Ambition scores major points with me, and Christopher Nolan has that in spades. For instance, it was never enough for him to simply direct superhero movies, with his 2005-2012 “Dark Knight” trilogy–he had to reinvent the whole genre. Also, making a splash on the indie circuit, with the psychological thriller “Memento”, probably would’ve been a given with his superb cast and dense screenplay alone. But by running his scenes sequentially backwards, Nolan instantly forged a now legendary reputation. Which brings us to the BIG, complicated, beautiful and cerebral “Interstellar”. Like “Gravity” last year, even THINKING of experiencing “Interstellar” in a format other than IMAX seems ludicrous. But Nolan doesn’t do 3D, so at least you’ll be spared the plastic glasses. Lengthy running times? Oh, he definitely does that. But at 169 minutes, “Interstellar” is only 4 turns of the second-hand longer than 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. Plus, you can shave off some time by leaving as soon as the end scroll appears–Mr. Nolan doesn’t do post-credits sequences either. But enough of all these picky particulars…how’s the darn movie! I’m pleased to report that it’s pretty damn fine. Damn fine indeed.
The Earth’s food supply is dying, and our 21st century planet is beginning to look like the 1930’s dust bowl. Climate change has reeked havoc upon our agricultural system, and it’s been decided that society needs less scientists and engineers–but more farmers. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, in excellent down-home form) is one of those farmers, a widowed former astronaut, living in a ramshackle prairie home with his daughter Murphy (a solid Mackenzie Foy), son Tom (a barely utilized Timothee Chalamet) and father-in-law Donald (the indispensable John Lithgow). When a peculiar discovery leads Cooper and Murphy to a hidden NASA base led by Professor Brand (the great Michael Caine), Cooper is asked if he would consider donning his space suit again–with the hope of maybe rescuing our expiring world. Murphy is distraught at the prospect of letting her father leave, but then faster than you can say wormholes, black holes, gravitational waves, and tidal waves–Cooper is blasting off. Anne Hathaway is on board as Amelia (make what you will of that name choice–you’re probably correct), along with Wes Bentley as Doyle and David Gyasi as Romilly. But you’ll have to see the movie to learn how Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, Casey Affleck and Topher Grace work their way into the mix–because I’m not telling. And there’s also an Oscar-winning actor surprise, portraying the “lost” Dr. Mann.
Exciting and ponderous, sprightly and leaden, Interstellar doesn’t always soar when it should, so Nolan could be accused of having a reach that surpasses his grasp this time around. That’s fair, I guess. But when the scope and spectacle approaches this grandiose of a scale, why quibble. Heck, the late, world-renowned film critic, Pauline Kael infamously tore 1968’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” to shreds. And that Kubrick masterpiece is only the greatest science-fiction film ever made. So, “Interstellar” naysayers are expected–Nolan can’t reach everyone. But if audiences exhibit some patience with this Gargantua, I believe it’s going to connect with them. The father-daughter emotional core is palpable, and there’s a penultimate exchange that is among the most heart-breaking and touching Christopher has ever lensed. My 9-year-old son was maybe a bit too young for this, but I admired how he kept trying to grab onto its “higher” themes–and I hope the masses will follow suit. And speaking of “2001”, the influence of that classic on “Interstellar” is blatantly obvious, and consistently exhibited. Whereas, I’ve heard whispers of homages to practically every major sci-fi feature of the last half century, “A Space Odyssey” is easily the most blatant. Unavoidable is one way to put it, but I see it as a purposeful design. It’s all good–it totally works.
But can a movie so intertwined with the concept and elusive nature of time, actually manage to stand the test of same? I think so. Its rough edges will smoothen upon subsequent viewings, and its occasionally clunky exposition will seem more reasonable. Besides, the power of love is the real theme here. And that reality doesn’t need time or distance to resonate. If “Interstellar” doesn’t prove to be the “ultimate trip” for mainstream audiences, it’s probably closer than they’re going to get for quite some time. Unhurried and awe-inspiring, “Interstellar” should be embraced as the movie event of the season. Only Christopher Nolan makes blockbusters like this…and for that alone, he deserves your attention and respect. He certainly has mine.