“Interstellar” Movie Review

    It surprises me that even to this point, there are those out there who persist on putting down writer/director Christopher Nolan’s work, as if their lofty standards are impossible to meet.  I’ve actually read in depth articles dedicated to frame comparisons between Nolan’s films and those of more critically acclaimed filmmakers such as Ridley Scott, all in an attempt to prove how shallow and uninteresting his compositions are.  I suppose when someone reaches the pinnacle of filmmaking success with credits that include two of the most original films ever made, “Memento” and “Inception”, and the literal resurrection of a completely dead and ruined Batman franchise with his “Dark Knight” trilogy, a faction is bound to form with the sole purpose of finding flaws.  For me, Nolan occupies a space on a list of the very best directors of all time and he only cements that distinction with “Interstellar”, perhaps his most ambitious film yet.

     Along with his brother and co-writer, Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan has created something that goes well beyond that of your typical science fiction blockbuster.  There has been substantial and meticulous thought put into nearly every scene, resulting in a thoroughly mesmerizing experience that is both thought provoking and emotionally compelling.  It remains to be seen whether or not “Interstellar” is Nolan’s masterpiece.  Typically, judgement of that kind should be reserved for 20 years from now in order to determine just how well the film resonates within popular culture, but that is not to say Nolan hasn’t created what may be the best film of the year.  He certainly may have.

     In a dystopian not too distant future, the world has been overtaken by rampant dust storms, drought, and climate problems causing food crops to die and leaving the human race without a reliable source of food.  The story centers around a family who operates a corn farm, one of the last foods that will actually grow, and it is immediately evident how much the world has changed as a result of these horrible environmental conditions.  Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is the widowed father of two and runs the farm.  He’s an ex NASA pilot who like many others has changed careers because, put simply, his previous career just isn’t very important anymore.  As one character puts it, “The world doesn’t need electronics, the world needs food.”  Along with his two kids, Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy), Cooper also lives with his father in law, Donald (John Lithgow),  who moved in after Cooper’s wife passed away from cancer.  As they endure dust storms in much the same way people hide from tornadoes, Cooper and Donald ponder about the past and how much things have changed in the present.  While sitting on their dirt ridden porch, Donald talks about how something new used to be invented everyday, only to realize in their world now the human race is only interested in ensuring everyone will continue to eat.  Nolan’s first act sets up a harrowing scenario unlike anything we’ve seen before.

     Cooper shares a close relationship with Murph and it’s this aspect of these two characters that Nolan uses to create quite an emotional subtext throughout the entire film.  When Cooper finds the coordinates for what turns out to be a secret NASA operation, he is reunited with a former co-worker, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), who has dedicated his life to finding a new world for the human race to continue life on.  In other words, leaving Earth for good.  When presented with a mission that entails flying a shuttle through a worm hole located near Saturn, Cooper seemingly jumps at the opportunity, knowing this is the best chance for his kids and future generations to survive.  Nolan initiates the mission cleverly, intercutting Cooper saying farewell to his family with the ships countdown and launch into space.  It’s a highly emotional sequence, as the audience knows what’s at stake and at the same time you can’t help but feel for the children he is leaving behind.

     Nolan has said several times how much he loved Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” as a kid.  There is no doubting the incredible influence that film has on “Interstellar” in both the look and feel of the film, but especially in its tone.  Last year’s “Gravity” was an exceptional film that depicted space travel in the most realistic way ever seen in a movie, but “Interstellar” takes the foundation laid by “Gravity” and brings it to an awe inspiring new level.  Cooper is accompanied by three other scientists on the voyage, led by Brand (Anne Hathaway), who is the Professor’s daughter, Romilly (David Gyasi), and Doyle (Wes Bently).  The group intends to enter the worm hole, of which we are told was put there by someone or something since they don’t just form by themselves, and find explorers from the “Laseras” mission, a mission in which several other shuttles had already went through the worm hole and assessed several planets for human race suitability some 10 years before.  It’s unknown if any of them survived, but the Endurance mission as theirs is called is said to be the last chance for finding a new world.

     “Interstellar” maintains an eery uncomfortableness throughout the second and third acts, relentless in its depiction of the dangers involved in the kind of space travel our heroes must endure.  Nolan exposes the audience to several sequences with near unbearable suspense as this is one of the few films where you actually buy into the peril of the characters rather than assuming who will survive and who won’t.  There are several interesting plot devices involving the way time passes from planet to planet that would likely take a degree in physics to understand and yet you just go with it because the story and the characters flow so well.  As the crew of the Endurance searches for a planet that can sustain life, the people we knew as children grow up and we see just how bad the Earth has become for an adult Murph (Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Casey Affleck) who have never forgiven their father for leaving them.

     The mark of a great film goes well beyond that of the technical and artistic proficiency both in front of and behind the camera.  “Interstellar” makes a statement while asking important questions about our race and where we see ourselves in the future.  Will our future generations run out of the precious natural resources we seem to take for granted today?  Are we causing harm to the environment through the use of fossil fuels and the standard operations of big industry?  What is actually beyond the solar system in which Earth is located?  Are we so arrogant as to believe their isn’t intelligent life outside of our galaxy trying to make contact with us, just as we strive to make contact with them?  More fiction than science, “Interstellar” asks these questions and attempts to answer them with the help of noted scientist Kip Thorne, effectively weaving what I have to think are several of Thorne’s hypothesis into visual form.

     The cast in “Interstellar” is top notch throughout and though the Nolan brother’s script may go over the heads of some mainstream audiences, it’s still a marvel in storytelling and an original take on the science fiction genre I thought may have run out of new ideas.  As usual, Hans Zimmer’s score adds significant emotional punch to every scene and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s brilliant cinematography captures the epic scope of the story Nolan is telling.  If you have an IMAX screen in your area, “Interstellar” is one of the few films worth the price of admission as the imagery Nolan has committed to film is truly amazing.  Expect a healthy awards season for all involved with “Interstellar”, as its combination of originality, strong performances, and technical brilliance are sure to impress both voters and audiences, quite possibly becoming the year’s best film.  GRADE: A