07 November 2014

Review: Interstellar

The McConaissance is over. I am of course referring to the career redemption that started with The Lincoln Lawyer and hit a fever pitch in 2013 with True Detective/Wolf of Wall Street and his Best Actor win for Dallas Buyers Club. Now we just live in a previously unfamiliar era, one where McConaughey reigns the silver screen. It only makes sense that for his next trick McConaughey would tackle a sci-fi epic for the current master of blockbusters, Christopher Nolan.

Earth is actively rejecting human life in a timeline not too far off from our own. Drought and blight have ravaged the landscape making it impossible to continue to grow food. Food is scarce and priorities have been reevaluated in this new landscape. All resources are put into farming before humanity faces extinction, so extraneous organizations like NASA has gone underground. A man born into the wrong time, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is never happy settling for what he has, instead pushing to break barriers.

Years ago Cooper's wife passed leaving him and his hard-nosed father-in-law (John Lithgow) to raise Murph (played by Mackenzie Foy, then later by Jessica Chastain) and Tom. Tom is satisfied with following in the farming business, but science runs strong in Murph's blood. Her stubbornness eventually leads Cooper right where he thought he'd never get a chance to go again.

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his team, led by his daughter, Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), have discovered a wormhole in our solar system that could potentially lead to other inhabitable worlds. Such a fortuitous development could lengthen mankind's existence, but it comes at a great cost. Time is relative when dealing with wormholes; an hour on a planet in the orbit of a wormhole translates to seven years on Earth. Cooper, as the pilot of the new crew Endurance, will have to choose between the future of man, or seeing his children again.

Associations to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Stanley Kubrick were made from the moment that Christopher Nolan was attached to Interstellar. Kubrick and Nolan have been accused of being downright clinical when it comes to treatment of characters onscreen, with both men earning labels of icy and detached. While Kubrick never shrugged off those labels, Christopher Nolan is evolving past his.

On the surface this big-budget sci-fi would appear to just be about space, but the subject reaches wider than exploration. The heart at the center of Interstellar is time, love and parenthood. Nolan's films have primarily been a touch cold in the past, but the relationship between Cooper and Murph rewrites that dynamic entirely. If a new comparison is to be made, Nolan is closest to Steven Spielberg.

Performances by Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway are likely to be ignored, because they don't resort to hysterics or overshadowing other performers. It's a team effort, but I expect at least Jessica Chastain will receive some consideration at year's end. Also garnering potential awards talk is the unique score by Hans Zimmer. By ditching the strings and horns, in favor of the organ, Zimmer creates a sound unlike anything he's done in years.

Hoyte van Hoytema takes over the reins as cinematographer under Nolan, who is going without Wally Pfister for the first time since Memento. Starting a working relationship on a project this ambitious was a risky move for Hoytema, yet it pays off completely. Interstellar isn't as darkly tinted as Nolan's previous filmography and the film is much richer for it visually. Factor in the degree of difficulty (some of the space sequences involved installing an IMAX camera in the cone of a Learjet) and Hoytema's work is all the more impressive.

Theoretical physicist Dr. Kip Thorne collaborated with visual effects supervisor Paul J. Franklin to provide the most accurate representations of these cosmic phenomenon as possible. Walking out of the theatre, one couldn't help but feel like audience members in 1968 who had just experienced A Space Odyssey. Sequences involving the wormhole are so spectacular you won't believe your eyes.

Perhaps it's too early to say this, but Christopher Nolan may have met Kubrick in creating a lasting sci-fi that's ambitious and thought-provoking. Interstellar is what movies should aspire to be. An experience that can't be replicated anywhere but inside of a theatre. If you really love movies, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not seeing it.