Before we get started, let me say two things. First, the bulk of this review will have minimal to zero spoilers and as such won’t go through all of Interstellar‘s (confusing) plot points. If I want to address something specific I’ll discuss it in the footnotes at the bottom of this page. Second, as could be expected, Interstellar has rallied the virtual troops leading to a full roster of reviews. I’ve included a (small) sample I’ve read over the last few weeks. If you don’t already follow the sites below, stop reading and head over right away. Same goes for Interstellar. If you haven’t seen the film, stop reading and get your ticket. No matter what anyone says about Christopher Nolan’s newest spectacle the film deserves a viewing.
MORE INTERSTELLAR REVIEWS ON THE INTERWEB:
(please let me know if any of the links below are broken)
My favorite review from a talk radio station in rural Tennessee: “[Interstellar] is escapism at its best. The far left will like it because of the climate change.”
It would be too simple to say that Interstellar is this year’s Gravity. Obvious similarities declare themselves after viewing the trailers alone. Both feature a heavy-weight director leading a heavy-weight cast in a big-budget space epic. But extending further and we find Cuaron and Nolan exploring similar relationships and concepts with characters taking precedence over the stars.
I loved Gravity, and declared that love from the rooftops. Gravity is Sandra Bullock’s story. The story of her loss and her struggle between hope and grief. The film’s scope is small, not necessarily narrow or simple but focused. This focus allows us more time to savor Gravity‘s remarkable visuals with frames as magnificent as any I have seen. While Interstellar does grapple with similar concepts, it manages to tackle broader themes and in grander ways. Its story is not confined to McConaughey like Gravity focused on Bullock. Nolan’s scale is enormous but even as he zooms out to show the planetary struggles in the film’s world, he presses in and showcases an emotionally rich set of relationships on the scale of one family. At its core, Interstellar tells the story of Matthew McConaughey and his children. McConaughey and Bullock’s personal struggles with loss are somewhat different but boil down to the same human emotions (See Spoiler Footnote #1).
All this is to say that Nolan explores the same conflicts and emotions he has dealt with in the past. Just as Inception and Memento deal with loss and The Prestige and The Dark Knight trilogy deal with sacrifice, Interstellar explores family and sacrifice, love and grief. While tinkering with the same toys, Nolan has been scaling up. Memento‘s story involved one man’s quest for vengeance following the murder of his wife. During The Dark Knight Rises an entire city is in jeopardy. Now Nolan, always the glutton for dishing out punishment, feels the need to fictionally threaten the entire planet. Yet even as the scope and range of the films stretch and shrink, Nolan always brings us back to the individual characters and their personal arcs. His handling of Cooper may be his best yet. Cooper is played spectacularly by Matthew McConaughey in a way only he could. Guy Pierce, Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Nolan’s other leading men could not have played Cooper to the same effect. Tom Hardy may have come close but McConaughey’s relatability and unique swagger perfectly match Cooper’s calculated toughness.
What is perhaps the most striking similarity between Interstellar and Nolan’s previous films is the amount of moments in which I genuinely had no idea what was happening. Nolan goes to such great lengths to avoid flippantly revealing story arcs that by the time I catch an arc’s tail, I forget why I was chasing in the first place (2). Nolan’s deftness is at once a strength and a weakness. It allows his stories to be blissfully complex, intricate and entertaining yet they also demand our complete attention and often multiple viewings. There were moments (many moments) in Interstellar where I had no idea what was happening (even though characters paused to give excessively long-winded explanations on things I didn’t really need to know about). But I didn’t care. Because it is Nolan. Any other director and I may have cocked an eyebrow and lost faith.
Flashback/Backslide ratings aim to measure films relative to their potentials. Judging a reel’s reality against its on-paper potential. This mechanism allows for action movies to score a rating comparable to a drama, even if the drama is a better film overall. The problem with coming to a rating for Interstellar is in determining its potential. Do we rate it as a Sci-Fi movie, as a dramatic tale about a father and his family, as a Space Epic, or something entirely different? Taken as a Sci-Fi the movie is certainly a must-see but not perfect with its plot-holes and questionable science (3).
