Interstellar is an imaginative movie, but a heavy-handed mix of personal sacrifice and theoretical physics doesn’t leave much room for subtle storytelling.
In the not-too-distant future of Interstellar, Earth has been ravaged by an environmental disaster known as the Blight – forcing humanity to abandon technology and the dreams of discovery, in order to focus on basic survival. To that end, former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a widowed father of two, is now a farmer tasked with growing one of the planet’s last remaining sustainable crops: corn. In a time when humankind has been asked to put aside personal desire in the interest of a greater good, Cooper has attempted to make peace with farm life, providing for his teenage children, Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy), as well as his aging father-in-law (John Lithgow). Yet, even as conditions become increasingly dire on Earth, Cooper’s thirst for scientific discovery remains.
However, when Cooper is reunited with an old colleague, Professor Brand (Michael Caine), he is offered a new chance to fulfill an old ambition. Informed that the situation on Earth is much more serious than he previously knew, Cooper is asked to leave his family behind (in an increasingly dangerous world) and set out on an uncertain journey into space – to find humankind a new planet.
Director Christopher Nolan has built a career on cerebral storytelling – starting with his feature debut, Following, in 1998. Since that time, the filmmaker has delivered one thought-provoking drama after another (Insomnia, Memento, The Prestige, and Inception) – while also setting a new bar for comic book adaptations with a contemplative three-film exploration of Batman (and his iconic villains). As a result, it should come as no surprise that Nolan’s Interstellar offers another brainy (and visually arresting) moviegoing experience – one that will, very likely, appeal to his base (those who spent hours pouring over minute details in the director’s prior works); however, it may not deliver the same casual appeal that made Inception and The Dark Knight cross-demographic hits.
Interstellar is an imaginative movie, but a heavy-handed mix of personal sacrifice and theoretical physics doesn’t leave much room for subtle storytelling (or particularly memorable action). For a film that is rooted in the love between a father and his daughter, Interstellar offers surprisingly cold (and often stiff) drama – albeit drama that is buoyed by high-minded science fiction scenarios and arresting visuals. Nolan relies heavily on lengthy scenes of surface-level exposition, where characters debate or outright explain complicated physics and philosophical ideas, to educate the audience and ruminate on humanity (both good and bad) in the face of death and destruction.
It’s a smart foundation to juxtapose personal desire and our place in the larger universe – as well as evolved levels of understanding we have yet to achieve – but unlike Nolan’s earlier works, the filmmaker’s passion is most apparent in his science (based on the theories of physicist Kip Thorne) – rather than his characters. This isn’t to say that Interstellar doesn’t provide worthwhile drama, but there’s a stark contrast between the lofty spacetime theories and the often melodramatic characters that populate the story.
Viewers who reveled in McConaughey’s philosophical musings on True Detective will find the actor treading similar territory as Cooper. McConaughey ensures his lead character is likable as well as relatable, and manages to keep exposition-heavy scenes engaging. Still, despite a 169 minute runtime, Interstellar never really develops its central heroes beyond anything but static outlines – and Cooper is no exception. Viewers will root for him, and come to understand what he cherishes and believes about humanity, but any major revelations come from what happens to him – not necessarily what he brings to the table or how he evolves through his experiences.
The same can be said with regard to the supporting cast. Everyone involved provides a quality turn in their respective roles, but they’re shackled by straightforward arcs – limited exposition machines that add to the film’s thematic commentary and/or advance the plot, but aren’t particularly well-realized or as impactful as Nolan intends. To that end, in a cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, and Matt Damon, two of the most memorable characters are actually non-humans – quadrilateral-shaped robots, TARS and CASE, that aid the crew on their adventure (and inject much-needed humor into the proceedings).
Interstellar is also playing in IMAX theaters and the added charge is definitely recommended. Much of the film was shot with actual IMAX cameras and the filmmaker makes worthwhile use out of the increased screen space and immersive sound – especially when the crew visits alien worlds. IMAX won’t be a must for all viewers, but given that the film’s visuals (many of which relied on practical sets and effects) are one of Interstellar‘s biggest selling points, moviegoers who are excited about Nolan’s latest project shouldn’t hesitate in purchasing a premium ticket.
Casual filmgoers who were wowed by the director’s recent filmography may find that Interstellar isn’t as accessible as Nolan’s prior blockbuster movies – and dedicates too much time unpacking dense scientific theories. Nevertheless, while the movie might not deliver as much action and humor as a typical Hollywood space adventure, the filmmaker succeeds in once again producing a thought-provoking piece of science fiction. For fans who genuinely enjoy cerebral films that require some interpretation, Interstellar should offer a satisfying next installment in Nolan’s well-respected career.
That said, for viewers who are simply looking to get lost in a thrilling adventure with memorable characters (from the director of Inception and The Dark Knight), Interstellar may not provide enough traditional entertainment value to balance out its brainy scientific theorizing. On many levels, it’s a very good film, but Interstellar could leave certain moviegoers underwhelmed – and feeling as though they are three-dimensional beings grasping for straws in a five-dimensional movie experience.
Interstellar runs 169 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language. Now playing in IMAX theaters with a full release Friday, November 7th.
Confused about Interstellar‘s ending? Read our Interstellar Ending & Space Travel Explained article.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Interstellar Spoilers Discussion. For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Interstellar episode of the Screen Rant Underground Podcast.
Agree or disagree with the review? Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick to let me know what you thought of Interstellar.
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