Film review: Stellar space work, but it needs more room for thought
Over the last two decades, Christopher Nolan has risen to become an independent voice working with remarkably little studio interference. His name is synonymous with big budget spectacles fuelled by a keen intellect rather than merchandising. He’s sometimes accused of coldness, but emotions often drive narratives that avoid overt sentimentality and rarely feel superfluous or tacked on.
Not an era to be a fussy eater
In a near future, our planet has become a dustbowl with constant drought and pestilence threatening the survival of the human race. The year is unspecified, but while the clothing is decidedly contemporary, some of the tech is not (they have wonderfully designed robots). Every so often, a new strain of bacteria kills off crops, forcing mankind to depend on an ever-decreasing range of food types.
Like many others, Cooper (McConaughey), a widower and former-astronaut, has abandoned his profession to dedicate himself full-time to agriculture. He, his father, his son and young daughter are now corn farmers – that is, until one mysterious event causes Cooper to rediscover the supposedly defunct NASA, now operating in secrecy. He’s been chosen to lead a team of scientists to new, potentially habitable worlds via a wormhole that has appeared near Saturn.
Exposure: both good and bad
Matthew McConaughey can barely put a foot wrong these days, but there’s a sense here, in the first half, that either we’re suffering from over exposure to him or he’s getting tired of himself. The trademark syrupy drawl that served him so well for all his murmured metaphysical monologuing in True Detective occasionally feels like an overly familiar crutch leaned on too heavily – and at times it’s frustratingly inaudible.
However, these are minor quibbles. As the film hits its stride, surging spacewards, any reservations are erased by McConaughey who carries this gargantuan picture on his pointy shoulders.
Interstellar is Nolan’s most ambitious film to date with a canvas so broad that he should be commended for having used all of it – which he does, creating some truly unforgettable imagery.
It’s also his most emotional film as he grounds this vertigo-inducing space spectacle in the bond between father and daughter and asks, among other high-minded questions, if love is a quantifiable force. The problem lies not in Nolan daring to pose such existential conundrums, it’s that he attempts to solve – and resolve – them for us.
Doesn’t quite reach the stars
Although the first two thirds of the film launch into a dizzying sense of wonder, the final act struggles to land. This sets Interstellar down in an awkward place, somewhere between Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey and Peter Hyams’ underrated sequel, 2010. Hyams’ project had less ambitious goals than its predecessor, but he achieved them admirably, whereas Kubrick set out to make a masterpiece and succeeded spectacularly.
Reading Clarke’s novel (written in tandem with Kubrick’s script) highlights the reason for which 2001: A Space Odyssey continues to find an audience – and always will. Where Clarke is intent on explaining away his mythology, however successfully, Kubrick understood the value of leaving room for interpretation and maintaining a sense of wonder, without ever pandering to his audience – right up to the final frame. For this reason, Interstellar is a very good film that falls short of its obvious goal: to be great.
Dir: Christopher Nolan; US sci-fi, 169 mins; Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
Premiered November 6