Film review: Interstellar

A celestial warmth shines through Interstellar, which is, at heart, a father-daughter tale grandly spun across a cosmic tapestry.
Mackenzie Foy, left, plays the young daughter of Matthew McConaughey, right, who stars as a former Nasa pilot in Interstellar. Paramount Pictures
Mackenzie Foy, left, plays the young daughter of Matthew McConaughey, right, who stars as a former Nasa pilot in Interstellar. Paramount Pictures

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy

Four stars

Since his breakthrough with the backward-running Memento, Christopher Nolan has made a plaything of time. In Interstellar, he slips into its very fabric, shaping its flows and exploding its particles. It’s an absurd endeavour. And it’s one of the most sublime movies of the decade.

As our chief large-canvas illusionist, Nolan’s kaleidoscope puzzles have often dazzled more than they have moved, prizing brilliant, hocus-pocus architecture over emotional interiors.

But a celestial warmth shines through Interstellar, which is, at heart, a father-daughter tale grandly spun across a cosmic tapestry.

There is turbulence along the way. Interstellar is overly explanatory about its physics, its dialogue can be clunky and you may want to send the composer Hans Zimmer’s relentless organ into deep space. But if you take these for blips rather than black holes, the majesty of Interstellar is something to behold.

The film opens in the near future where a new kind of Dust Bowl, one called “the blight”, brings crop-killing storms upon the Midwest farm of the engineer-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his children, 10-year-old Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and 15-year-old Tom (Timothéze Chalamet).

In this imperilled climate, space exploration is viewed as part of the “excess” of the 20th century and textbooks claim that the moon landings were faked. But Cooper, a former Nasa pilot, still believes in science’s capacity for greatness.

Nolan shoots for the stars, literally and cinematically, when Cooper’s curiosity leads him to a secret Nasa lair run by Dr Brand (Michael Caine). Large-scale dreaming has gone underground. The scientists enlist Cooper to pilot a desperate mission through a wormhole to follow an earlier expedition that may have found planets capable of sustaining human life.

Interstellar is a trip, for sure, but it’s not a supernatural one. There are no aliens bursting out of bellies or monument-blasting battles with extraterrestrials – it’s all about us humans.

Cooper’s crew includes Brand’s daughter (Anne Hathaway), a pair of researchers (a wonderful David Gyasi and Wes Bentley) and a robot named TARS – it’s what the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey would be like if it were a shape-shifting Transformer.

What happens when their space ship, Endurance, passes through the wormhole? For starters, Nolan and his cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema, conjure beautiful galactic imagery, contorting space and, eventually, dimensions.

What Nolan is really doing is dropping countless big ideas – science, survival, exploration, love – into a cosmic blender and seeing what retains its meaning out there in the heavenly abyss.

As in The Dark Knight, Nolan doesn’t investigate all of the philosophical questions so much as juggle them in an often dazzling, but occasionally frustratingly incomplete way.

But Interstellar remains tethered to Earth, toggling between barren, otherworldly landscapes and life back home on an increasingly uninhabitable planet where Murph, now played by Jessica Chastain, has grown up to be a physicist trying to solve an essential equation.

More than anything, Interstellar makes you feel the great preciousness of time, a resource as valuable as oxygen. A wasted few hours on a planet where relative time accelerates, costs the astronauts decades. Returning to the ship, Cooper watches videos of his kids growing up before his eyes and weeps uncontrollably.

All of the visual awe, the quantum mathematics, the seeming complexity of the hugely ambitious film is just stardust clouding the orbit between a dad and his daughter.

While most science fiction withers out in space, Interstellar rockets home.

Published: November 5, 2014 04:00 AM

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