There’s no one making movies quite like Christopher Nolan. “Interstellar” is a majestic, deeply ambitious epic that attempts to grasp the entirety of human existence, much like “The Fountain” and “The Tree of Life.” In many ways, “Interstellar” is the flip side of “Inception”: whereas the latter probed the depths of human consciousness, “Interstellar” pushes outward into the furthest reaches of existence itself.
It’s hard to sketch out the film’s intricate (Nolanesque? perhaps it’s time to make that an adjective) plot without providing spoilers. The world of the mid-21st century has slipped toward a neo-Malthusian nightmare: dust storms and blight are wiping out humanity’s food supply and poisoning the atmosphere, slowly pushing the human species toward extinction (mercifully, this plot line doesn’t slide into eco-proselytizing a la “Avatar”). Astronaut-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is one of the few individuals left with the skills needed to save humanity; extraterrestrial colonization, via a wormhole crossing between galaxies, offers the only hope for species survival.
“Interstellar” is a breathtakingly beautiful film, offering images unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. From alien landscapes to naked singularities, “Interstellar” conjures up vision after vision of the universe beyond Earth, and it demands to be seen on the largest screen possible. Additionally, despite its lofty subject matter (in all senses of the term), this movie is an extremely exciting, heart-pounding thriller. It’s been a long time since I’ve really been on the edge of my seat in a film, totally engrossed and desperate to see what would happen next. “Interstellar” provides many moments like that, evoking the freneticism of “The Dark Knight” and “Inception.”
On the acting front, McConaughey is a phenomenal lead, as one might expect. The rest of the cast (Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and others) provides a winsome backdrop, but this is truly McConaughey’s movie, and he nails it.
Thematically, “Interstellar” has been described as a revival of the “hard science fiction” genre. For those not familiar with the term, “hard” science fiction refers to works that typically go to great lengths to explain their own plausibility. (“Star Wars,” for example, with its emphasis on the mystical Force, does not fall into this category). This descriptor is fundamentally inaccurate. The truth – which Nolan tries very hard to avoid – is that this is a deeply theological, not a scientific, film. At its heart, it is a depiction of human contact with the utterly transcendent – an encounter with Being qua being, in the experience of which is found the nature, purpose, and destiny of man. Moreover, it is a story of human participation in that transcendence, through essential qualities of humankind which extend beyond purely naturalistic materialism.
It is therefore unfortunate that massive amounts of semi-scientific jargon interfere with the sublimity onscreen. Whereas Kubrick, Aronofsky, Malick, and others working in this realm had the good sense to avoid superfluous explanation, Nolan can’t help but offer exposition for every development. In the weeks and months to come, the movie’s plot holes and inconsistencies will be dissected in minute detail – and Nolan has only himself to blame for this. The thin layer of “sciencey” vocabulary isn’t enough to disguise the fact that this isn’t (and shouldn’t have been) a movie about science proper. In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor quibble – but it’s the one thing really holding “Interstellar” back from near-perfection (there are also a couple of overly-twee lines about The Power of Love). In the years to come, I fully plan on watching it with the sound off (though I’ll be sorry to miss out on Hans Zimmer’s wonderful score).
If you were to ask me to sum up this film in one sentence, it would probably be “ ‘Knowing’ meets ‘Gravity’ meets ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ ” Joining an apocalyptic vision of the future to a metaphysical space drama, “Interstellar” continues Nolan’s run of exceptional films, even though its dense plotting occasionally hamstrings its own grandeur.
A haunting cinematic achievement that raises provocative questions. A successful addition to Nolan’s celebrated canon.
Normalized Score: 7.9