Christopher Nolan movies are big. Big in scale. Big in hype. Big in concept. So when we found out that his next film, Interstellar, was set to involve the impending end of Planet Earth, the universe and bending time through wormhole travel, it was safe to assume that nothing was going to change there. While Interstellar is certainly the biggest film Nolan has ever attempted, does it have to substance to fill all that size with? I took a trip to the IMAX for opening night to find out.
The film stars Matthew McConaughey as a former astronaut turned farmer, who never fulfilled his whole potential. The earth has changed drastically, as resources are beginning to run out and crops dying. When he’s asked by a scientist, Dr Brand (played by Nolan favorite Michael Caine), and his daughter (Anne Hathaway) he has to leave his children behind in order to take a chance at saving their future. So, clearly the stakes are high here. The first half hour of the film plays out really well, and McConaughey shines as the every day father. The relationship between him and his daughter Murph is wonderful, and provides most of the films emotional power.
From this point on, the science in the film begins to come thick and fast. There’s talk about other galaxies, quantum physics, wormholes, bending time, relativity, gravity and 5th dimensions. It’s all in there. That’s the first aspect of the film that is sure to be polarizing, and the reason why the film will likely receive more negative reviews than his previous efforts. For someone who finds it fascinating though, such as myself, it is absolutely fantastic stuff. Interstellar’s ability to blend science with a genuinely plausible situation and some real human down to earth drama is remarkable, and when you factor in that much of the science is extremely realistic, or at least in line with the work of the world’s best theoretical physicists, you’re just adding to the effectiveness.
I’ve read many people citing the scientific jargon as a weakness of the film. I will admit that there are moments where you can tell that they are determined to inject some of the science for the audience, but this is a really difficult thing to do while making it seem like a real conversation as opposed to a lecture that doesn’t really seem to fit. This is always a problem in these films, and there are some moments that seemed a little heavily done. But if you love the information like I do, you look past it. Plus, one of the biggest strengths that Nolan exhibits is to take each concept and find a way to present the unimaginable implications for us as humans. The best example is that of relativity. While trying not to present any spoilers, I’ll just say that imagine if due to the bending of time and space, something that you did on one planet in an hour actually advanced decades on earth. Needless to say this makes every move of the most vital importance, and for someone who wants to return to his family, it’s even more of a daunting proposition. The science is one thing, but the implications of the science is what really hits us the hardest as an audience. Interstellar does this brilliantly.
Throughout all the science and adventures through time and space, there is some truly incredible acting on show. Matthew McConaughey is absolutely incredible in the film. His ability to present plausible and restrained emotion is incredible, and as we watch him make sacrifice after sacrifice, and interact with his children, he pulls at the heartstrings. Hard. Hathaway is wonderful as a brave but perhaps naive scientist who has a heart as big as her extremely large brain. Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck give incredible turns as the folks left back on earth. There’s even a shocking surprise performance that really changed the tone of the film, but I won’t say any more about that.
The film is actually pretty light on in your face action and fast paced thrills. Bar one rather implausible sequence, everything is kept in the realm of the reasonable, but even though the high paced action is minimal, there are some truly incredible moments of extended suspense. Hans Zimmer provides the score which powers us through long sequences of drama, that literally had me on the edge of my seat. More than once Nolan melded the action in space with the action on earth, simultaneously, creating some incredible sequences that show us how the characters and their actions affect each other. I think I forgot to breath at least twice throughout, and then as the proceedings slowed down I’d catch my breath as I absorbed some more science.
Interstellar was promising a lot. For me, it delivered and more. I wanted this film to be absolutely incredible, which is a dangerous mindset to go in with. And looking back I think I realize that it actually wasn’t perfect, and perhaps not as polished writing wise as his previous films. But honestly, it didn’t matter. The sheer spectacle of some of the science appealed to that sense of adventure and awe that we all love, both intellectually and visually. I was like a wide eyed child. I felt the way I did when I first saw Jurassic Park. The realization that the science is very realistic as is the situation the film presents, just added to the effect and sense of real adventure. But at the same time, the real backbone of the film was the relationship between a father and his daughter, and the wonderful blending of the cold, empirical science with a more human, instinctual desire to survive and to love. It was an experience that I don’t think will be replicated for a very long time, and was as memorable as any in recent memory.
Here’s to hoping that it’s a little while longer before we have to embark on a similar journey.
Check out this video about some of the real life science involved in the film. Interstellar got much of it’s science from the brain of famed astrophysicist Kip Thorne