US Release Date: 11-07-2014
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
- Matthew McConaughey, as
- Jessica Chastain, as
- Anne Hathaway, as
- Amelia Brand
- Mackenzie Foy, as
- Young Murph
- Michael Caine, as
- Professor Brand
- David Gyasi, as
- Wes Bentley, as
- Bill Irwin, as
- TARS (voice)
- Josh Stewart, as
- CASE (voice)
- Ellen Burstyn, as
- Old Murph
- Casey Affleck, as
- Timothee Chalamet, as
- Young Tom
- John Lithgow, as
- Topher Grace, as
- David Oyelowo, as
- Matt Damon, as
- Dr. Mann
- William Devane, as
- NASA official
- Collette Wolfe, as
- Ms. Hanley
- Francis X. McCarthy, as
- Andrew Borba as
Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar.
Interstellar is the latest big budget special effects spectacle from director Christopher Nolan. Set in what appears to be the near future, it tells an epic story concerning the very survival of the human species yet told on an extremely intimate level. The Earth's environment is having trouble sustaining life. Crops with blight, and increasingly frequent dust storms, threaten man's very existence on the planet. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, your typical widowed former astronaut turned farmer. Before you can say Luke Skywalker he leaves the farm behind and heads out on a space adventure...
Not really. It takes a while before that happens. First we meet his family. Cooper has two children, a boy and girl named Tom and Murphy. Cooper's father-in-law (played by John Lithgow) lives with them on their farm somewhere in the American heartland, where baseball games are still played in-between dust storms. Cooper attends parent teacher conferences. He learns that school textbooks have been altered denying the existence of any former U.S. space program. Murphy's teacher states that the federal government faked the moon landing in order to fool the Soviet Union into squandering all their money and resources trying to keep up. Murphy was disciplined for refusing to go along with these lies. This scene provides not only a peak into local community politics it also makes the audience aware of this 10-year-old's exceptional intelligence. She's the brains of the family, while her brother Tom is merely average and destined to one day take over running the farm.
It turns out that a mere few hours drive away NASA has a secret underground facility where scientists, led by Michael Caine as Professor Brand, are working on finding humanity a new home as well as figuring out how to transport us there. Coop and Murph find this place after deciphering a code made with lines of dust on Murphy's bedroom floor (it all gets explained eventually). She thinks it's a friendly ghost (probably her mothers). Anyway these coordinates lead directly to NASA and to the space adventure mentioned earlier. Murphy doesn't want her father to leave and they part on bad terms. Will father and daughter ever see each other again?
I won't give away much about Cooper's mission. Suffice it to say that he traverses a wormhole and visits more than one planet. He's accompanied by a few other scientists, including Professor Brand's daughter played by Anne Hathaway. The script tosses in a fair amount of dialogue involving quantum physics, and a fifth dimension where time and space can be distorted and interconnected in interesting and creative ways. The special effects are as impressive as you'd expect them to be. This interstellar journey is interspersed with scenes back on Earth with the now grownup Murphy (Jessica Chastain) having become a scientist herself, working alongside the now wheelchair bound professor.
Along with the stars, several famous faces turn up in supporting or cameo roles. Matt Damon shows up near the climax in the movie's most tensely exciting action sequence. Casey Affleck plays the grownup Tom. Ellen Burstyn plays the very old Murphy. Topher Grace and David Oyelowo both have small roles as well. But this is McConaughey's movie to carry and he does so with complete ease. In a less talented actor's hands Cooper might have seemed contrived but Matthew makes him real. His love for his children creates a strong moral center that never wavers and McConaughey's good guy humility keeps the character grounded.
I think it helped that instead of acting in front of green screens the CGI effects were done first and projected behind the actors. This meant that McConaughey and Hathaway, while doing their scenes aboard the spaceship, for example, could peer out and see pretty much the same background the audience sees. I wonder if other filmmakers will do likewise.
Few science fiction movies pack a strong emotional punch. Interstellar does. It's long and slow in places but the terrific cast, awe inspiring visual effects, and thought provoking ideas more than make up for the glacial pace. I don't consider it a masterpiece but it's in the vicinity of one. Interstellar is light years more compelling and intelligent than your typical Hollywood fare.
Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy in Interstellar.
Patrick, I'm curious what thoughts this movie provoked in you. Incredulity? Exasperation? Surprise at the number of plot holes? You also mention that the movie throws in some dialogue about physics. It does, but very little of it makes sense. The majority of it is pseudo-science and techno-babble, but all of that pales in comparison to the WTF? ending that throws all science out of the window. This might start as Science Fiction, but it ends as Science Fantasy. And heavy-handed fantasy at that.
I supposes it's a measure of something that despite the plot holes and general silliness of the resolution, I still enjoyed this movie as much as I did. This is mainly down to the central premise and the mostly excellent performances by the central cast. The idea that a small group of humans are sent on a quest to find a new livable planet for the population of a dying Earth is rife with possibilities and tension and the movie manages to deliver that tension for quite a while.
