interstellar review
© Warner Bros.

Interstellar

2014
Dir: Christopher Nolan

From Here to Paternity

The key characteristic of a Christopher Nolan film is an atmosphere of gaining momentum. From simple foundations events steadily unfold, evenly building pace towards a revelatory but equally measured crescendo. Interstellar is his latest ascendant project and promises to launch us on the most far-reaching journey yet.

In the near future, ex-NASA pilot and single parent farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) scratches out a living for his young family harvesting the dying Earth’s scant resources. Farming has become the dominant industry; the most noble, altruistic calling left to those who number the planet’s final generations. It’s a desperate living blighted further by the colossal dust storms that ravage the landscape. Investigating strange gravitational patterns in the residue after one such storm lead father and daughter to a hidden NASA compound. Within, ageing astrophysicist Professor Brand (Michael Caine) tells of a newly discovered wormhole. It’s a potential gateway to numerous planets offering hope of habitation. Hope of survival for humanity. If only he had someone to helm a mission to explore it. Someone with just the ‘right stuff’ Cooper embodies…

The initial marvel of Nolan’s Escher-like puzzle box is young Murph. Mackenzie Foy’s heartfelt performance is immediately engaging. When she faces her dad’s departure, without warning we are immersed in an enormously affecting scene. An unexpectedly strong emotional punch that’s disquieting to take so early in the tale, it casts a long(ing) shadow over all subsequent events.

Cooper’s co-pilots include Brand’s daughter (an icy Anne Hathaway) and the ship’s unlikely robotic aid. TARS is an artificial intelligence that defies expectation. With no direct big screen predecessors, he’s an emblem of a science fiction that will confound. Vocal about his love for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Nolan seems keen to create something equally awe-inspiring. But, crucially, considering the vast influence of Kubrick’s work spanning out before Interstellar, by guiding us on an alternative trajectory. TARS is symbolic of the contrast.

As the crew ventures deeper into their visually spectacular, dimension-bending journey, toward black holes and uncharted worlds, the tone remains one of dispassionate display. An objective viewpoint humbly relates events, devoid of subtext. Each element is painstakingly placed, with meticulous accuracy, layer upon layer, gradually assembling the pictorial Tower of Babel. Fundamental to this woozy sense of incremental acceleration is the soundtrack. Beautifully haunting themes repeat, build, repeat, until one feels disconcertingly, yet appropriately and pleasurably, adrift.

Nolan is at the forefront of our current cinematic age. He presents works that contemplate post 9/11 themes, reinventing the art by deconstructing it down to its core elements, and building it back up to something greater than the sum of the parts. Having established his blueprint, here he has produced another classic. It follows in the wake of the trailblazing terrorist triptych, the Dark Knight trilogy (2005 – 2012), and his journey to the centre of the subconscious, Inception (2010). In their reflected light, Interstellar’s stylistic tropes make it the first of his output to feel like we’ve landed on familiar terrain. Even if it is partially eclipsed by these earlier, fresher feeling works, the scale of this singular astronomic achievement should not be devalued.

It may recall 2001 but this is a more successfully intimate sci-fi, by examining truly universal issues, and from the furthest possible distances. Interstellar elegantly charts the volatile emotional orbits of the father-daughter bond when stretched to the widest reaches of space. Spellbinding.

★ ★ ★ ★

 

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