“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars…Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” muses Matthew McConaughey early in Interstellar, articulating not just his astronaut-turned-farmer hero Coop’s own yearning for something more profound than hoeing corn but also a mournful requiem for Man’s real world Manifest Destiny in space (NASA’s budget being trimmed by a billion dollars between 2012 and 2013) not to mention of course, the boundless ambition and audacity of writer/director Christopher Nolan’s vision. We may spend the first third or so of Interstellar contemplating the dirt as dust storms rage and an ecological apocalypse blights the Earth, but for Nolan the stars are our destination.

Set in the near future, after widespread famine and technological collapse have forced humanity to retreat to an agrarian, hand-to-mouth culture, widower Coop and his family; teenage son Tom (Timothee Chalamet), 10-year-old daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) and irascible father-in-law (John Lithow), eke out an existence farming corn in an almost Steinbeckian Dust Bowl America. An epidemic of crop blight has devastated the world and the Earth is dying; within a few generations those that don’t starve will suffocate as the plants die and the oxygen content of our atmosphere plummets.

All hope isn’t lost however and, after following a series of cryptic clues, Coop & Murphy discover the last remnants of the now defunct NASA hiding out in an abandoned bunker where a team of scientists under the leadership of brilliant physicist, and Coop’s old boss, Professor Brand (Nolan’s lucky charm, Michael Caine) are plotting to save the human race by sending a last desperate mission through a mysterious wormhole near Saturn to another galaxy, light years away, where a habitable planet to colonise may be found and the Earth’s population evacuated. And they need a pilot with the right stuff.

Forced to abandon the heartbroken Murphy on Earth, Coop, Brand’s scientist daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), researchers Romilly (David Gyasi); and Doyle (Wes Bentley) and a pair of ex-military robots, CASE and the sarcastic TARS (voiced by Josh Stewart and the renowned clown and character actor Bill Irwin respectively), blast off into the unknown in search of a new home. But the key to humanity’s salvation may be closer than they think…

Few films deserve the soubriquet spectacular. If Kubrick’s cold, austere 2001: A Space Odyssey was “The Ultimate Trip” then, with Interstellar, Nolan’s intentions are perhaps both more modest and more ambitious; just shy of three hours and visually majestic, Nolan wants us to think, to feel, to experience, to ponder our place in the Universe, to meditate on what makes us human, to celebrate the transformative, redemptive power of love. At once both grand, hard sci-fi and bubblegum space opera, coolly cerebral and intensely personal, Interstellar is as much about the pain and guilt of being an absentee working parent as it is about boldly going to infinity and beyond, raising the intimate to the epic.

And make no mistake; this is epic, arresting filmmaking, as thrilling as anything Nolan’s yet done. Shot and cut on celluloid, Nolan, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and Inception’s VFX wizard Paul J. Franklin have created a sumptuous, richly textured visual feast, a tactile, hand-crafted wonder complimented by Richard King’s atmospheric, discordant sound design and Hans Zimmer’s nuanced score (thankfully toning down the foghorns), that does lose a little on its transfer from big to small screen. Massive dust storms ravage Middle America. A tiny spacecraft speeds past the majestic rings of Saturn. Mountainous tsunamis sweep a water-covered planet. Clouds freeze and snap when struck on a desolate, icy world. A risky docking maneuver is more genuinely thrilling than anything conjured by Marvel’s Galaxy Guardians, more terrifying than Cuaron’s Gravity.

And it’s pure sci-fi in the most positive sense; to say much more would dampen some of the delicious and deceptive pleasures of the film but there are no little green men, no space battles, no aliens exploding from chests – in Interstellar time is the true enemy as Coop and his crew must battle general relativity and the effects of time dilation on their voyage, a concept neatly encapsulated in a scene where the crew realise that the few hours they’ve spent exploring a hostile new world has cost decades back on Earth.

Cool and laconic, embodying an almost mythic, everyman masculinity that’s equal parts Paul Newman and Sam Shepard, McConaughey may have won an Oscar for The Dallas Buyers Club but he hasn’t been this good since 1996’s Lone Star and he and the flinty Jessica Chastain are the film’s emotional backbone, its central love story not a romantic one, but one of fathers and daughters, and they’re ably supported by Hathaway’s slightly prissy scientist, Caine and Lithgow’s hoary old veterans, the wonderful and heartbreaking Mackenzie Foy as the young Chastain and a piece of frankly brilliant stunt casting I simply cannot spoil while the great Bill Irwin assures the blocky, monolith-like TARS a sardonic place in the robot hall of fame alongside Robbie, R2-D2 & C-3PO and Douglas Rain’s HAL.

Sure, the film’s physics lean heaviest on the theoretical side of theoretical physicist and science advisor Kip Thorne’s ideas and there’s nits to pick if you want to pick them…but why would you want to (unless you’re Neil deGrasse Tyson and you’ve just had your morning cup of smug)? It’s an oft-repeated line in Philip Kaufman’s 1983 space epic The Right Stuff “No bucks, no Buck Rogers!” With Interstellar every red cent is up there on the screen. This is bold, ambitious, transcendent filmmaking, an enthralling, exhilarating, immersive experience that’s unafraid to wear its heart on its sleeve and confident enough to credit its audience with the same intelligence as its makers.

DVD Review: Interstellar
An exhilarating piece of filmmaking with Nolan at the top of his game
5.0Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

About The Author