by Brook Gardner-Durbin
Christopher Nolan, the director and cowriter of “Interstellar,” has made a career of injecting a bit of intelligence into familiar, safe tropes. His first big picture “Momento,” was a classic revenge story with a better twist than anything M. Night Shyamalan has thought up, married to the the most interesting non-chronological storytelling this side of Faulkner; “Insomnia” (his best) did a better job of blurring moral boundaries than nearly anything since Michael Mann’s brilliant “Heat,” but remains basically just another cops-and-robbers flick; and “Inception,” for all its time-warping, was essentially one more “one last job” heist movie.
Each of these, and his Batman movies, were immensely enjoyable — yet their innovative qualities have been significantly overhyped by audiences so used to brainless films they mistake a twist ending for depth and multi-syllabic dialogue for intellectualism.
“Interstellar,” released Nov. 5, follows his other work in this regard. It is enjoyable and far above the average cinema fare in many ways, but that is at least partially because the average is so low.
The film starts sometime in the early 2100s, after widespread crop failures have caused mass starvation. Empty fields have fueled massive dust clouds, causing flashbacks to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and humans are launching a last-ditch effort to find another planet to live on before Earth is completely used up. Cooper, played by a still-excellent Matthew McConaughey, is tapped to lead a crew through a wormhole to find other astronauts sent 10 years earlier, and report if any of them found hospitable planets (the previous excursions were one-way-only).
This is merely backdrop, however: the film is truly about relationships, and the power of love to overcome obstacles (and transcend space and time). Cooper has to abandon his children (Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck) to travel the stars, and his copilot (Anne Hathaway) leaves her father behind (perennial Nolan favorite Michael Caine). During the film, children promise never to forgive their parents leaving, characters hurt and forgive each other, adult children decide to love their parents after all, and, of course, love grows. Dylan Thomas’s famous lines weave throughout, urging one character or another not to “go gentle into that good night. / Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” which will doubtless convince many the film is smarter than it is (“look — poetry!”).
The visuals are a high point, as with previous Nolan productions. If last year’s “Ender’s Game” and “Gravity” reminded audiences how beautiful a full screen could be in space, Nolan reminds us here that a simpler image can be equally stunning. Several shots, including light bending around a black hole and the tiny ship passing Saturn without a star to be seen, will take your breath away.
Composer Hans Zimmer makes equal use of simplicity at times, cutting off the sound entirely to highlight the the silence of space. Elsewhere, however, he seemed to have fallen back on tired tricks. Several scenes feature overblown, melodramatic scoring that would better accompany a late-night B movie on Syfy, pulling the audience out of the action.
The robots are another high point. Many films feature either entirely stiff AI, or make it unbelievably human-like (C-3P0, Data), but “Interstellar” strikes a happy medium — the AI cracks jokes, but no one feels bad about shoving it into a black hole.
“Interstellar” has all the usual problems of a film featuring time travel, there are a few places characters seem to know more than they should, and, at close to three hours long, it feels overdone at times. Despite these minor quibbles, however, it is entertaining and absolutely worth watching. But you may want to wait for DVD or streaming options rather than catching it in a theater.