Sometimes after a movie, I like to stand outside the theater and listen to people as they shuffle toward the exit. Last night, I heard the following: “I liked it. It was freakin’ weird, but I liked it.” Another guy with a group of friends shouts, “How am I going to be able to drink tonight?” Then, “I didn’t know Ben Affleck was in that movie” says an older couple. I look to the girl next to me, and we realize we’ve come from the same movie — she just shakes her head and shrugs. These are some of the people who saw Interstellar on opening night.
Interstellar follows former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) on a mission through space to find a suitable habitat for humankind, as life on Earth is no longer sustainable — crops are dying and food is sparse in the wake of massive dust storms, themselves a direct hazard for those who breathe the dust. Cooper meets a team of elite NASA scientists who have discovered another galaxy through a wormhole, which could mean a new potential home for humanity. Cooper is recruited to pilot the mission and join Amelia (Anne Hathaway) on the secret journey into space. After some doubts about leaving his family, given the uncertainty of when he will return, Cooper decides to do so for the sake of the planet. He embarks on an expedition though time and dimensions we can and cannot see.
Big movie, small story
As big as Interstellar’s ideas are, the heart of the story is small and affectionate. The movie’s strengths are the characters and the journey they take together. The relationship between Cooper and his daughter (Jessica Chastain) is really what makes this movie work — it’s what we hold on to as we swirl through a mess of stars, planets, and concepts.
As we’ve seen in Nolan’s previous films — Inception, Memento, and The Prestige (I think he did something with Batman, too) — he is a master at creating big stand-alone movies that command your attention because of their nonlinear storyline or unrealistic sci-fi twists. He puts these fantasy pieces in a realistic world, shoots them beautifully, and provides evidence that supports the world he’s created — then throws a few Academy Award-winning actors in to sell it to us, and it works.
There are solid performances from the leads as well as the supporting characters (Michael Caine and Casey Affleck — not Ben [or was the elderly couple confusing him with Matt Damon?]), and a few cameos that took me by surprise.
Enthusiasm for the unknown
The atmosphere and cinematography are astounding and when you put that over the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, the results make your skin crawl. Nolan pays subtle homage to 2001, but this movie is clearly his own interpretation of the final frontier and shouldn’t be compared to that film or to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.
Interstellar requires an open mind, an enthusiasm for the unknown, and about 20 bucks to see it on the biggest screen you can. I knew little going into this movie, thanks to the tight lid Nolan kept on prerelease publicity. Too many trailers and press releases these days give away the beginnings, middles, and ends of movies, so I enjoyed not knowing where this was going.
Interstellar definitely requires multiple viewings to really get a grasp on what going on, but prepare yourself to think. I’d be lying if I told you I understood it all, but I am intrigued by the originality, blown away by the technicalities, and charmed by the story on the small scale. I believe Nolan is saying something about the way we live and the built-in desire we all have for exploring the unknown. We have always been a people who migrate and move. We are pioneers and travelers charting from our expansive past, our careful present, and our undiscovered future.