Friday, November 7, 2014

Interstellar



INTERSTELLAR: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, directed by Christopher Nolan (159 min.)

There may be warts in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. I spotted a few. But in the end, I didn't care much about the warts, because what I just endured was an overwhelming and ambitious work of art. Interstellar will pull your mind apart with its ideas, and visualize said ideas in awe-inspiring ways. What depths this film goes to, what dense philosophical and physical thoughts it tackles, and what a beautiful and glorious experience.

Like any worthy space epic, Interstellar travels to the stars to say something about those of us back here on earth. Christopher Nolan has reached for those stars, surpassing them to find new galaxies of thought, and his screenplay bends the mind and his camera thrills the eyes.

It is the near future, and the earth is trying to rid itself of the human race. Dust storms regularly ravage the landscape, militaries have been abandoned, and the world's food supply is dwindling. The world needs farmers, not idealists, as the human race has devolved into a primal survival mode. Matthew McConaughey plays Coop, a former NASA pilot who turned to farming when the world needed less space travel and more agriculture. He has a dutiful son and precocious daughter, Murph, who admires him. Strange things begin to occur, a code is discovered amidst the dust and debris of a massive sandstorm. The clues, which I don't want to detail, lead Coop to a secret base hidden in the hills.

This base is all that's left of NASA, suspended several years back, but reinstated in secret because they are planning on one more mission to try and save humanity. The mission involves a wormhole on the outskirts of Saturn's orbit. A dozen missions have traveled through this wormhole to another galaxy, and three have touched down on planets. But there has been no contact with the three explorers, because time creates a tricky paradox in alternate galaxies. Now, the heads of NASA need Coop to pilot the next mission and try and find out if any of the three planets are inhabitable. How long will he be gone? Nobody is sure. Against his daughter's wishes, Coop accepts the mission, and travels to the wormhole and beyond with Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Romilly (David Gyasi).

The early scenes on earth try and wrangle in the emotion of the situation, but the film doesn't truly take off until the characters take off themselves. The space expedition occupies two thirds of the picture, and Nolan and his team have crafted a beautiful vision. I don't want to get into many details, other than to say the crew clearly makes their way to the planets, where Nolan is able to stretch his imagination. The first planet has a gravitational pull from a nearby black hole that is so extreme, it causes some real danger with the crew involving time. The direction the film takes after this first planetary encounter is beyond comprehension.

I want to abandon any plot descriptions here. Mutterings have been out there about the emotional side of Interstellar, and at times I can see what people might be talking about. There are some moments in the narrative that are highly emotionally charged and effective, and some that fall a bit flat. But to dismiss this film based on small moments like those would be foolish. Those are nits to pick, and Interstellar is not a film about small moments, but a big, sweeping epic about big ideas. Discussions of love, sacrifice, and who or what can possibly be done to save the planet occupy large spaces of the dialogue, and push the trajectory of these characters towards the mind-bending conclusion.

Comparisons are certainly going to be made to other science fiction films like 2001, but this has almost nothing in common with Kubrick's film. Interstellar is a picture unto its own existence, and no matter how clumsy a few moments might be along the way, those moments are quickly shed by the raw power of Nolan's ideas.

B+