Mathew McConaughey as Cooper and Mackenzie Foy as the young Murphy give the story its emotional center. The single dad torn between his duties as a father and the chance to play a pivotal role in the salvation of mankind is brought home through some fine acting by both of them. Jessica Chastain as the adult Murphy also delivers a good performance, but the idea that her attitude toward her father hasn't softened seems rather thin. Surely, as a scientist who dedicated her life to helping get mankind into space she would have learned to appreciate on some level the sacrifice that he had made. It's difficult to judge though since we are given no insight into her or any of the other characters on Earth and they all feel completely two-dimensional.
For the first two-thirds of the movie, it moves along just fine. It's really at the film's climax that it loses its way. Perhaps Nolan wasn't sure how to end it. Certainly, the ending is telegraphed well in advance. It hinges on the gathering of a certain set of data that can only be gathered by dangerous methods. It doesn't take a fortune teller to predict that the danger will come to pass, nor who will be the one at risk. This leads to the ending that you will either find laughably silly as I did, or emotionally moving as others in the theater with me did judging by the sounds of sniffling and blowing noses that accompanied it. There's also a climactic ending on Earth that happens simultaneously as the one in space that feels completely contrived. Then, compounding the flaws of the ending from my point of view, it then concludes with a melodramatic, happy-ish ending.
The special effects are impressive. I watched the IMAX version of the film and it definitely helped. The vastness of space and the landscape of alien worlds are shown off to good effect on the giant screen. The fact that the actors could see some of the special effects while acting may have helped their performances, but it does nothing to help the film. Gravity used plenty of CGI and Sandra Bullock delivered a fantastic performance in that setting in a film that was half as long and twice as entertaining as this one.
Nolan is a much better director than a screenwriter. He tells the story with far too much pretentious seriousness. Dylan Thomas was a great poet, but his "Rage Against the Dying of the Light" poem is quoted about 5 times too many. Nolan doesn't just want to entertain, he wants to make an Epic with an enormous capital "E". For long stretches he manages to entertain and he even manages to generate some real emotion, but his attempt to make a movie with meaning completely fails.
Interstellar is the kind of event movie that comes along every few years that you should see and judge for yourself no matter what any movie review says. It's the kind of movie that will attract people who don't go to the movies very often and if you want to be part of the conversation, you'll need to see it and see it on the big screen. While it definitely feels as though Nolan over-reached and under-edited, there's enough eye candy and emotion to keep you from being bored.
It could have worked as an adventure film.
After a brief search online, it became clear that many people think they know what is going on in Interstellar. Some go on about the science and discuss the specifics of it, no matter how speculative. One makes a good argument that the end is all a dream experienced in the last seconds of Cooper’s life. Another argues that it is all about time travel, that the “they,” so often referred to in the film, are humans in the future who placed the worm hole there to help humanity in the past. Of course that whole circular time travel idea is a headache and even Brand states in the film that you cannot travel back in time.
So here is my little addition to the topic. The Nolan brothers simply like to fuck with audiences. The Prestige (2006) was all about “magic” and sleight of hand. Some of what is shown in that film is simple tricks while others are complete fantasy, yet the entire film is treated as “real.” For Inception (2010), they left the ending open for interpretation. I know people who proudly state they know how it ends but once you debate it with them their answer changes to “well that’s just my opinion.” Did Alfred really see Bruce at the end of The Dark Knight Rises (2012) or is that simply his imagination of how he would have liked to have? They are never in the same shot and the coincidence of Alfred being at the same café in the whole world as Bruce and Selina is ridiculous.
So here is Interstellar, where the Nolans throw all kinds of theories and ideas at us and treat them all as real movie science. Even if some of what is discussed is based on reality, no one has ever entered and returned from a wormhole so the legitimacy of the science of this film is pointless. The only purpose it serves it to confuse and slow down a film that could have worked as an adventure tale if the Nolans had stayed focused on that aspect.
Mann speaks of death to Cooper and of what we think about in those last moments. This scene supports the idea that Cooper dies at the end. Just why Mann acts the way he does makes little sense. They would have taken him with them no matter what. The scene with Mann and Cooper taking a walk on the planet provides a moment of action and stress but in that scene, Mann demonstrates all the logic of a street hood and not an elite scientist.
We are given all kinds of distractions, hints and red herrings to confuse us. Early in the film we are occasionally shown clips from a documentary where old people refer to the past. We have no idea who these people are at first and when exactly they are referring to. What is the point of the school teaching lies about the space program? To have us question what is real and what is a fabrication? The ghost in Murph’s room is later explained, sort of. Like so many comic books and episodes of "Dr. Who," this plot resorts to time travel/alter dimensions to explain the unexplainable.
The one thing that keeps this film together is the personal level of it, provided by Murphy and Cooper. As Patrick wrote, it is Matthew McConaughey's performance that creates a relatable center to the movie. Cooper's emotional reaction to leaving his children and watching their messages to him are in direct contrast to the cold events going on around him. There is very little color in this film outside of Cooper’s farm. It is the farm house that book ends the film and makes this movie at all relative to the world we live in.
Although some people have thoroughly enjoyed this movie, I am not among them. For me, it is not artistic to leave a movie open to interpretation but a flaw in the film makers. It is as if they did not have the confidence to commit to something so they left it up for the viewer to interpret. It is like an abstract painting that some people will react emotionally to while others will merely see shapes. I will not insult anyone who likes this movie as long as they do not disparage me for not.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (2014)