Quentin Tarantino. Terrence Malick. The Coen brothers. David Fincher. These are just a few directors whose films, for better or worse, are event movies for passionate film fans and Christopher Nolan surely needs to be part of that list. Few directors today carry with them such reverence and expectation around their next film. In a relatively short 15 year career he has already solidified himself as one of the most popular and interesting filmmakers, whether he’s working on a small intimate scale like Memento and Insomnia or on an epic scale like Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy
His latest film, Interstellar, feels like something he has been working towards his entire career. An epic space adventure that spans galaxies as well as the love between a father and his children, this is Nolan presenting big ideas on a big scale but tying it to a small and intimate base, ensuring it doesn’t get overly caught up in the technical jargon the characters often speak.
Its complex plot is set in the near-future when the world is becoming rapidly uninhabitable for human beings, ravaged by famine, drought and extreme climate changes. But just as humanity is staring extinction in the face, a group of scientific explorers are brought together, including family man Cooper (a magnetic and soulful Matthew McConaughey) and scientist Brand (an endearing and sympathetic Anne Hathaway), to go on a mission beyond our own solar system to find a new habitable world. Unfortunately for Coop, he may have to face the reality of never seeing his children again in order to try and save the human race.
The word that comes to mind when trying to describe ‘Interstellar’ is ‘huge’. It’s so epic in scale, so ambitious with its ideas and intent, so bold with its visuals that it becomes a gigantic, all-enveloping experience more than anything else. I stress the word experience because, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the more recent Gravity, this demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible with the sound blaring out at you. This is pure cinema.
But it’s also a journey that doesn’t leave its characters or the emotion out in the coldness of space, so to speak. For all his brilliance, Nolan has never been the strongest at injecting true emotion into his films. Here he seems to be making up, perhaps even overcompensating, for that with floods of emotions – there are many scenes of characters bearing their souls as they cry their hearts out – and makes it as much a moving family drama as a grand scientific adventure. He often cuts between the life-and-death space mission and the drama back on earth, visualising the sort of fascinating and very effective connection the film is partly presenting in its overall ideas. Leave it to Nolan to try and explain love and human connection through the medium of wormholes and quantum physics.
Even when it loses a handle on its multitude of ideas or it throws up plot holes as big and powerful as the black holes found in the film, it’s a piece of cinema that feels utterly confident in its own ideas and ambitions. We’ve seen plenty of sci-fi movies that focus on a group of explorers trying to save the world but few have delivered something that feels authentically powerful and important, and even fewer that actually have something to say about life, survival and the human condition. While it’s perhaps a little on the heavy-handed at times here – with characters side-tracking us from the mission to overtly talk about “what it all means” – you always feel like it’s getting at something thoughtful and truthful just as it awes you with its resplendent visuals and Hans Zimmer’s commanding and affecting score. It has a tremendous sense of momentum and anticipation to it throughout its gargantuan runtime, all of which leads to a thoroughly loopy third act which will surely split audience opinion.
Interstellar provides us with the best sort of science fiction; ambitious and thought-provoking while still remembering the importance of the human connection. This $165 million, almost 3 hour-long genre blockbuster is deeply scientific, beguiled by the way the universe works and the possibilities therein, but at the same time not requiring its audience to be knowledgeable or have a vested interest in such things. By all means take in all that, and the film certainly respects the audience’s intelligence enough to realise many may come to it for those headier aspects, but it also works purely as enjoyable, awe-inspiring spectacle. The film is big, bold, talky, emotional, creative, insightful, fascinating, head-scratching and just the right kind of barmy. What it’s not is some flawless masterpiece but you know what? That’s okay. Perfection is rarely interesting if attainable at all, especially in the world of movies, and Nolan’s latest effort takes us wonderfully to infinity and beyond in spite of its faults.
This review was previously published on Scotcampus.