Interstellar marks director Christopher Nolan’s first non-Batman film since Inception, and there’re high expectations for this science fiction epic after the box office successes of his previous films. Interstellar features some astounding ideas and imagery and is well worth watching in IMAX – but like the movie’s ice planet, Interstellar harbours a cold, cold heart. It’s still recommended watching – more of why this is so after the break.
Interstellar tells a story of Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), former-astronaut-turned-farmer after the funding for space exploration ended. The world, after all, is ending, and funds have been totally diverted to saving crops and surviving. But it turns out a scientist Dr Brand (Michael Caine) thinks the solution is in finding a new planet in space, and when it comes to what might be the most important mission of all, Cooper suits up once again and heads for the stars in the hope of finding a suitable planet.
And with that, director Christopher Nolan might have made the space movie for the current age. While it’s set 50 years into the future, the threat of global warming is a current worry – or should be, anyway. Cooper is even described as part of a caretaker generation, having to deny its dreams to ensure the next generation survives. All this lends a strong sense of realism and urgency to the proceedings – it’s compelling watching throughout.
But more important is how amazing the science is, and looks. There are a few science jokes sprinkled throughout the movie that any geek will appreciate (Nolan’s funniest movie yet?), and there’s some good hard science to try to poke holes in later, but it’s the imagery that makes it the first movie to be really worth an IMAX ticket in a while (and no 3D too!). The effects are, for lack of a better word, stellar, with Nolan recalling some of the best mind-contorting graphics since Inception. The best part is how it’s all believable in some way – this isn’t 2001’s hippie light show – and science and space buffs will get a trip out of watching how good a blockbuster budget can make space and all its theories look. In fact, the black hole is so pretty it’ll suck you right in.
This makes for what is a rather riveting movie – especially with some mighty performances from McConaughey (the McConnaissance continues), Anne Hathaway (Dr Brand’s daughter, Amelia) and Jessica Chastain (Murph). And for those who complain about Nolan’s overuse (abuse) of Hans Zimmer to set tone and mood in movies, here he shows a more measured hand when it comes to music – even using silence effectively (owing something to Alfonso Cuaron, maybe) – allowing moments to breathe like you’re gasping for air in deep space. Hans Zimmer’s score, once again, is fantastic, even if different from his recent works.
But for all its bright ideas and beautiful sights, where the movie stumbles is its heart. For all of Amelia’s words of how love transcends space and time, it’s clear that the love here isn’t as selfless as we would think. Whether it’s Cooper’s, Dr Brand’s or Amelia’s philosophy, I found it hard to relate when the characters say they want to help humanity – but are instead driven by purely selfish reasons. Oddly, all these decisions are rewarded in the end – as if Nolan is saying that that’s the right way for our survival.
When I first left the cinema, I thought Interstellar was nihilistic – and while I’ve since tempered my stance, the way Interstellar sets itself up against some classics (Kubrick’s 2001 is a clear influence, and Nolan admits it) clearly shows how it falls short from the sweeping romance of space exploration. The movie isn’t about overcoming ourselves to reach for the stars, and maybe it is truly a movie for our self absorbed era – it being easier to get someone to care for something tangible like a family member, or yourself, than something amorphous like humanity – but the root of space exploration lies in the romance of discovery, of the unknown, and that is sorely lacking here.
Nolan can imagine amazing worlds, but yet he can’t seem to imagine humans succeeding without being selfish. Maybe it’s been a trait that has gotten us this far – and one which is the sign of our times – but in a movie where love is a key message, it just feels cynical. Therein lies the rub – in a world where two space-related missions ended in failure mere days apart, perhaps we don’t need a reminder that whatever humanity we save is selfish and self absorbed – it’ll be great if it was more optimistic than, say, True Detective (which ended very optimistic).
Dr Brand quotes from Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night a few times in the movie, and it is this rage, this unwillingness to die without lashing out, that sums up the movie’s heart. I can’t help but think of McConaughey’s other space movie, Contact, while watching it … and then wonder what we’ve lost in the years since.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.