Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)

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This article contains SPOILERS!!!

Over the years, Christopher Nolan has impressed us with his dedication to creating original material like Memento, Inception and for bringing in a fresh vision of the Batman franchise. This year he returns with Interstellar, an epic story set in space about love, family and survival, an original story once again, not inspired from any previous material.

What I appreciated about the marketing campaign for this film is that not much has been said about what the film is really about which I admire and found it refreshing not to know the synopsis of the film. I usually try to stay away from trailers but there are many other ways you can get spoiled than by watching trailers. This way no one knows anything about the story and therefore cannot divulge any of the film’s secrets. However, I will get into spoilers with this review. The film is an event much like Gravity was last year so I’m sure many people will rush to see it in theaters.

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Interstellar tells the story of Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), widower and father of two, Tom and Murphy, a former NASA pilot and engineer and now a farmer, living with his children and father-in-law (John Lithgow) in central North America (I think, I don’t think it ever says where it is set). He is close to his children and shares a special bond with his daughter Murphy, a very smart girl who is passionate about science. She also thinks the house is haunted and that a ghost is trying to communicate with her. Cooper and his daughter find out that the ghost is sending them a message, some coordinates to be specific, which lead them to a secret NASA lab where they met a crew of scientists: Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), a physicist named Romilly (David Gyasi) and geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley). They inform Cooper that the world is in danger because of the blight that will soon lead to the extinction of humanity. Their solution is finding another planet through a wormhole near Saturn. The crew recruits Cooper to navigate their spaceship named Endurance but this causes problems with his family, especially his daughter who cannot accept her father leaving.

After a difficult goodbye to his family, Cooper, together with the crew formed by Amelia Brand, Doyle and Romilly and their two creatively designed robots named TARS and CASE leave Earth to find a new planet for humanity. Their mission is called The Lazarus Mission with the main purpose of saving the species by either transporting the entire population on a different planet or to create a new community of people and leave those on Earth to die. They will have to check three planets based on the data conducted by three scientists each assigned to one. The planets are named after the scientists who conducted the surveys: Mann, Edmunds and Miller. What will follow is the crew facing difficulties in finding the right planet and making the right decision regarding those left behind to save humanity.

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Another part of the story focuses on time dilation. While the astronauts are going through the wormhole time slows down while people on Earth age normally. On one planet they visit, an hour there represents seven years on Earth. This results in the story spanning over 50 years which adds to its epic scope. It’s also a vehicle for creating highly emotional scenes. Actually, I believe that what this film handles very well are the scenes involving the families left home and the passing of time. The goodbye scene between Cooper and his daughter almost got to me. And seeing how time passed, how people change, and how it affected Cooper and the crew, gave me goosebumps. I haven’t seen all of Nolan’s films, still need to see Insomnia and The Prestige, but from what I’ve seen I can surely say that Interstellar is his most emotional story. The reason behind this is the theme of family and love which is the main message of the film. It rarely is corny and mostly stays true. Even Nolan himself said this is a film about fatherhood. A moment that almost got to me was when Cooper looked under the blanket on his way to the NASA lab hoping he would see his daughter there like she did when they went looking for the NASA lab. Those who saw the film know what I’m talking about.

The epic scope and the space set story made many people compare Interstellar with 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the films couldn’t be more different. Yes they are both set in space and highly ambitious but are not alike. And I don’t agree with this comparison in the first place. I know people like to have these arguments but I don’t really see the point. If I had to make a comparison I would say that Interstellar is an explained version of 2001. The mystery behind the monolith in 2001 is what makes that films so beloved, among other things. However I wouldn’t change a thing about either films. Both are great in their own way.

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In terms of plot I understand some of Interstellar’s faults and their necessity in moving the story along but I wish there were other ways to do it. I think the story is where the film has most of its mistakes. In my opinion, the segments involving Matt Damon were the weakest. He played his character fine but I’m still confused by the character’s intentions. But I guess they had to create some conflict during that part of the film, but I wonder if it could have been done differently.

In the acting department, Nolan got himself quite the cast. Matthew McConaughey continues his line of successful projects and adds another winning performance to his resume. Even though the role doesn’t demand the actor to go through hard physical changes or adopt complicated accents, he does wonderful work as the hero of Interstellar. McConaughey’s role focuses a lot on his character being a father which offers better material than most main characters in this kind of films usually get, material which he adopts extraordinarily to the screen. Great work we get also from Anne Hathaway, David Gyasi and Wes Bentley who play the rest of the Endurance crew. Their roles aren’t extremely difficult, with Hathaway having more to work with it, but their performances prove to be appropriate for the kind of roles they have.

