With cinematic gems like Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight & Inception already under his name, Christopher Nolan has risen exponentially through the ranks of American film industry as one of modern cinema’s finest auteurs working today and, in a career that spans just over 15 years, has already cemented an impressive legacy with an incredibly devoted fan following that’s pretty uncommon for the kind of stories he likes to tell on film canvas. Although his breakthrough came at the turn of the century with Memento, it wasn’t until The Dark Knight that Nolan became a household name & ever since, every subsequent film of his has been anticipated like a major cinematic event of its year. And today, he is one of the very few who gets to make his films however he wants to, with complete artistic control over his projects yet with a rare advantage of big-budget support from major Hollywood studios.
Truth be told, I was very skeptical about Interstellar before deciding to check it out on the big screen. The trailers released over the past few months weren’t as intriguing or exciting as I wanted them to be plus the critical reception the film got after its premiere was even more divisive than The Dark Knight Rises (Nolan’s worst & most flawed film to date, in my opinion) which as a result further dented my expectations, rather heavily. So I went in without expecting much, hoping to come out at least somewhat satisfied. However, very early into the screening I did find myself getting more n more immersed into its premise & over the next 3 hours, to my surprise, Interstellar turned out to be one of the most exhilarating cinematic experiences I’ve had at cinemas this year, for it is a very impressive & admirable work from the revered filmmaker who this time challenges his viewers unlike before with a narrative that will either be embraced or completely rejected.
The story of Interstellar is set in the near future & presents a world that is no longer able to sustain humanity. With humans having reverted back to an agrarian society yet seems to be heading towards inevitable extinction as more n more crops continue to get eliminated by dust, drought or disease, mankind’s last hope for survival ultimately appears in the form of a newly discovered wormhole which allows the possibility of intergalactic journeys through space. With limited time in their hands, a small team of space explorers is recruited & tasked with a mission to embark on an interstellar voyage into the unknown in search of a potentially habitable planet to ensure the continuity of humankind. Piloting the spacecraft is a former NASA employee who had no choice but to leave his family behind in order to secure their future which results in his daughter holding a grudge against him but this dynamic relationship between the two is the very core element which the film continues to revisit & explore throughout its runtime.
Valiantly directed by Christopher Nolan, any plot that deals with such vastly conceptual or theoretical ideas was always destined to garner a mixed reception from both critics & viewers and despite that, what really makes Interstellar work on most levels is Nolan’s innate ability to narrate a seemingly complex story in a very engrossing manner plus his confidence in the mainstream viewers who he believes are more willing to participate in a premise such as this if one knows how to approach them correctly. And even though by no means is this film his finest work to date, it certainly is the one that’s going to test the audience unlike any of his previous works have done before. As for me, Interstellar is an extremely ambitious & audacious effort which exhibits the best & worst of Christopher Nolan’s talents as a filmmaker, for the sense of warmth he is able to invoke through those awe-inspiring moments of beauty & wonder kind of gets nullified by the clunky & expository dialogues which unfortunately inhabit the whole picture.
Inspired by the works of Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist who also served as a scientific consultant on this project during its production, the first draft was penned down by Jonathan Nolan until his brother decided to take over the directorial duties & came up with his own ideas for the story which he later merged into the existing script. Now when it comes to outlining the plot structure or the style of narration, Nolan has time & again succeeded in keeping the viewers’ interest alive by implementing his stories like different pieces of the same puzzle which begin to merge together as plot progresses yet the one aspect of storytelling he continues to struggle with is in the use of subtext. Most of his films lack this element because he lets his characters explicitly explain almost everything to the audience instead of relying on visual motifs or symbolism, which on one hand does make his films more accessible to the mainstream viewers but on the other hand also ends up slightly diminishing their overall impact.
Coming to the technical aspects, Interstellar is a marvel from start to finish. The bleak future of the human race that’s on the verge of extinction is depicted in a very grounded manner while events unfolding in space manage to stay within the established realms of theoretical physics for the most part. The production design team does a marvellous job in carving up the film’s meticulously detailed set pieces & they are a sight to behold. Cinematography marks Nolan’s first collaboration with someone other than Wally Pfister but his absence is hardly felt as Hoyte van Hoytema effortlessly steps into his shoes & elegantly captures the film in all its magnificence while also making extensive use of IMAX photography to offer its images the highest resolution possible. Yet in a film that’s full of such breathtaking visuals, it’s heartbreaking that the camera never really takes a moment to sit back & admire those moments of dazzling beauty or let it tell its own story which somehow also exhibits Nolan’s shortcomings as a visual storyteller.
It’s no hidden fact that Christopher Nolan is a strong proponent of the now-endangered film stocks over digital format when it comes to shooting a film nor concealed is his preference for IMAX over 3D but there’s one more quality about him which I really admire & it’s his adamant insistence on capturing as much footage on camera as possible instead of relying on CGI when it comes to visual effects. Applied only when no other option seems viable enough, the CGI use is minimal in all his works and Interstellar is no exception, for it makes efficient use of miniatures & practical effects to enhance its visual presentation and the VFX team deserves kudos for what they are able to pull off here as the rendered sci-fi elements are absolutely gorgeous to look at without ever overshadowing the film’s events. Editing smartly intertwines & progresses the two segments taking place within the same story and despite its 169 minutes of runtime, it is able to keep the viewers’ attention transfixed on the silver screen for the most part.
Coming to the performances, Interstellar features a star-studded cast in Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Casey Affleck & Michael Caine while also including cameos from Matt Damon, Ellen Burstyn & Topher Grace. The year of 2013 was unquestionably the year of ‘The McConnaisance’, for we witnessed the second coming of McConaughey’s talents as an actor while he teared through the ranks of Hollywood stardom. Fantastic in the role of Cooper, McConaughey further solidifies his star status with an infectious screen presence but his performance is a mixed bag as he’s far more convincing as a father than as an astronaut. Anne Hathaway is quite bland as Amelia Brand and same goes for her father Prof. Brand, played by Michael Caine. Jessica Chastain & Mackenzie Foy are perhaps the only ones who manage to leave lasting impressions while TARS, an artificially intelligent robot (voiced by Bill Irwin), exhibits more character depth than its human counterparts.
Last but not the least, the one aspect I cherish the most about Interstellar is its spellbinding score, composed by Hans Zimmer. Introducing a significant shift in Zimmer’s composition style when compared to his previous collaborations with Nolan, the soundtrack of Interstellar exhibits a welcome change from those endless strings, energetic cues & heavy instrumentation as he delivers a score that feels wholly intimate, personal & mesmerising. Perfectly in tune with the events depicted, the pipe-organ heavy tracks drive the emotional aspects remarkably well & do a fascinating job in amplifying the cinematic experience immensely, thus marking another high in the glorious career of Hans Zimmer. The cheeky use of Apollo missions being a hoax rumour, the exquisite implementation of Dust Bowl incident in its post-apocalyptic premise & the many wonderful homages to cinema’s finest sci-fi classics do leave their little traces but the real highlight remains the film’s heartfelt rendition of a father-daughter relationship.
On an overall scale, Christopher Nolan’s ode to human spaceflight is a stellar work of science-fiction filmmaking that’s worthy of praise, admiration & appreciation for its ambition alone yet what stops the film from reaching the level of greatness it was aiming for is the lack of depth evident in its characters in comparison to the profundity present in its science, the insipid approach taken by portraying love as something that transcends both time & space which nearly destroys the whole picture, plus the final act which is one sequence that’s going to polarise most viewers. However, it’s the ‘overstaying its welcome’ element than the complexity of that particular sequence which is more bothersome, in my opinion. Not everyone is going to appreciate what Nolan aspires to do here but after the mishap that was his last movie, Interstellar comes as a respite that this gifted filmmaker is still capable of leaving us in a state of pure bliss. And now I can look forward to his future projects with a little more optimism.