Christopher Nolan continues to demand viewers to stretch their minds as well as their attention spans in his recent addition to an already impressive oeuvre with Interstellar (2014). It is a film that poses to its viewers the simple question, “how do you survive in a world that demands your eradication?” What appears as a deceptively simple quest into space soon quickly evolves into a meditation on the consequences of survival as well as the limits of love. This scientifically-driven drama is dense, sometimes derivative but never dull. Like Inception (2010), Nolan continues to experiment with the cinematic intersection of crises of faith and high-concept visual pleasure.
The performances, no matter their size, are carefully drawn; the problem here is that they’re lost amidst the vast scale of the film. Everyman farmer Cooper (the renaissance man himself, Matthew McConaughey) lives in a time of dying. The death of Earth has been signaled by blighted crops and damaging dust storms. Like the rest of civilization, he makes the daily fight to survive and works the land as his ancestors did – apparently to no avail. After a series of seemingly supernatural anomalies catch the eye of Cooper’s inquistive daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), he is thrust into a secret NASA-led mission to find a viable new planet to continue the human race (at the behest of Nolan favorite Michael Caine). What follows is a completely fantastical journey through space and time in an attempt to find a new home.
Nolan dutifully takes a page out of the oft-cited Kubrick handbook here, mixing up a very heady alchemy of wide environmental scope with minutely human stories. He’s proven that he can deliver on flawed and fleshed out characters and has a track record of building worlds with depth, that demand attention for their own attention to detail. But, as is the caveat with many a space-age film, Interstellar‘s infinite setting drowns out the human dramas that are unfolding. This is by no means a condemnation of quality; it simply leaves viewers a lot to take it and process. At nearly three hours, though, this can feel like a Herculean task. At its core, Interstellar is a physical and metaphorical exploration of humanity’s limits. It probes the far-reaches of love, as witnessed through the relationship between Cooper and Murph.
The depths of their understanding and caring for one another come alive brilliantly in the moments Cooper spends consoling Murph before he departs. Tears are shed, promises are made and it crystallizes the emotional core that drives the film. The film also confronts the very real physical limitations of the human race, as well as the human need to survive. Cooper and his team traverse the boundaries of space, time and their own bodies. The trepidation with every new obstacle presented by the unforgiving landscape of space serves to illuminate Nolan’s somewhat canned theme that humanity can overcome. Interstellar is, ultimately, an incredible testament to filmmaking. It is cause for pause and reflection, an impetus for post-viewing discussion and an endless array of visual marvels. It may not be Nolan’s strongest film to date, but it comes pretty darn close.
Allie Gemmill | @alliegem