Interstellar is a long movie. A very, very long movie filled with ideas, ambition, emotion, and absolutely gorgeous depictions of space and time. All of this comes together to form a runtime of nearly three hours, but not a single moment of the film left me feeling disinterested or ready for the movie to end. As massive as Interstellar is, it remains a riveting and powerful examination of the limits of humanity and the mysteries of our universe.
The film follows Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a single father and former engineer/pilot struggling to provide for his two children on a planet that is slowly dying due to a blight which has made extinct nearly all of its resources. When he discovers a secret NASA operation led by former colleague Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), he is forced to choose between staying with his kids and going into space to find a new home for Earth’s population. Obviously, he chooses to go on the journey as the spaceship Endurance’s pilot, along with Dr. Brand’s daughter (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi), and a very interesting robot named T.A.R.S. The mission takes years to complete, and Cooper is faced with watching his children, Tom (Timothee Chalamet/Casey Affleck) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain), grow up through video messages sent to him through the cosmos.
The plot gets a lot more complex and stimulating than that, and in fact the story, particularly in the controversial third act, goes to places untouched by any film before it – quite literally. In my opinion, the third act is not broken, just unusual – in a good way. I won’t spoil it, but the settings and revelations associated with the final third are surprising and well-done, in my opinion. However, I do believe that one’s enjoyment of the film will be tested in its third act turns, and you either go along with it or you don’t. Many critics did not, I suppose, and this might explain the 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The performances in the film are exemplary, even if some of the characters are, admittedly, somewhat flat. Matthew McConaughey is the obvious standout, his southern drawl and general attitude matching perfectly with the character of Cooper. The “McConaughsance” continues as he moves further and further away from the hokey romantic comedy-esque roles he used to have in the past. He is asked to go to some emotional depths here, and pulls it off effectively. It is through his emotional actions and reactions that allow the audience to sympathize during certain heartbreaking moments in the film; in other words, we feel what he feels. There are actually two scenes in Interstellar that had me tearing up a bit due to a mixture of McConaughey and just the general tragedy of the situation, which is surprising considering this is a Christopher Nolan film. More on that later.
Anne Hathaway is also quite good in her role – she successfully navigates a peculiar character type, one that really possesses no personality, but does have depth. She could’ve reached the status of “kick-ass female sci-fi hero” if it weren’t for the fact that she is helpless towards saving herself, particularly in one scene on the first planet the crew of the Endurance comes across. She does get some interesting lines, however, including a monologue towards the middle of the film which felt genuine and in-the-moment.
One last performance of note is the dual-role of Murph, Cooper’s daughter, played in youth by Mackenzie Foy and in adulthood by Jessica Chastain. The character of Murph is interesting, and essential, but not filled with much complexity – which is okay, especially in the hands of Foy and Chastain, who both bring it on different levels. Foy is great as Young Murph, portraying a smart, precocious young woman who is wise beyond her years, even if she isn’t allowed much opportunity to express that intelligence until later in the film. When Foy brings emotion, it’s a similar sensation to that of McConaughey’s in that the audience is more open to sympathizing with her. As Adult Murph, Jessica Chastain is good, but not astounding. She’s overall a fantastic actress who’s gotten some great roles to play with, but here her reactions and motivations seem either false or misleading most of the time. But this isn’t Chastain’s fault – it’s the screenplay’s, which didn’t flesh out Adult Murph as much as it could have; although it’s a tad understandable given that the film is already so packed.
I would be sorry if I didn’t talk about just how beautiful this film is. Director Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, along with the visual effects team, create mesmerizing images of what our universe could look like beyond the stars. I’ll go ahead and say it – Interstellar is the most jaw-dropping representation of space travel ever put on film, more so than Gravity (which is amazing in terms of realism) or 2001: A Space Odyssey (which is a more poetic, Kubrickian view of outer space). What’s great about Interstellar is that it blends these two styles, merging poetic imagery with visceral realism to create immediate feelings of both radical awe and tense danger. Worm holes, black holes, alien planets, and star-lit galaxies are all present, and then some. The score, composed by long-time Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer, adds a lot to the experience, especially in IMAX. I know some critics have been saying that the sound mix is mediocre, but I had no problem being able to hear the actors’ dialogue over the soundtrack, which admittedly does get very loud in parts.
Interstellar has its problems, but it remains an absolute triumph. It’s a bit bloated, sure, with concepts that, when examined, don’t always make sense – but I believe that is the point. I don’t think Nolan intends for the audience to understand it all, as much of the film deals with mystery and ambiguity. Interstellar also sees Nolan breaking through the emotional walls that have been built around many of his films. Previous masterpieces such as The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception (2010) are exactly that – masterpieces – but absent are any moments of true emotional resonance. Interstellar marks the first time Nolan succeeds in not only emotional resonance, but in actually making me teary-eyed. That, grouped with the stunning visuals and great performances, make Interstellar a must-see on the biggest screen you can find.