Interstellar

ON

Cast:
Matthew McConaughey as Cooper
Anne Hathaway as Brand
Mackenzie Foy as Young Murph
Jessica Chastain as Murph
Wes Bentley as Doyle
David Gyasi as Romilly
Michael Caine as Professor Brand
Bill Irwin as TARS (voice)
Casey Affleck as Tom
Topher Grace
Ellen Burstyn as Old Murph
John Lithgow as Donald
David Oyelowo as Principal
William Devane as Old Tom
Jeff Hephner as Doctor
Leah Cairns as Lois
Timothée Chalamet as Young Tom
Liam Dickinson as Coop
Matt Damon as Mann

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Story:
Years in the future, former Air Force pilot and engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) has become a farmer, trying to raise crops with his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), son Tom and father (John Lithgow). With the world’s crops failing and mankind’s future food supply in question, Cooper agrees to explore the planets on the far side of a wormhole with other scientists (Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley and David Gyasi) in hopes of finding a place where Earth’s inhabitants can find refuge once the Earth becomes uninhabitable.

Analysis:
“Interstellar” is another one of Christopher Nolan’s more personal mind-f*ck movies which he’s done so well when not directing adventures of a certain cowled vigilante. While it may not be as immediate as “Inception” and it wears most of its most obvious influences on its sleeve, it’s still very much the type of intelligent spin on a specific genre we’ve come to expect from the filmmaker.

This one is quite a bit slower than Nolan’s last few and while it revolves around a fairly high concept premise, Nolan infuses it with a character piece filled with tension and drama, working from a fantastic script co-written by his brother Jonathan. At its core is the question, “What would you sacrifice to save the Earth?” For Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper, it’s about leaving his family behind in hopes of finding a way to save them from their farming community that’s constantly being enveloped in heavy dust storms. He takes on the mission only to learn that he’ll be losing time spent with his family by traveling to the far side of a wormhole looking for a planet habitable by humans.

That’s about all that I can say about the plot, because revealing more would take away from one’s enjoyment of the various twists and turns, but this is a movie that’s difficult to put into words why it works so well without talking about them, so I’ll do my best.

Comparisons to last year’s “Gravity” are the height of critical laziness–even if they do say the word “gravity” more than 70 times in the movie–but there’s no denying the influence of classic science-fiction, the kind commonly found in the paperback section of dusky old bookshops, especially once Cooper and his small crew head into space, accompanied by two smart-alec seemingly-sentient bots, including a particularly smarmy one voiced by Bill Irwin. Fans of the genre will see the inspirations inherent in Nolan’s plot coming from obvious places, like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001,” “The Black Hole” and Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (and even “Prometheus”).

While it may take Stephen Hawking himself to understand some of the quantum physics about black holes and how it affects space and time, it adds to the attempt to maintain a level of authenticity where you can accept some of the techno-babble. There were more than a few points where I wasn’t quite sure what was going on or what the scientists were talking about, but it never was a huge problem, since the general story is relatively easy to follow. Once the explorers are in space, we spend a lot of time with them until we eventually get back to Earth for an update on how mankind is progressing. As the film progresses, time is spent more equally between the two locations.

By now, we’ve become accustomed to Matthew McConaughey’s new persona as a serious dramatic actor, and with “Interstellar,” he gives an incredibly emotional performance that isn’t as much about his appearance as it was in last year’s “Dallas Buyers Club.” Hathaway is also good as his regular companion, but it’s Jessica Chastain who really delivers another showstopping performance as Murph all grown up. Nolan’s recurring muse Michael Caine is also given a meatier role than the one he played in “Inception,” even if they generally have the same general purpose in the story.

Even when the Nolan “Wow” factor transforms into a “WTF?” moment, it still gives you enough to work with that you realize that even some of the “Signs”-like moments from the first hour had a significant purpose. There is some stuff that sounds sillier when you try to explain it like there being some sort of “higher alien race” out there trying to help us.

As one might expect from Nolan, his film just looks fantastic whether it’s the simple Earth setting or the fantastic other-worldly environments, as he switches gears by working with Swiss cinematographer Hoyt Van Hoytema, who has never shot a movie quite on this scale, but is still able to keep up with Nolan?s grand vision. (I saw the movie screened in 70mm IMAX and there’s really no beating that as the optimum way of watching it.)

Anyone who thinks they know what Nolan’s other frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer is capable of should be pleased with what he brings to “Interstellar” which contributes to its unique sonic identity as well as drawing out the most emotion possible in the more dramatic moments. There are times when Zimmer uses an enormously bombastic pipe organ to drive the tension and emotions and other times, he uses a more subtle approach. Still, it’s a fantastic score, easily one of Zimmer’s best, and it helps to elevate Nolan’s magnum opus well beyond where it might have been.

The Bottom Line:
Christopher Nolan’s love letter to space travel and the exploration of the stars may require some patience, both with its pace and your own capability of understanding complex time/space theories, but it offers an incredible emotional payoff along with its visual spectacle.