If there's a director that seems to exist for the sole purpose of making movies that I want to see, it's Christopher Nolan. His films mix the fantastic with the gritty in powerful and awe-inspiring ways, and I have yet to see a film he's written and directed that I didn't love. Like most moviegoers, I discovered Nolan from his work on The Dark Knight trilogy, one of the best film series of all time. But when you go backwards in his career to a film like Momento, which didn't have a huge budget but made up for it with its creativity. Compare that to his more recent films like Inception, and it's clear that the Hollywood system hasn't corrupted him just yet. Here's hoping it never does.
Written by Nolan (and his brother Jonathan), Interstellar tells an ambitious story taking place in the not-too-distant future, where we meet a farmer named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). He's not exactly a farmer by choice; the world is in a horrible dust bowl, with government all but collapsed and most people starving to death. The widowed Cooper raises his two children, Murphey (Mackenzie Foy, and later Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Timothée Chalamet and later Casey Affleck), in horrible, dust-filled conditions while fighting nightmares from his experiences as a NASA copilot. Due to strange circumstances, he and Murphey discover that NASA, long thought to out of commission, has been operating in secret, and has plans to save the human race. Cooper must abandon his family in order to go far off into space to find out if there may be an inhabitable planet through a wormhole near Saturn that seems to have been placed there on purpose by beings unknown. He's joined by other scientists on this mission, including Amelia (Anne Hathaway), who's father (Michael Caine) is the brains behind the operation.
Interstellar is a wild ride. Whether you're catapulting through wormholes, blasting off of planets, or trying to escape miles-high ocean waves, Interstellar thrills while offering thought-provoking science fiction. There's so much I loved about the movie, but let's start with the special effects. Nolan has a history of utilizing practical effects over CGI in his films, and I absolutely love him for that. When this ship flies through space, you don't doubt for a second that it could be real. Camera angles and composition give an authenticity to the visuals that has hardly been seen in a space movie outside of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Using models, rear projection, and animatronic robots, Interstellar is so much more impressive to look at and feels more authentic than any Marvel movie that resorts to glossy CGI for the disgusting majority of its visual effects. There are some scenes where CGI was obviously used, but each instance was justified (I don't imagine the actors would have appreciated being subjected to an actual sandstorm).
The space scenes aren't the only bits that impress; the scenes on Earth are shot in wonderfully gritty and lived-in sets, the cinematography is dynamic, and the colors are bleak but never dull. Shot by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (who shot last year's Her), and eerily scored by Hans Zimmer, Interstellar's sensory experience is truly gut punch, in a good way. Seeing this at the Lincoln Center IMAX theater in New York was the best way to go, as the 70mm film print was so unbelievably clear and beautiful that I thought the screen swallowed me at one point. And look Ma, no 3D glasses! Just pure, absorbing filmmaking. Although, I should not that though I loved Zimmer's funeral-like scoring, it was mixed poorly with the dialogue. There were multiple times that I couldn't hear lines because of the booming music, and I'm not the only one who noticed it.
McConaughey, Hathaway, Chastain, Foy, and Caine all deliver first-rate performances that lend the film some much needed human emotion. McConaughey in particular delivers a phenomenal performance that lends weight to an otherwise underwritten character, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised if he gets an Oscar nomination. The Nolan brothers tend to write characters that have cold detachments towards one another, and often to serve the stories quite well. However, here the human connections get a bit more prominence, and while the film isn't 100% successful in wringing out the tear ducts, the characters' love for one another is enough to keep us invested. There are moments when cold detachment rears its ugly head in a few crucial scenes. Sometime down the line I'll write a spoiler-heavy review to explain what I mean. Let's just say that at one point during the second act, some guy needed a hug very badly, and he didn't get one.
While conceptually the script is very creative and thought-provoking, there are certain points where Interstellar is needlessly confusing (What!? A Chirstopher Nolan movie confusing?! Get outta here fool!). Once again, I might wait for a more spoiler heavy review to really get into the specifics, but I can say that even if I wasn't exactly sure what was going on at any point, the film remained gripping. I could get invested in this movie at any point because of how well it's made over all, and that's a testament to the production crew more so than the writing. I actually can't wait to see the movie again so that I can pay better attention and hopefully come away with a clearer understanding about what the film is trying to say, because as of now, it could be multiple things. One theme that stands out the strongest to me is that love can transcend the boundaries of space, time, and death.
I can't recommend Interstellar enough, and to quote the infamous Tommy Wiseu, you have to see it "at least twice." It's one of those movie experiences that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, with the least amount of liquid drank before you go in because this thing is long. I can't say I'm complaining about the length, because I was so engrossed in the production design that I hardly noticed the time passing. It's sci-fi done right, and while it is influenced by just about every major sci-fi film in history in some way, it has enough of its own style to warrant it a place right alongside them.