10th Nov2014

‘Interstellar’ Review

by Ian Loring

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Timothée Chalamet, Francis X. McCarthy, Wes Bentley, William Devane, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, David Gayasi | Written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan | Directed by Christopher Nolan


The prospect of reviewing Interstellar is an interesting one. The basic idea of reading a review of a piece of popular culture when boiled down to its fundamentals, is answering the question of whether the thing is with your time and/or money and the eternal problem is that no matter how “trained” someone writing a review is, be it not at all or to the extent that you write for an internationally renowned publication, is that the review itself is primarily down to a subjective opinion. What is one man’s gold is another man’s poop and while there are certain technical aspects which can be talked about objectively, sometimes writing, directing and acting and how it is perceived is based very personally on how you yourself interprets it. Looking at Interstellar, word seems to be somewhat mixed, yes the word seems to be that as a technical achievement, it’s worth a look but the story, the beating heart of what some call the “cold” Christopher Nolan is lacking, that the emotional engagement just doesn’t work. That’s what some say and to be honest, that’s a battle which has little worth fighting. Just as some people seem to have felt this about Interstellar and it would be hard to convince them otherwise, I would say that while Interstellar is not Nolan’s “best” film, I think it is one which does exactly what he wants to do. Yes, he does want to inspire a sense of awe in the film’s subject matter, and in film, both the area of culture and the physical form of celluloid, but he also wants to cut down deep into extreme choices people have to make and how they deal with these, something this particular person typing these words thinks he does with aplomb.

It is fair to say though that where you are in your life may have a direct impact on how the film’s emotional core works for you. While a basic level of human empathy will get you so far, having a family may make you connect far deeper. I hope this is not the case of course, but in the film’s portrayal of the relationship between our protagonist Coop (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), how it breaks down and how he attempts to cross the stars and the fabric of the universe itself to make amends, this writer felt a genuine pang in his soul. I have a daughter fast coming up on her first birthday and I cannot imagine spending a week away from her, let alone the timespan these two characters find themselves away from each other. Nolan’s subtle direction of these particular moments is a boon and thankfully is one of the rare times he doesn’t like Hans Zimmer sweep any other noise away in his stead with their initial separation jarring in its editing and sound design to wonderful effect being a highlight.

The performances from all the cast are all at the very least solid also thought again, if McConaughey and Foy aren’t so good together, much of it could be for nothing. McConaughey continues his storming work of late with certainly a more relatable character than those he has been playing of late but you still always believe that he could well be a NASA pilot who feels he’s not quite living in the right moment. His determination and bottled up regret, which explodes in one almost harrowingly well played moment about half way through the film while Foy plays up the exact right amount of being precocious without ever being annoying but when she pleads for her father to stay, it feels almost as if you are intruding on a private moment best left so.

Moving away from this element, though it does really feel like Nolan’s focus, the more viscerally cinematic stuff here also impresses, though it is a surprise that there isn’t quite as much of the mind expanding space stuff as it feels like we were initially promised. The alien worlds are essentially based on very earth bound settings, which I am sure scientifically makes sense but maybe isn’t quite as exciting as some would hope, and there is little “action” as such in the film, there are deaths and explosions, but they don’t feel like climactic moments (although Nolan again gives us a “person tries to make a speech, gets blown up thing that he did in The Dark Knight again), instead the more mind blowing stuff is in service of plot, visualisations of different dimensions taking on surreal interpretations of real world settings to a thrilling extent.

The other performances also deserve some spotlight shown on them. Anne Hathaway seems to start with a rather generic “cold bitch” character but she goes to some surprising places, her relationship with McConaghey would suffice for most films but plays a still enjoyable second fiddle here. Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck show up in the film’s second half and while Affleck is given very little to do, Chastain does well with what is a weird mix of exposition spouting and emotion showing which works pretty well. Wes Bentley and Michael Caine feel a little “just there” though Caine gets a standout moment which shocks well but David Gayasi, who I frankly had no idea of before seeing this film, impresses as a crewmate who has trouble adapting to both the movement of his spaceship and of time also.

Interstellar is not perfect, that is for sure. It is however, one of the year’s best films for how it manages to make you think larger than your own world view and to share in the wonder of the visuals while also making you look into yourself, how you deal with those around you, and how choices you make could potentially have ripples which continue down the decades hence. It is a special film, the most expensive parent-child relationship film ever made and it is one I look forward to watching, and crying at, with my daughter one day in years to come. The below rating reflects that the fact that while I acknowledge the film’s flaws, its exceptional qualities more than make up for them.

***** 5/5


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