A very wise man once said, “The power of love is a curious thing. Makes one man weep, makes another man sing. Changes a hawk into a lily-white dove. More than a feeling: that’s the power of love.” Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker who would agree with this philosopher. As early as 2000’s Memento, Nolan’s films have featured main characters driven by a love that has been lost. Whether it is Bruce Wayne’s deceased parents in Batman Begins, Robert Angier’s deceased wife in The Prestige, or Bruce Wayne’s deceased girlfriend in The Dark Knight Rises – these men are driven by their love. In his new film Interstellar Nolan examines the power of an extant love.
Love’s importance is not immediately evident in Interstellar. The picture follows Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former living in an unspecified future. He is a widower, like many Nolan protagonists, but unlike the others he has an active role in raising his children, Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet), with the help of his father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow). This is no pleasant future, however; once fertile land has given way to a nigh-uninhabitable dust bowl. Cooper is recruited by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and what’s left of NASA to pilot a follow-up expedition in search of habitable worlds among the stars. Copper and a small crew (Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, and David Gyasi) leave everything behind – possibly forever – to find a future for the human race.
There is a whole lot to love in Interstellar. Nolan always puts excellent actors onscreen, and this is no different. McConaughey delivers big as the focus of almost every scene in the movie; the McConaissance is still going strong, to the point where it is now believable that this man is a brilliant engineer. Mark Wahlberg in Trans4mers wishes we would suspend our disbelief that far for him. The supporting cast is similarly strong, though some actors (particularly Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck as Cooper’s adult children) feel wasted by the script.
A script that – despite yielding an almost three (3!) hour movie – never feels boring. The pacing in Interstellar is excellent, as there is always something going on or something being explained. Although there is a breaking point. There is a lot of exposition in the film. And not just at the beginning. Characters are plainly explaining things to each other right up to the final lines of the film.
And I have to admit that these last moments do feel a little superfluous, especially when the kind of silly denouement extends for about 40 minutes. And this semi-ridiculous tone isn’t confined to the ending, as the entire “love theme” feels a bit laughable at times. There is no doubt that love – specifically the bond between a father and his favorite child (his daughter) – is a powerful motivator, but that power verges on literalization in Interstellar.
The film’s preoccupation with time is much more effective. The movie attempts to give the audience a peek at five-dimensional thought, a mindset in which time would be just another physical construct to conquer, and thus the universal constant becomes a resource rather than an absolute. Nolan and his co-writer/brother Jonathan Nolan use this idea in some great ways in the film. However even their solid grasp on time begins to slip toward the film’s (long) conclusion.
Most of the faults and nit-picks can be offset by one huge factor: this movie looks gorgeous. I’m not intelligent enough in the ways of cinematography to talk about all of the amazing choices made by Christopher Nolan and his director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema, so suffice it to say the film is beautiful. The Earth-bound scenes alternate between quaint and gritty depending on nature’s fickle mood, while the expansive vistas experienced by the crew are incredibly immersive. The aspect ratio shift between the two locations due to the use of IMAX cameras furthers this cinematic disconnect in a really effective way.
Interstellar owes a lot to space operas of the past, most notably Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Christopher Nolan includes trippy space travel, monotone robots, and artifacts of an advanced civilization to great effect, but I wouldn’t call Interstellar derivative. It definitely stands on the shoulders of its predecessors, but Nolan has crafted a singular piece of art that also stands apart, regardless of pretension or shaky scientific grounding.