Interstellar is a lot of things in terms of where it lies in Christopher Nolan’s filmography. For one, it’s his longest film. It’s also his most ambitious, most wondrous and most transcendentally photographed film. So why isn’t it is his best film too?
To recount the synopsis is to begin to see how the film could become misguided, with so much for it to be about. In a near future/reinvented present, the earth is dying. Constant dust storms have rendered many of earth’s crops tainted. Pilot, farmer and engineer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is tasked with leading a group of scientists in an interstellar voyage through a wormhole to find a new planet to migrate to.
One character walks Cooper through the process of wormhole travel, saying that to get from point a to point b on a map would take to long, so they bend the plane so that the points are congruous. Sometimes the leaps of suspension the film takes feel similarly constructed. Simply jumping between the points proves disorienting, and it’s not that they need to explain every leap of logic, they just need to not pretend that they did. The film makes up new rules as it goes, and certain characters shift attitudes at a whim.
Nolan has of course assembled a wonderful ensemble, but not all of them feel properly used. Matthew McConaughey continues his hot streak, delivering one of his most tenderly emotive performances. There’s a scene where he watches a video message from his son, and Nolan trains his camera on McConaughey as he is overtaken by tears. The raw emotion in McConaughey’s face almost made me cry too. Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, David Gyasi and an actor who shall remain nameless (his appearance comes as a welcome surprise) all deliver effective performances among the vast ensemble. Talents like Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck and John Lithgow feel underused though. Wes Bentley feels wooden, and you wonder what an actor as talented as David Oyelowo is doing with a 6th-string unimportant role as a school principal.
Just six months ago Hans Zimmer produced the worst score of his career with The Amazing Spiderman 2. Here he is now with one of his best. His use of organ-based scoring invokes the heavenly, adding much wonder to the cosmos on display. It’s not all score in the sound design that makes the space sequences in this film feel so cinematic and immediate, it’s also Nolan’s effective use of silence.
This film will garner many comparisons to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and they are well earned comparisons. Not since that film has a filmmaker looked at our solar system with such cinematic wonder and awe-inspiring grandiosity. The images that Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema are nothing short of jaw-dropping. To see the film on 70mm IMAX is to see the wonder of cinema. I paid $15 to see it in that format, and I’d happily pay another $15 to see it again. Maybe what’s so frustrating about this film is that it comes so damn close to reaching the same genre-inspiring levels of Kubrick’s film, but doesn’t. But of course, it tries, and that says much about Nolan. He’s one of the only directors working right now who can simultaneously make a film for himself, for audiences and for a studio. Few directors can reach like he has here, and you admire that somebody in the studio system is making films as ambitious as he is. Flaws and all, at least Nolan reaches.