Some movies add up to more than the sum of their parts, with good all-round qualities that come together in such a way to make a film that’s not just good, but great. Christopher Nolan’s latest film, the space epic Interstellar is one of them.
Although the premise of the film’s action is from the realm of science-fiction, the story itself is an intensely human one. Earth has become a more hostile place to live, with crops dying and food a scarce resource. Former fighter pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) lives with his family trying to make a living farming, but still with a penchant for science and exploring. His wife has died years before, and he is very close with his young daughter Murph. While looking into the causes behind a “ghost” in Murph’s room, he discovers what appears to be co-ordinates and goes out in search of them. What he finds is the remains of NASA, who are looking to mount a mission beyond the solar system in an attempt to find a new world where humanity can call home. What follows is Cooper and his crew’s journey into the stars, with the struggle between the future of humanity and Cooper’s desire to go home and see his daughter again being in sharp, illuminating focus.
Time-travel plays a big role in the film, and I think the way in which it’s handled is perhaps one of the film’s highlights. Travelling very quickly and near black holes slows down time for the space crew relative to Earth, and means that for every few hours that go by for the crew, years go by back on Earth. The story’s timeline is constructed well to deal with this, making the shock and surprise of the crew as they realise how long they have spent away feel real and tangible. This adds to their urgency, as it’s clear throughout that while Cooper knows his duty is to provide for humanity his only wish is to go back to Murph.
There’s no question that the film makes full use of its artistic license to make scientific leaps in the interests of a good story, but if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for the film you’ll find yourself drawn into it ever more. The focus of the film is not on the cosmic realm but the human connection that crosses it. As crew member Dr Brand (Anne Hathaway) says in a pivotal speech “love is the one thing that transcends time and space”, and the film does a fantastic job at realising that mantra. This is not a special effects gauntlet like Gravity was, this is a story set in space and not of it.
Matthew McConaughey once again proves his acting chops with a stellar (sorry) performance in the lead role. His character is likeable, and with his mission we can all empathise deeply, but also one that has the experience and knowledge for the situations in which he finds himself – something that is subtly referenced throughout the film. When he breaks down while watching videos from Earth, seeing his children’s lives unfold before him, it’s a truly emotional scene. Anne Hathaway is also excellent, with her performance as the young Dr Brand, the only woman sent on the Endurance’s long journey into the unknown. Jessica Chastain also provides a star turn as the grown-up Murph, portraying the mix of hope and despair that run in equal measures very well.
It’s not a perfect film, with some sideplots and motivations not explored fully, some of the dialogue lacking the drama it might otherwise have needed and an ending that almost tries to do too much, but these misgivings are almost inevitable with a film of such grandeur and scope.
The overall effect of Interstellar is a sort of awe at what you have just seen. It’s not perfect, but the way in which the sheer amount of different ‘moving parts’ in the film that come together to complement each other is impressive in of itself. There’s movies that will be more action-packed, movies that are more emotional, movies that have better visuals but there’s not many that will hit all three out of the park, and out of this world in the way that Interstellar does.