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Opportunities for showing real skill, not that she needs to because we know how good she can be, is Jessica Chastain. Her role as adult Murphy isn’t as lengthy as I thought it would be, but she delivers a fine and dedicated performance nonetheless. Murphy was seriously affected by her father leaving her as a child and it shows that she hasn’t healed emotionally as an adult either. With the few scenes that she gets to show those emotions I think Chastain does great work. It’s a shame that she is caught in the contract for Interstellar and can’t do promotion for her other roles this year like A Most Violent Year and Miss Julie. She clearly has more to work with there and better chances to get awards recognition. Somehow it just doesn’t feel right. I would also like to praise Mackenzie Foy who plays young Murphy. I think I have seen her in other films but it’s only here that she had an effect on me. Overall, the entire cast did a great job with the roles they played. Some had juicier parts some were left with less developed characters, but all did decent to great work.

Visually, like all of his films, Nolan’s Interstellar is astoundingly ambitious and epic. Like most space themed movies it’s a visual marvel. This time he didn’t work with his usual cinematographer Wally Pfister who was busy filming his directorial debut Transcendence at the time. He was replaced by Hoyte Van Hoytema, best remembered for his recent work on the colorful Spike Jonze film Her. Even though it’s not as good as his previous work, Interstellar is a film worth watching in a theater, as big as possible, to really feel the grandness of the story. As I previously said, it’s ambitious in its cinematography and visual effects just as much as in scope. Some of the architecture reminded me of Inception. I’m speaking of course of the scene at the end when Cooper finds himself able to communicate with his young daughter. Impressive.

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The music is appropriately epic. I consider Hans Zimmer’s work focused too much on creating something grand and I feel like he isn’t able to deliver more restrained music, just bombastic and grand orchestral symphonies made to leave you inspired and in awe. I may be wrong as I haven’t delved into his work as much as I wanted to, but here everything is right up his alley. Epic is what it’s needed and epic is what we get. Listen to the inspirational main theme here to make an opinion.

Lastly I would like to address some of the negative response the film got. Not necessarily to point a finger at someone but more to discuss it. I was just as shocked as anybody when I saw that The Playlist gave the film a D. I didn’t take it seriously but it was a bit extreme. This film is definitely not worthy of a D. Even if the story was atrocious I don’t think it would get a D. My opinion is that expectations ruined many people’s enjoyment of this film. Nolan has become one of the most well known directors in the world. It’s among the directors who many people not only cinephiles know by name like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. He has gained this status of a flawless director and the moment he does something not as stellar as his previous work he gets shamed for it. That’s too bad because he’s very skilled and we should be grateful that he strives to bring in original material, not inspired from any previous material. This is something we complain about quite often and we shouldn’t forget that he’s a man working in the business who is willing to risk and make a change. So cheers to you Mr. Nolan and continue to be as dedicated to creating original and pure cinema. You are one of the rare ones.

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In conclusion, Interstellar, one of the most anticipated and important films of the year has finally been released. I wish the story would have been better structured and written but despite this, it’s still one hell of a film with so, so much to offer. If you want to see this film, save some money and go see it in the theater. It’s worth it.

B+

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5 comments

  1. I saw the movie today and I was so disappointed, I thought the potential was there but they just tried to stuff too much into it. McConaughey was fantastic, though. As for the hype I think they themselves were doing it a bit too – the studio informing about all those directors seeing an early screening and praising it. It’s an ambitious movie but for me it lacked focus

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    1. I see why the film disappointed you. It is a big story and has a lot to take in. Personally I think people hyped it up more for themselves because every one of Nolan’s films are expected to be great now. But I agree that McConaughey was superb.
      Thanks for stopping by.

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  2. Well we agree on the acting, and for an almost 3 hour movie the director did a good job of holding my attention, which I see as a positive for such a long film.
    2001: A Space Odyssey is my favorite film of all-time, I almost know it off by heart, so the space travel to me felt very familiar and borderline ripoff in Interstellar. Yes each film is different, but the travel to Saturn/Jupiter is almost identical in both films, and the talks with folks via screens on earth is also lifted directly from Kubrick. Another similarity, instead of HAL 9000, Matt Damon is the saboteur, and HAL is a far more interesting character. I think Nolan went too far with these homages. I prefer the mystery of Kubrick’s film, Interstellar is unchallenging popcorn entertainment for me where you just shut your brain off after a long week at work. It should have been released as a summer blockbuster, but they wanted it closer to award season. Sounds like I hated Interstellar, but I actually quite enjoyed the thrillride 🙂

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    1. Yes, the 2001 comparison is inevitable. I also agree with your thoughts on the Matt Damon character. He’s the weak link and HAL is infinitely more interesting than him. At least they didn’t spend a lot of time on him.
      I prefer the mystery of 2001 too but I enjoyed Interstellar a lot more than most people have. I think Interstellar thinks it’s smarter than it looks. It probably would have fitted better for a summer release.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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