Christopher Nolan has managed to reinvent himself, transitioning from being an independent filmmaker to a director of blockbuster motion pictures. After establishing himself with Following, Memento and Insomnia, he transitioned to comic book movies, helming the Dark Knight trilogy from 2005 to 2012. He has also depicted the boundaries of magic and illusion with The Prestige and explored dreams and reality in Inception.
His latest film, Interstellar, focuses on the stars— and what lies beyond.
Interstellar takes place in a world where blight and recurring dust storms have destroyed most of the world’s resources, corn being the last major source of sustenance. Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, is a former engineer and pilot. Raising his son Tom and daughter Murphy, Cooper is established as a family man early on.
Played by Mackenzie Foy, Murphy is a gifted child with a keen eye for gravitational waves; she senses something is trying to communicate with her. This leads Cooper to meeting Professor Brand, played by Michael Caine, and the remaining members of NASA. Brand has discovered a wormhole that leads to another galaxy with potentially habitable worlds for the human race.
When offered the chance to pilot the spacecraft, Cooper is reluctant but agrees for the sake of his children. This choice, however, leaves Murphy devastated.
Cooper heads off to space with Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), scientists Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romily (David Gyasi). Upon crossing the wormhole, the astronauts have to locate a possible home for the rest of Earth. Their work is complicated by this universe’s gravitational field of time being; it could be decades before they could complete the mission and return home.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, twenty-three years later, Murphy (Jessica Chastain) is now a scientist working with NASA. As the elderly Brand dies, he confesses to Murphy that his plan of evacuating the human race was impossible and that he knowingly sent Cooper on a mission with little chance of success. Stunned at the discovery, she realizes that humanity will have to find a way to save itself.
McConaughey brings a grounded, stoic quality to the role of Cooper. At 45 years old, the lantern-jawed Texan has established himself as a character actor and leading man. His weather-beaten looks, Southern drawl and slouched posture give him a rough yet dignified quality not unlike John Wayne or Gary Cooper. “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here,” he says in the film. Indeed, McConaughey’s performance brings a sense of world-weariness and optimism.
Jessica Chastain and Mackenzie Foy each bring something interesting to the role of Murphy, who provides the film’s emotional story arc. Foy does well as the precocious yet astute daughter whose intellect might be a few steps ahead of everyone else. Chastain succeeds in bringing a sense of desperation and hope during Interstellar’s second and third acts. Her performance is one of the film’s highlights.
The rest of the cast brings realism to their roles. Hathaway portrays Amelia with a strong intelligence and a sense of likeability; she holds her own alongside McConaughey.
Reuniting with Nolan once again, Michael Caine plays Brand with a warm, sage-like quality, not unlike his role in The Dark Knight series. However, he displays a deeper, vulnerable quality and a sense of torment, as demonstrated by the film’s mid-plot twist.
Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games) and David Romily provide a source of camaraderie among the astronauts, but their role in the story is limited to providing exposition and backstory.
Matt Damon makes the most of an extended cameo, in which the viewer learns how isolation and loneliness can affect a human being.
Interstellar is beautifully shot in anamorphic 35 mm by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, and the result is something akin to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alonso de Cuaron’s Gravity.
Hans Zimmer’s score is long, impressive and multi-layered in its complexity.
The film aims to be as scientifically-plausible as possible, and it succeeds in achieving this goal without coming off as being contrived or over-the-top. The use of gravitational fields, physics, space-time and relativity is used in a way that does not feel boring or banal.
Overall, Interstellar is one of the year’s best films, and Nolan has proved that his post-Batman career is just getting started. McConaughey must also be acknowledged for giving one of his best performances to date. The film’s success could very well be for Nolan what 2001 was for Kubrick.