Interstellar: A Masterpiece of Cinema

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I’m glad I lived long enough to see this film. Seriously — this is one of those films that come along once in a generation, if you’re lucky.  To me, Interstellar is right up there with the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, It’s a Wonderful Life, Schindler’s List,  Gattaca, The Shawshank Redemption, Citizen Kane, and the movie this page is named after Solaris (the 1972 Tarkovsky film), and its creator Christopher Nolan has crossed the line from nearly-but-not-quite movies such as Memento and Inception to greatness. Interstellar is a masterpiece of film-making.

In the near future, the Earth has fallen prey to a global blight that has killed nearly all crops except corn, which will soon begin to fail. The whole planet is covered in an increasingly violent dust storm, and all human activity has reverted to farming in a vain attempt to grow enough food in the failing earth. Nolan doesn’t make heavy weather of why it happened, but the blight is breeding in the Earth’s nitrogen and is an irreversible extinction event.

Coop and his daughter, Murph (the hero and heroine of the film, respectively), study strange poltergeist-like incidents in her room, which leads them to a base which is the remains of NASA, and ultimately leads Coop to his destiny to follow earlier explorers through a stable – and manufactured – wormhole to three possible Earth like planets, encouraged by physicist Professor Brand (Michael Caine). The wormhole’s benevolent creators are simply referred to as “them”, and we must initially assume that they are rather like the anonymous, God-like alien civilization who created the Monoliths in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I say initially, but won’t spoil the denouement for you.

Coop is the only trained pilot left in an age when the Moon landings are denied, and farming the only career. He is soon convinced by Brand to lead a final mission to explore the three planets marked as possible new worlds suitable for human habitation. The explorers who had made the initial journeys to these three planets have only been able to send basic data through the wormhole, and the Endurance‘s crew must decide which worlds to visit – and expend their precious fuel and time in visiting.  Coop is joined on the Endurance by Brand’s daughter biologist Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gyasi); geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley); and two AI robots, TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart). There’s a nice humanity about these droids which contrasts with Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey – indeed they provide the very few laughs this movie contains.

The three worlds identified are in the vicinity of a Black Hole, Gargantua – which plays a similar role in Interstellar to the Monoliths of 2001: A Space Odyssey. After the approach to Saturn, Coop pilots the Endurance through the wormhole, and they decide to explore the world identified by the (now silent) explorer, Miller. In a terrifying episode, Coop and his companions are stranded for a mere three hours on the stupendous oceanic tides of Miller’s world, which is so close to the Black Hole that one hour on the planet’s surface is dilated to seven years of Earth time.

When Coop returns to the Endurance, he finds over 20 years worth of messages waiting for him, and his son and daughter grown up. This scene is perhaps the pivotal moment of the film, for Coop’s promise to his daughter that he will return recedes as the movie progresses. McConaughey and Jessica Chastain play these scenes with such searing intensity that it becomes the emotional anchor around which the rest of the story revolves.

None of the above minor spoilers have given away the essentials – or the extraordinary, mind-bending twists that Jonathan Nolan’s screenplay provide, by the way. The film grows to a remarkable, moving and mind-bending conclusion that Hans Zimmer’s cathedral-like soundtrack resonates to perfectly.

I read somewhere that Interstellar is like a three hour crescendo. That’s beautifully put. The three hours fly by, rather like the shocking relativistic episodes that strand our hero Coop further and further from his daughter.

I felt from the first couple of minutes into the film that I was watching one of those films that stay with you forever. On leaving a movie theatre I normally snap out of movie mode and back into the real world. When leaving Interstellar, I found myself almost too choked to speak. I’m still processing this movie days later.

McConaughey, Hathaway and Chastain (and Caine) all turn in fantastic performances (as does Matt Damon in a fine cameo), but for me it’s Mackenzie Foy who plays young Murph with such warmth, and believable conviction that she successfully establishes the emotional core of the movie together with McConaughey. It is the bond of these two characters that will ultimately provide an anchor point not just for the story – but the very future of mankind.

I’d be the first to readily accept the criticisms of what others, with some justification, call Nolan’s rather ‘right-brained’ approach to film-making … Inception and Memento are hardly what you’d call a laugh a minute. Nolan has a gift for constructing great, cold, clever Rubik-cubed edifices constructed of monumental ideas but which sometimes contain little humour and feeling. But I think his masterstroke with Inception was casting Matthew McConaughey against young Mackenzie Foy (and Jessica Chastain) which gives the film the warmth needed to ignite the rather cold – if brilliant – physics behind the story. I must confess that I felt unaccountably choked up after watching the movie, and while accepting its flaws, I definitely felt that I’d viewed something very special — a genuine cinematic masterpiece.

Don’t worry if you’ve heard a lot of talk about the heavy reliance on quantum physics and so on. Interstellar is about the nature of love, loss, trust, loneliness and the passage of time, across any and all boundaries. These universals transcend any of Kip Thorne’s theoretical physics you may have read about….

Mind-bending yes, but also heartwarming.

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About Solaris

My name's Nigel - I'm a child of the 1960s - with a head full of moon landings, fab gear, science fiction, prog-rock concept albums and various other clutter, I use this space to empty some of it out into the Universe.
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2 Responses to Interstellar: A Masterpiece of Cinema

  1. doug n says:

    Well done Nigel. If any review captured this film’s strengths in encapsulating the awe of both space, triumphs of human invention and a love of others, it would be yours.

  2. Solaris says:

    Thanks very much, Doug. I know it’s flawed as a movie in places — what work of art isn’t, but if it is flawed, it’s a flawed masterpiece.

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