This past week I was finally able to get out to the cinema again, where I managed to catch Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. The film follows former NASA pilot Cooper (McConaughey) in a future decimated by “blight” — an affliction that has been laying waste to crops on a global scale. After receiving coordinates in binary — transmitted via gravity waves by an unknown intelligence — Cooper rediscovers NASA and their plan to launch a mission through a wormhole in space to try and find a new planet for humanity. They recruit Cooper to pilot the spacecraft Endurance along with a team of scientists, forcing him to leave his family behind with the hope of securing their future.
I’ve been a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s films so far, having seen Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, and Inception and enjoyed them all very much. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Interstellar, however, especially considering how action-filled many of Nolan’s films are. I knew the premise, but wasn’t sure how much was actually going to be space exploration, and how much would be on Earth.
Right off the bat, I was very pleased to find out how closely the film appeared to be trying to stick to reality. The desolated future they live in felt realistic and believable, in a scary way, while at the same time sticking more to science fiction. On the one hand, I could see our world going in that way somehow, but on the other hand it did not feel overblown or preachy about it. It didn’t say “This is where we’re heading,” so much as paint a picture of what our world could be like with less resources — which is still a very real concern.
The intense realism wasn’t just on Earth, but also in how much of the space travel was depicted. I was pleased to see that instead of a lot of dazzling CGI shots of their ship flying through space, we were treated to a more realistic presentation. Many shots display the exterior of the ship with a static camera as it travels, as if there is literally one fixed in place to the exterior, much in the same way we catch glimpses of space in reality. There are a number of wide-angle shots depicting the Endurance as it travels as well, but they don’t take away from the illusion of realistic space exploration.
The treatment of space in the film is something I found very effective. It treats it with a very sublime quality by presenting it as vast and awesome, yet empty and terrifying. Many shots where the “camera” is in space are without any audio at all, creating a very haunting effect. I got a very strong sense of the terror and bravery it would take to actually venture out into space. I don’t personally know what the film may or may not have gotten wrong scientifically, but I have heard they tried to make it as close to realistic as possible, and for the most part it felt like a genuine attempt to do so.
While I found the idea of realistic space exploration captivating in its own way, I truly got invested in the story because of the characters and their relationships. McConaughey did a fantastic job portraying the lead character, torn between pursuing something greater than his mundane life and securing a future for his family, and actually being there for them during their lives. Murphy Cooper, Cooper’s 10 year old daughter, played a big role in this conflict, as she was understandably devastated over her father leaving. This tension between the lives of the present and fighting for the future helped to create some truly heart wrenching scenes that I won’t soon forget.
Despite my love for the film, I did have a few minor problems with it. Firstly, I found NASA’s decision to recruit Cooper and his decision in turn to go along to be a little too rushed. The film was ultimately about space travel, so what mattered was getting to that point, but I do wish that it was done with a little more narrative elegance. It just didn’t feel things naturally flowed toward that necessary plot point.
I found a big aspect of the plot to be predictable, as well. It may be because I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who (sorry), but I was able to pick up on what kind of conclusion they were heading toward simply by catching the signs in the first act. This didn’t really take away from the overall experience, and is a more personal gripe than any actual flaw, but I thought it warranted pointing out.
Lastly, the movie did feel its length at times, which I feel may have been a result of the film cutting a little too often between the events happening in space and the events back on Earth. At certain points I understand why this was necessary, but at others I felt it took away from otherwise engaging scenes, making them feel more drawn out than would have been without interruption.
Despite my criticisms, however, I found Interstellar to be a phenomenal piece of filmmaking and easily one of Christopher Nolan’s best works. When compared to films like Guardians of the Galaxy and the new Star Trek movies it is a lot more grounded in reality than audiences may expect, but if you love good science fiction as well as emotional, dramatic stories, then Interstellar shouldn’t disappoint.