Andrew D Duffy
Film Review: Interstellar
Director: Christopher Nolan
Story: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine
“I don’t think I’m going to be able to look away from the sky for about 10 or 15 years.”
That’s the first thing I said to my brother upon emerging from the evening showing of Interstellar at the Glasgow Imax. It followed about a minute and a half of the two of us just laughing and grinning, gleefully, at what we’d just seen.
The Science-Fiction Odyssey from Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception director Christopher Nolan, starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and, of course, Michael Caine, Nolan’s lucky charm.
I expected this to be a good picture. I expected a smart, thought-provoking, immersive experience of a film, one that makes an almighty impression on the viewer.
It’s fair to say that I got much, much more than I bargained for.
Interstellar takes place in an imagined near future, a world where so much has gone wrong. Blight, a fungal infection which has had devastating impact on crops before, has here savaged the food sources of the Earth. The human race have been left with little option than to tend crops, corn serving as the last remaining food stuffs.
Interstellar’s dystopian future feels logical. More often than not these futures come with all sorts of advanced technological gadgetry, ignoring the demonstrable fact that technological advancement goes hand in hand with progress. It is the turning away from technology, from advancement, that has led in no small part to the blighted world we find in Interstellar.
Humanity has turned inward, forsaking mechanical progression and, most of all, space exploration. Instead, this “caretaker” generation farms, with minimal mechanised aid.
Here, the damnation of the world is slow, gradual. It feels lived in, a wearied resignation having settled across the planet and its populace. Even Cooper, McConaughey’s former pilot and engineer, feels able to muster no more than the frustration of deep regret;
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt”.
This is a world where the Apollo Moon landings are denied by history books, where the barrenness of the land is matched by the barrenness of ambition. It’s a refreshingly convincing take on a world on the brink of apocalypse, one that feels thought through, considered and logical, making it all the more terrifying.
If you squint your eyes, you can just about believe it.
Nolan’s movies have been somewhat pigeonholed as “realistic”, but that’s an oversimplification. What Nolan does, particularly in this film, is to say this isn’t what would happen, this couldn’t happen and anything close to this won’t happen exactly like this. But if it did? Here’s how it might look, here’s how we might react and, most importantly of all, here’s how it might feel.
That’s what makes it so interesting, that’s what makes it so engaging, so powerful, so moving.
What most have picked up on about Interstellar, quite understandably, are the extraordinary visuals. Truly, the film is a treat for the eyes. Granted, one would expect a science fiction film to push the visuals, but the feast for the eyes here extends beyond the cosmic.
You could happily watch Cooper and his children race through the corn-fields as they track a Drone all film, so lush are the colours and swooping the camera work. You could stare endlessly in morbid wonder as the dirt clouds loom ominously over the landscape. The alien worlds of crashing waves and crystalline ice are absolutely gorgeous, splendidly realised.
Yet it is undeniably the scenes of space travel itself which will linger longest in the memory.
Nolan, a long-term advocate of Imax technology, takes full advantage of the expansive canvass it offers the filmmaker.
An infinitesimally tiny craft, nothing more than a speck of light, sails across an ocean of stars, upon the crest of a wave at the furthest edge of a planet. The vista, looking for all the world like a painting that dances, is accompanied by silence. Total silence.
And an entire audience was mesmerised. You could feel it, sense it, taste it in the air. We were all, to a man, woman and child, completely captivated.
Beyond the visuals, the astounding visuals, Interstellar offers up a story that never shirks away from asking big questions, making big statements and even providing a few big answers. Indeed, it’s relishes the scale of the philosophical ramifications of its story, which is so refreshing in the current climate of insubstantial if generally entertaining “banter” blockbusters.
That’s not to say Jonathan Nolan’s script gazes longingly at its navel. Interstellar certainly kept the audience entertained. Absolute engagement was the order of the day. It’s just that Interstellar entertains whilst simultaneously addressing some fundamental issues about the nature of humanity and our place in the universe. Who are we, where have we been and where are we going?
It’s one thing to write witty dialogue and pithy banter tailor made for putting on a t-shirt. It’s something else entirely to write a script which plants ideas in the mind.
Interstellar is a timely reminder that we need to have a mass redefining of what qualifies as science fiction. No longer can it be that anything set at all in space, or in the future, is described as such. In truth, it never should have been.
Science Fiction takes scientific theory, matches it up with philosophical treatise and/or metaphorical examination of moral quandaries and packages it up with a big, entertaining and visually arresting bow. Fantasy space adventures are all well and good, but they don’t fit that bill. Nor do they have to, but it’s right to have the distinction.
Interstellar is Science Fiction. Sure, it plays it fast and loose with the scientific theories of Kip Thorne and Stephen Hawking. Sure, it manipulates the circumstances of the story to make very deliberate points about the current direction of popular opinion. It’s also the most blatantly ‘messagey’ of Nolan’s movies thus far.
Yet at its heart is, well, a heart; an intensely emotional experience beautifully played out by the stellar cast. McConaughey in particular puts in a heart-wrenching performance.
So get your thinking cap’s on, sure, but be just as sure to secure your socks, and do your best to take in an Imax showing.
Science Fiction is well and truly back. Good to see you, old friend. You’ve rarely looked better.