Christopher Nolan’s ninth film is both gorgeous and disjointed. It’s his most emotional project to date, and his messiest. Interstellar is a strange, often trippy journey that is just as much about exploration and advancement as it is about the relationship between parents and their children.

Interstellar finds its strength in telling the story of Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his relationship with his children. Tom (Timothée Chalamet/Casey Affleck) is stuck on the Earth and a-ok. He is willing to work with what he’s been given. Tom is what his grandfather, Donald (Jon Lithgow), wishes that Cooper would be. Cooper’s head is in the stars, though. He knows the fate of the Earth and wants to go above and beyond. Tom isn’t a dreamer. His sister Murph (Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain) is decidedly more like their father.

Cooper and Murph’s relationship lies at the heart of Interstellar. They’re cut from the same cloth. Murph refuses to accept the propaganda she’s fed in school. She believes in things beyond our understanding. She’s more interested in running off after the unknown than taking care of the farm and truck. This shared curiosity is what leads Cooper and Murph to their fate with the remnants of NASA.

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) presents Cooper with the opportunity to save the future for his children. The Earth is doomed and mankind must find a new home. Cooper needs to lead the expedition, as he is the only pilot skilled enough to safely lead the excursion Cooper is conflicted, though. At best, he won’t see his children for years. Ultimately, he has no choice. Cooper has always yearned to explore the stars. His entire life has been leading up to this moment. He isn’t a farmer. He can’t save his children on this world.

Nolan draws strongly from the experience of having a busy, ever-traveling father as a child. He also has the experience of going off to make films and having to leave his children behind for long periods of time. He’s been on both sides of the conflict. He’s been Cooper – desperately trying to get back to his children. McConaughey was a fantastic choice for this role. He has a warmth missing from previous Nolan protagonists portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale. They’re tremendous actors, but McConaughey has that down home warmth that they lack. His relationship with Murph is so well established that it’s tragic when they have to be split apart.

Interstellar-Cooper-Murph

Cooper’s children try to move on without him in different ways. Murph is bitter but carries on the work her father left the planet for. Tom sent messages to his father for years until he finally gave up. He held onto the dying Earth and rotted with it. Jessica Chastain brings both edge and warmth to adult Murph. She was devastated by her father leaving, but made herself into a stronger person. Casey Affleck’s bearded face carries the weight of the dying Earth as Tom. He was the stronger child in the short term, but he just can’t let go. Tom wasn’t made to explore.

Cooper carries his desire to reunite with his children into space with him, on a journey that’s supposed to be free of emotion. Like everything else involving humanity, that’s not possible.  Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) is also leaving her only family behind in this quest. Her relationship with her father seems much more like an employer-employee on the outside, but there’s a reason the Professor keeps sending her messages. Brand later finds herself believing in the power of love and emotion over raw, practical data. As much as the film is about the spectacle of adventure and space exploration, it’s also about the power of human emotion.

As for that spectacle, it sure is something. Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema have given us one of the most beautiful depictions of space ever put on the big screen. The use of IMAX cameras really captures the grandeur of the locales that Nolan used for planetscapes. Were you ever wondering what a realistic Hoth would look like? Nolan has you covered.

The use of practical effects dwindles more each year. Nolan is one of the few who sticks with it. His loyalty is not only admirable, but completely worth it. The use of CGI makes nearly everything possible, but the challenge of working with what we can make often leads to innovation. It feeds into Nolan’s style of making the incredible into something more realistic.

The look of robots CASE and TARS are especially intriguing in this regard. They’re essentially large adaptive block robots instead of humanoids. Nolan stated that he wanted the machines to be more like pieces of gear than humanoid in appearance. These pieces of gear very much have personalities, but they’re still just gear. They’re not people. They don’t have our instincts and feelings. They can’t make our choices. The human element is integral to Interstellar.

That human element ties in to the more emotional hue that shades Interstellar compared to Nolan’s previous works. It’s also very human in regards to its score. Hans Zimmer’s previous collaborations with Christopher Nolan have been more on the subtle side. Think of the menacing hum that accompanied the Joker in The Dark KnightInterstellar’s soundtrack is big and booming. Zimmer fills the void of space with heavy doses of organ, making you feel like you’re in church (or listening to Zeppelin in your mom’s basement if that’s, like, your opinion, man).

The overpowering score accompanies the jarring nature of Interstellar. A number of the space scenes are disorienting, to simulate the feel of going beyond our atmosphere. The camera is often twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom, making the audience clutch for their own bottle of Dramamine.

The story is also disorienting. It’s difficult to follow all of the science involved. There are wormholes and black holes. There is gravity so strong that it affects time itself. I’m still processing the conclusion, trying to decipher if it even makes sense.

I was always a little puzzled as to why people have found Inception so confusing. There’s a ton going on, but Nolan kept everything so clear that I found it incredibly easy to follow at all times. Dreams were layered on dreams as Cobb and his crew sought to plant the idea that would lead to him reuniting with his children. Inception, despite all its layers, has a really simple core. It’s a high concept heist film.

At its core, Interstellar is an exploration of the relationship between a busy father and his children. It’s a more complicated issue that Nolan handles brilliantly, for the most part. The perplexing ending takes away from what is otherwise a magnificent spectacle.

Interstellar will most likely require multiple viewings to fully appreciate. Be sure to make one of those viewings in the theater. Even with the confusion at the end, it’s a beautiful film that deserves the biggest screen you can find. The universe is large and full of wonders. Christopher Nolan shows us just how stunning it can be.

 

 

 

Spoilery Stuff

  •  Casey Affleck really looks like his brother Ben when he’s sporting a beard.
  • I know the “ghost” revelation was set up, but it still felt like a cheat. Maybe I simply don’t understand the science behind it. I need a rewatch or twenty.
  • Holy crap, MATT DAMON! I did a triple take. I legit had no idea he was showing up in this. He did great job as desperate Dr. Mann.
  • Interstellar featured the freakiest looking cryogenic freezing I’ve ever seen. I was getting super claustrophobic seeing those plastic bags go over everyone’s heads.
  • SCIENTISTS: I know things got crazy at the end there, but how would you rank the science in Interstellar as a whole? On a level of “Armageddon drilling into a meteor” to Gene Roddenberry’s innermost thoughts, please. (NOTE: This was written just before a probe was landed on a freaking comet, so maybe Bay wasn’t so fa-hahahahahaha, no he’s terrible)