My rating here evaluates the film based on my overall experience in the theater. Interstellar gripped me unlike any film of recent memory. (Gone Girl toyed with my emotions like an expectant schoolboy searching for a prom date. Nolan’s grip on my emotions wasn’t as strong as Fincher’s which isn’t so much a knock on Interstellar as it is praise for Gone Girl and Nolan more than makes up in other categories). Hans Zimmer’s score is magnificent and allows the film to move from a capable and applaudable science fiction film to something much more. The entire cast delivers from McConaughey to minor characters (unheard shout out to David Oyelowo for capably explaining the film’s context). Only one specific point here disappointed which I’ve left in the footnotes (4). Finally, with Wally Pfister transcending the cinematographer’s chair into the world of directing, Nolan brought Hoyte van Hoytema on board to capture Interstellar‘s amazing visuals. Visuals for which the film will be remembered, a sizable feat given the other memorable qualities wrapped into this three-hour long extravaganza.
Thanks for reading!
(1) McConaughey and Bullock’s personal struggles with loss are somewhat different in that Bullock is recovering from the death of her child, a death which occurred prior to the film’s beginning. But McConaughey made the choice to leave his children and fights to return to them. Unlike Bullock, his journey through space is requisite to his personal struggle with loss. Bullock’s story could just as easily have left her stranded at sea Castaway-style. In other words, her journey in space contributed to her journey through grief but the setting is interchangable. Before McConaughey and Hathaway began their journey, McConaughey sat happily at home. Of course he dealt with his share of problems, some inflicted by the movie’s story and others more relatable to us including regret over lost jobs, lost loved ones and lost time. But what he deals with from the moment his voyage begins and through the rest of the film is a direct result of the journey itself.
One of Interstellar‘s greatest successes is the bond it establishes between Cooper and Murph in the film’s first act. Nolan crafts a surprisingly genuine and meaningful relationship partly with lines spoken between the actors and even more with subtle moments like Cooper grabbing Murph’s leg after he catches her stowing away, or letting her steer the drone. This relationship is crucial to the film. The only way we can buy into McConaughey’s emotion, the emotion at the center of his journey, is by fully buying into his relationship with Murph. As we settle into the film we need to unknowingly believe in this attachment if we are to allow Nolan to carry us through the rest of the film. Without that relationship we might eye-roll through scenes like this:
Hathaway Couldn’t you have told her you were going to save the world?
McConaughey: No. When you become a parent, one thing becomes really clear. And that’s that you want to make sure your children feel safe.
Would McConaughey have joined the mission if he was single with no children? Absolutely. But Murph makes his story compelling which makes Interstellar more compelling than other generic and forgettable genre films. The decision to make the brother and Donald an almost afterthought turns out to be a wise one as McConaughey fighting for Murph carries more weight. In some ways the relationship is an exponentially more interesting and memorable version of Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler’s in Armaggedon.
(2) The story arc between Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain is a prime example. By the time Chastain solved Caine’s formula I completely forgot why we needed the solution. Which means the scene in which Chastain asks Caine why he spent so much time cracking the “problem of gravity” with “not one but two hands tied behind your back” carried almost no weight. More damning is that I did not fully understand his betrayal until it was made abundantly clear. I understood that he had betrayed Murph and Cooper but I wasn’t quite sure how it was done.
(3) I expect the internet’s full force to come down on Interstellar and tear apart the film’s handling of physics and science in general. The film is a work of fiction but does stretch our credulity. Watching Interstellar felt like riding a roller-coaster of believability or being used as slingshot ammunition. I felt my rational mind growing impatient as the film stretched my ability to suspend disbelief and give into fantasy. I nearly hit the breaking point when McConaughey plunged into the tesseract. By that point I assumed McConaughey would end up being “them” and that he would somehow need to send messages to past versions of himself and Murph. But I didn’t think it would happen behind his daughter’s wall. Still, Nolan limbers my credulity and I stuck with him knowing the pay-off would be worth it in the end. For many, the excitement of releasing the slingshot (starting with McConaughey’s plunge into the Tessaract) and the flight that follows (including the Inception-esque field-of-dreams) will not justify the preceding tension. I saw the movie with a friend who has no ability to suspend disbelief. Her Slingshot of Credulity snapped almost instantly, probably when McConaughey electronically lassoed the drone. But for those who can handle Nolan’s fast-and-loose concepts, the pay-off is more than worth it.
(4) The only casting decision I found myself doubting was Anne Hathaway as Amelia. I found the interactions between Hathaway and McConaughey grating, and not in a beneficial way that highlights the characters differences. Watching them play off of each other felt like watching a highly-trained/stiff theater actress perform alongside a more loose/comfortable actor. She brought gravitas to emotional scenes that required a softer touch. I believed in Foy, McConaughey and Chastain’s characters but I could feel Hathaway acting.
Follow Flashback/Backslide on Facebook, Twitter and Bloglovin’: