WARNING: I’m not going to do a Peter Bradshaw and spoil you unless you want to be. Below is a review of Interstellar which may contain plot-points which some may consider to be spoilers. You have been notified. Quite sternly.
It’s that time of the year again for an intelligent blockbuster courtesy of Christopher Nolan (give us Inception over the Transformers series any time), and after what seems like a very long wait (unless you’re Cooper, that is!) Interstellar has finally arrived.
GIRL ON FILM watched this film three days ago and it is only now that I have formulated some sort of understanding of how much I enjoyed this film. Leaving the cinema, I was temporarily unable to speak. I wanted to discuss plot-points and theoretical physics and Matthew McConaughey’s tan, but instead I went to work and silently contemplated for the next few days.
Here’s the basic plot: Life on earth has become a largely agrarian society following a worldwide famine. Think, the end of Gone With the Wind basically, except without any hope of another day. McConaughey is ‘Coop’, former pilot-turned-farmer who is unhappy with his lot in life. Persuaded to leave his young family in order to search for alternative habitats on other planets by scientist Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), his opportunity has arrived. The landscapes are stunningly horrifying, reminiscent of the pioneered West, a dust-bowl of stagnant opportunity and growth. It is unnervingly easy to imagine this non-specific future, a period where engineers only pioneer the technologies of their own tractors and education simply for education’s sake is seen as an extravagance and not for the good of society.
When we meet Dr. Brand in his secret NASA-funded lair, for the rest of the movie it is science jargon-overload. Aided by theoretical physicist to Hollywood, Kip Thorne, writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan let us know they have done their research and are willing to tear it all up in order to confuse us in a good cinematic ride. The effects and scenes in space are undoubtedly revolutionary, and will surely cement the tradition of having a space cowboy every other year to showcase the newest in film trickery. Filmed in his beloved IMAX, it is a especially lovely to know that great-looking films can be successfully produced without the gimic of 3D or retrofitting.
Speaking of the third dimension, we then transcend time and space with Coop, Dr. Brand Jr. (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi) and two monolithic robot TARS and CASE, who provide most of the much-needed comic relief. The narrative takes care to try and adequately explain all the science-y bits (we even get a nice pencil drawing for the dimwits like me) just to make sure we aren’t left behind in deep space. Though there is much that we never fully comprehend, the struggles to cope with the changing speed of time on Earth and beyond the wormhole are effectively discussed, and it is Coop and the team’s constant battle with relativity that create most of the tension, aside from the death-defying action scenes. As Coop struggles to reconnect with his abandoned family, the conflict of the film boils down to whether of humanity should be saved at the sacrifice of others. As Dr. Brand announces at a crucial point, humanity are much more likely to push themselves to the limit if they believe that they themselves will also be saved.
There are a number of plot twists and signs of turbulence throughout the 2 hours and 42 minute running time, but of all the revealing cameos and breath-taking worm-hole sequences which reminded me of the ‘Star-Gate’ scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the most memorable manipulation was within the dialogue itself. Dr. Brand quotes Dylan Thomas to the embarking missioners:
“Do not go gentle into that good night; Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Though it is a poem about being fierce in the face of approaching death, when we first hear Caine recite this poem, it is a rallying call of hope. It incites our intrepid space explorers to fulfil their destiny and to save the occupants of a dying Earth. However, when we hear those lines again later in the film it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, a twisted symbol of Brand’s devastating betrayal and pessimism for humanity and the Endurance mission.
The film is long, wobbly and ridiculously ambitious. But give me this over robots smashing each other any day. The scenes on earth were just as engaging, if not more so. Mackenzie Foy was excellent, and Jessica Chastain’s video messages to space-bound Coop were heart-breaking. A film as initially confusing as Nolan’s Inception, but hey, the puzzle’s part of the fun. I think…
If like me you could do with a friendly diagram, have a peek at this helpful guide by animator, Dogan Can Gundogdu: