Everything Is Relative
Christopher Nolan returns to the fray with undoubtedly his most ambitious film yet, an intelligent, visually stunning sci-fi drama which is sometimes troublesome but never less than thrilling.
12A, 169 mins
The sky’s the actual limit, or so humankind believes at the beginning of Interstellar, the latest epic from Christopher Nolan. In a future earth ravaged by blight and frequented by dust storms, our characters’ prospects do not look good. Widowed former pilot and engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) tries to make the best of it for his two children, Murph and Tom, but the yearning for exploration is one that runs deep within our protagonist. Luckily, due to force of plot, Cooper ends up talking to NASA’s Professor Brand (Michael Caine, the Nolan constant) about potentially saving the world. So it is that we get down to emotional and visual business as Cooper gears up to leave his children and go through a wormhole to try and find a new world for humanity before its time runs out. No pressure. For my money, not since Nolan’s last real mindbender, Inception, have we seen an original film on a scale like this. In terms of both space spectacle and emotion, Interstellar knocks Gravity out of the park.
To me, it feels like Nolan’s most difficult film to date, as it’s hard to know (even as it speeds in one direction) exactly where it’s going. With The Dark Knight trilogy, and even with Inception, the parameters were easier to define, and you could, up to a point, guess what might happen. No such luxury here. Up until it happens, you may have as much of a clue to the ending as most of the cast really do about the majority of their lines.
Despite this, Interstellar is easily the most emotionally engaging and accessible thing Nolan’s ever done, and this is mostly down to the all-encompassing nature of the material: family. Some have criticised Nolan’s leaning towards sentimentality in this film, but the raw emotions on show, especially in the relationships between those on earth and those in space, add greatly to proceedings. Even when things start to get slightly surreal, the presence of sentimentality is almost reassuring, as if Nolan is saying to us that the universe should be (and maybe is) grounded just as much in love as it is in science.
This accessibility is in no small part due to the performances. McConaughey continues his run of solid form in serious roles (though he still hasn’t managed to ditch the mumble that dogged True Detective), lending true believability to his father/action-man figure, and Anne Hathaway does a good job as a snarky-yet-vulnerable team member. David Gyasi also impresses as the wittiest of the crew, Romilly. Of the earthbound actors, Jessica Chastain is the standout, lending a sense of pain and stoicism to her role. Another famous face does appear briefly, and their character is the catalyst for some of the film’s best and most surprising scenes. But it’s Mackenzie Foy who is the quiet assassin, doing a very moving job as Cooper’s young daughter Murph.
However, it’s not a proper character piece. Nor is it an all-out action film. That said, when the action comes, it is well-paced, nervy and thrilling, but the focus is more on the emotions and the passage of time in relation to the characters, which creates some of the film’s most poetic and heartbreaking scenes.
Said scenes have the time to properly unfold as well, given that the film is nearly three hours long. Some plot threads are left hanging for quite a while before being tied up, but occasionally things seem rushed, or just too easily resolved. There does also come a period when you question whether everything will be worth the effort, but in the final act that is answered in style. Everything becomes clear, and the finale draws on other influences but remains recognisably Nolan-esque (whilst being outright bonkers in places). The twist will, I’m sure, zoom around the Internet and water-coolers across the land in the weeks to come, and I’m damned if I’ll reveal it here, but it’s clever.
So Interstellar may require another viewing to crystallise my thoughts on it, and I’m guarded on the subject of whether or not it’s a masterpiece – that status may yet come with time (fitting, really). Still, there is intelligence, humour, emotion, food for thought and madness jumbled up in it, not all of which works, but all of which should be applauded as the product of a very ambitious mind. Whilst definitely flawed, it deserves to be considered among the films of the year, and among the most important films for some time, even if it doesn’t always succeed in its endeavours.
There’s also a sense that when the film ends, our desire for exploration will remain as strong as ever, and that we are determined never to stay still, but always to gravitate to what is better, and what gives us hope. At a time when conflicts are ongoing in certain parts of the world and disease spreads in others, hope and idealism may be just what we need. Perhaps you shouldn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, à la Inception. Perhaps Interstellar is saying that you shouldn’t be afraid to go on journeys and to try and make a difference, no matter what the scale – so long as you never forget the people and places which you leave behind.
Here, as never before, Christopher Nolan reaches for the stars. Does he quite grasp them? I’m not yet sure, but it’s perhaps a mark of Interstellar’s sheer watchability that I’m immediately willing to take the journey again to find out. Whenever I come into orbit a second time, I hope I discover what I’m looking for – as, perhaps, each in our own way, we all hope to find the answers to our own questions. In the meantime, we hope, we strive and we love – it’s what we do. That, as much as anything else, is worth holding onto, no matter where you’re headed.
Now find me a wormhole so I can go and watch it again.