclinders for this and it really shows in the final product. From the science to the science fiction, the emotional, human drama to the larger than life visual spectacle, and from the moving monologues to the thrilling score, everything comes together. Love transcends space and time in Nolan’s true masterpiece.

★★★★★

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