Even with extraordinarily high expectations, I was blown away by Interstellar. What Christopher Nolan has given us is nothing short of a work of cinematic art. This is the sort of thing that the movies were made for. For just shy of three hours, Nolan weaves a story that captivated me from start to finish. This is easily his most complete film, one that fills you with wonder at all turns. It sounds like hyperbole, I know, but this is truly how I felt while watching Interstellar. People might want to try and compare this to something like 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Right Stuff, perhaps even other Nolan movies like Inception, but this is truly a unique and singular experience, deeply personal and emotional in a way you won’t expect (remember this line of poetry: “Do not go gentle into that good night; Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”). More than just a science fiction epic, this is a powerful story of fathers and daughters as well. While Nolan’s work here is tremendous, Interstellar wouldn’t be the success that it is without the lead performance of Matthew McConaughey, who continues doing some of the finest work out there in Hollywood, bar none. This is the sort of performance that you never would have expected from the man just a few short years ago, but since his renaissance (or yes, the McConaissance) began, it’s almost become commonplace. Along with a top notch supporting cast that includes the likes of Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, and Anne Hathaway, just to name a small group of the ensemble, there’s some of the best acting ever in a Nolan picture here, particularly on part of McConaughey. This is a captivating experience that, especially in IMAX (aside from an issue with the sound that I’ll address later), is a feast for your eyes as well as your mind. Unless something blows me away in the next month or two, Interstellar will be the best thing that I see in 2014.
The best way to experience this movie is go in low on the plot details, so I’ll just give a very brief overview. Set sometime in the future, Earth is dying, turned into a dust bowl due to a devastating blight (this first act of the movie could very well remind you of The Grapes of Wrath in a few ways). We’re running out of food, so former pilots like Cooper (McConaughey) that would have gotten to work for NASA now make a living as farmers. Cooper is, with the help of his father in law (John Lithgow), taking care of his two children, Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy). Crops are dying and hope for mankind is low, as this is a caretaker generation, just keeping the planet warm until someone can figure out a solution. That solution just may come from Professor Brand (Caine), who McConaughey encounters when he stumbles upon the new and secretive home of NASA. Brand and his daughter Amelia (Hathaway) are working on a plan to save humanity. It seems that a wormhole to another galaxy was discovered and some explorers were sent to see if any other worlds were suitable, with a few potentially promising results. As such, Cooper is recruited to pilot a spacecraft on a last ditch effort to save the world…literally. The cost though is immense, as he has to leave his children, particularly Murph, a daughter who doesn’t want to potentially grow up without a father. The film is basically split up into three sections, with the first set on Earth, the second detailing the beginning of the mission, and the third going to the very reaches of the universe. Thus begins an adventure that more than once brought me to the verge of tears. You’ll see what I mean, particularly when I say that the comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey are warranted…
There’s uniformly top notch work on display here from the cast, though in every way possible Matthew McConaughey leads the way. He’s giving a gravitas movie star performance, but one filled to the brim with believable emotion. There’s a scene involving a recorded video where McConaughey has to convey joy, profound sadness, longing, and more, all in the span of seconds. It’s a bravura performance, one that would have assured him of an Academy Award nomination in Best Actor had the category been a bit less jammed than it currently is. He’s outstanding here, but hardly the only one doing strong work. I might be higher on Jessica Chastain than anyone else is for her work here in Interstellar, which is a bit on the spoilery side. She’s essential to the movie, but doesn’t enter until nearly the halfway point, and when she does, it’s in one of the very best scenes that the film has to offer. She’s strong willed and stubborn here, but also with a deep undercurrent of sadness that she expresses beautifully. Chastain is excellent and makes for a great one two punch with McConaughey. Anne Hathaway is the third leg of the trio and more than holds her own. She has a very interesting character arc that challenges here, but she’s up to the task. Hathaway won’t upend the Best Actress race, but it’s rather fine work on display. I also was very fond of Bill Irwin‘s voice work as a helpful robot on the space ship, as well as Matt Damon‘s small but pivotal turn, which I won’t go into here. Suffice to say though, he’s very good and a really big part of the plot. Mackenzie Foy and Timothée Chalamet are solid as the children left behind, while Wes Bentley and David Gyasi are effective enough as the other crew members on the journey. Michael Caine plays the same sort of role he always does for Nolan, but he once again does it well. He’s integral to the plot in some unexpected ways. John Lithgow is his reliable self in his few scenes, though he’s very much someone who’s more a part of the beginning than the end. Ellen Burstyn is solid in her small part, while even those like Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, and David Oyelowo overcome roles that don’t require much of them. Still, the one you leave the film raving about is McConaughey.
Christopher Nolan has a monumental achievement on his hands here, one that both uniquely fits his blockbuster skills but also challenges him in bold new ways. The script he co-wrote with brother Jonathan Nolan (or mostly re-wrote from Jonathan’s original drafts) has a few leaps of sci-fi faith, but the hard science on display is impressive. They also get at emotion in a way they’ve never fully been able to before. One thing you can’t say about Interstellar is that it’s cold. As good as the script they both wrote is, it’s Christopher’s direction that really left me speechless. Between how he interweaves the aforementioned poetry, emotion, action, and drama together is a testament to how skilled he truly is, particularly in the worlds in display, filled with giant waves or mountains of ice as far as the eye can see. It’s a nearly perfect motion picture, from Nolan’s work to the acting from the entire cast to the technical aspects, which are exquisite. Aside from an overbearing sound mix in the IMAX screening I attended, the work of cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, composer Hans Zimmer, editor Lee Smith, and production designer Nathan Crowley are all worthy of nominations, with Zimmer deserving of the win. It’s a score that I fell in love with immediately. Without getting into spoilers, the way that the music interacts with the events on the screen is beautiful. Nolan deserves every bit of acclaim he’s going to receive for this one. The way he deals with death too is rather powerful, though I’ll leave it to you to find out the hows and the whys there.
This film is deserving of a ton of Oscar nominations (if it cracks the double digit mark, I won’t be surprised), but beyond that, Interstellar is a beautiful and stunning achievement that I believe will be talked about for generations to come. There’s sci-fi action and adventure galore, but the aforementioned core of the movie is about fathers and daughters, I’ll leave it at that. I can’t wait for you all to see this one, as it does beautiful things for nearly three hours straight. Interstellar is in a class all by itself this year. I’ll even go the extra mile and call it a masterpiece.
Read Editor Clayton Davis’ take on “Interstellar.”.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!