Interstellar (2014)

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Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan

Rated R

Matthew McConaughey as Cooper
Anne Hathaway as Amelia Brand
Jessica Chastain as Murphy “Murph” Cooper (adult)
Mackenzie Foy as Murph (child)
Michael Caine as Professor John Brand
Casey Affleck as Tom Coopeer (adult)
John Lithgow as Donald
Topher Grace as Getty
Wes Bentley as Doyle
David Gyasi as Romilly
Bill Irwin as TARS (voice)
Josh Stewart as CASE (voice)

Christopher Nolan has openly stated he was deeply influenced by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s even a robot, like 2001’s HAL-9000, which also seems to have a personality. Interstellar could be Nolan’s ode to great science fiction epics like 2001 and Star Wars. But it stands on its own as deeply involving, vastly ambitious film about the ongoing questions of the universe: creation, man’s connectedness to one another, forgiveness, and the unknown. Nolan’s success with The Dark Knight trilogy has given him exposure to richest of cinematic resources - the best effects, the great score, an A-list cast: all set against the backdrop of a screenplay he penned with his brother Christopher.

Nolan had the good fortune to cast Matthew McConaughey, never hotter than after his Academy Award-winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club and an acclaimed performance on HBO’s True Detective. McConaughey is highly effective and well-cast in his role as former astronaut Cooper, a widower raising teenage Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and young Murph (Mackenzie Fey). Mankind’s legacy is at stake, thanks to a crop blight that has caused civilization to regress into a failing agrarian society. Cooper is recruited by Dr. Brand (frequent Nolan collaborator Michael Caine) has detected three possible worlds where mankind may survive. Brand needs Cooper to join his biologist daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) to determine whether or not any of these three worlds is inhabitable. If so, humans can follows on space stations. Nolan’s script is sharp and incisive, explaining the wormhole that could lead to a hopeful future, just as mankind is dooming itself with a planet that is poorly maintained, and an education system that feeds wild fabrications to children.

Cooper’s resolve to leave his children with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) causes a deep rift with Murph. Father and daugher have been trying to understand coded messages being sent to Murph, which ultimately leads to Cooper’s fateful meeting with Dr. Brand. He agrees to the mission, and soon Cooper and Amelia board the spaceship Endurance, with fellow scientists Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Betley); and the robots TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart). These robots, by the way, are decidedly more human than HAL-9000, who menaced the astronauts in 2001. The three worlds, apparently created by extraterrestrials, are named Miller, Edmonds, and Mann, named for the astronauts that founded or surveyed them. They orbit a black hole named Gargantua, but one of the worlds’ proximity to Gargantua poses an alarming dilemma: there is a severe gravitational time dilation, meaning each hour on the surface is seven years on Earth. Here, the narrative shifts from an explanatory set up to a series of riveting action sequences.

One of the astronauts has even survived, and the mission of the Endurance crew will be forever altered after encountering him (he’s played by an unbilled actor). This is the film’s only real throwaway sequence. It could have been condensed or altered, but Nolan doesn’t like to leave anything on the cutting board. Given Interstellar is unlike 2001 in that it does have a clear, straightforward narrative, the conflict with this astronaut stalls the momentum, and we get a sequence that seems like it was just played on screens last year in the tighter, tauter Gravity. But there are few similarities between Interstellar and Gravity, aside from a masterful sense of space as an eternal enigma: lonely, cold, unknown, and infinite.

Nolan’s film is a technical achievement in every sense of the idea, but it’s also a powerful and meditative human drama. McConaughey does some of his finest work here, continuing to fulfill the promise of his incredible work in recent years. Watching Cooper view his children via video feed, we understand his sense of loss, love, and despair is palpable. It’s one of his best performances. Hathaway is a broken-hearted astronaut, burying herself in the promise of these new worlds, the result of seeds planted by her brilliant father, who may not be what he seems. This is Hathaway’s first role since her richly deserved Academy Award-winning role in 2012’s Les Misérables, and it’s a wise and understated performance. I was reminded of her sublime turn in 2008’s Rachel Getting Married, and her Amelia Brand character is another deeply realized triumph from one of the best actresses of her generation.

Meanwhile, Jessica Chastain continues her red-hot track record, which began in 2011 with The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and The Help, the latter of which brought her a first career Oscar nomination. Chastain is nothing less than brilliant as the adult Murph. We see the bond with her father has been eroded by his absence and abrupt departure. Chastain deftly portrays the soaring intelligence of a grown woman following in her father’s professional footsteps, juxtaposed with the brokenness of a little girl, left with unanswered questions from a father she idolized. It’s a small supporting role, but Chastain vibrantly brings her character to life with complexity and verve.

The climax of the astronaut’s journey is as powerful and amazing as any film sequence I have seen this year. Nolan bravely explores how our worlds connect with others, daring to address the connection between the fourth and fifth dimension. It’s clear that Nolan and his brother are believers that we are not alone on this planet, a widely believed principle among those in the metaphysical community. But the Nolan brothers have culminated the journey of Cooper and the Endurance with a stunning culmination that bridges the gap in such an eloquent way, and the results are profoundly moving. The backdrop of these moments, and the rest of the film, are set against Hans Zimmer’s score, which is as glorious and staggering as any film score you’re likely to hear this year.

The film’s final moments are devoted to standard Nolan twists, which are foreshadowed early in the movie (really, do we think a legendary Oscar-winner will only get a few seconds of screen time with no payoff?). But the plot’s narrative works so effectively, the Nolan touches are well-earned by the end of the film. Nolan often throws in everything but the kitchen sink. Of his recent work, I admired and enjoyed Inception, but I found The Dark Knight Rises to be an overwrought misfire, especially given it followed the magnificent The Dark Knight. He has clearly come into his own here. He may have arguably made his masterpiece with Interstellar, a film that will long be admired for years to come. It stands apart from its influences: it maintains a fascinating narrative, in contrast to the non-linear, non-narrative styles of 2001 and Terence Mallick’s The Tree of Life. It doesn’t have the space opera exhilaration of Star Wars, but make no mistake: Interstellar is an illuminating and exhilarating cinematic experience.

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