Earth is a perilous place. Humanity continues to plunder its resources in the attempt to become masters of our domain, and we continue on our eons-long path of attempting to destroy one another. While we are plundering and destroying, nature reveals its upper hand. Yet, despite everything, there are a select few upon which we can hang our hopes, and who can perhaps usher us into a new era through acts of bravery and exploration. This is the dream in Christopher Nolan’s gorgeous space drama, Interstellar. In Nolan’s future Earth, the dire consequences created by humanity’s reckless stewardship of our pale blue dot have reached its apex, and it isn’t good. Food has become scarce, decimated by blight. Luckily, beings with unimaginable knowledge of the mysterious mechanisms of the universe have created a wormhole next to Saturn to whisk us away from our dying planet to colonizable planets elsewhere.
As is true with most of Nolan’s movies, Interstellar is a universe unto its own. Complete with bracing cinematography and a jarring, pulsating score by Hans Zimmer score propelling along Nolan’s usual escalating, harmonic tension. It is the stuff we go to see Christopher Nolan movies for—magnificent optical and aural landscapes that make art out of familiar tropes.
On one level, it is a heroically realistic tale of space exploration, and the idea that humanity must go to the stars if it wishes to continue its existence (cue endless Jean-Luc Picard references). On another level, it’s a story about father-daughter relationships, as well as a meditation on the human spirit and what can occur when humans take their eyes off the stars and keep them tunneled to profit and expansion. Blended between truly phenomenal imagery lies a heavy-handed mix of personal sacrifice metaphor and convoluted theoretical physics doesn’t leave much room for nuanced storytelling. Is it a movie about time? Gravity? Multiple Dimensions? Blackholes? While all these quantum capers are portrayed, we barely get enough time to delve into anything more than a Carlos Castenada hypothesis. More than anything, this is a movie that wants to focus on love. Transcendent, all consuming love that evolves into a coercive metaphor for every narrative thread of this film. While love is a wonderful, commendable thing, it should be nary a whisper here. In one scene, a dolorous Anne Hathaway (playing some kind of planetary scientist? It’s unclear) mentions that perhaps the crew should do away with all this science crap and think more metaphysically—perhaps the fifth dimension is LOVE. If we silly humans think beyond our numbers and our drive for hard answers and accept that maybe LOVE has brought us here…what? Love is the fifth dimension? This swerve into the mawkish, and truly dull esoteric hogwash begins to unravel an already convoluted, disjointed plot. And boo to Nolan for providing Anne Hathaway with the film’s most contrived monologue. There are other red flags here—warning, spoiler ahead!—such as Michael Caine somehow being the only brilliant physicist on the planet left in charge of an underground NASA. Matthew McConaughey shines as the roughneck Coop, and the film’s most poignant and simple expression of tenderness is when he watches video dispatches from his children, decades of them, from a distant earth.
The combination of Nolan’s exceptional visual and world building prowess coupled with superstar theoretical physicist Kip Thorne’s hand in directing the science, has had me filled with great anticipation as to how these two men of imagination would craft this film. Full disclosure, I am a flagrant and wholly unrepentant sucker for a good space opera. And in one sense, Nolan delivers with bells on. As I have mentioned, the creation of the universe beyond the wormhole (not to mention the jaw-dropping wormhole itself) is so stunning my eyes welled with tears. Side note: if any of you have some time, look up how they created the effects, it is fascinating and I wish had ten more pages to discuss them. However, even this cannot save Interstellar from itself. The film pays particular homage to that other blockbuster space opera, 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet could can’t even be claimed as some kind of 2001:A Space Odyssey-lite. Clocking in at almost three hours, Interstellar’s moments of incredible magnitude and wonder cannot ballast the multitudes of storytelling Nolan wants to convey to his audience.
Art is also a perilous thing and Nolan wants more than art; he wants to say something. He desperately wants to agitate and electrify our souls like he does our senses. Regrettably, we are left scratching our heads not at the physics of Einstein’s relativity, but at a confused and rambling narrative »
– Rachael Haigh