Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)
Coincidentally, I saw Interstellar a few days after pulling my review of Christopher Nolan’s 2002 film, Insomnia, out of the vault and posting it at var.ev. I opened that review by saying that it seemed to me that Memento may have been a one-shot deal for Nolan. That is no longer true, if only for The Prestige and The Dark Knight, but when Nolan attempts the same mindbending that he did in Memento, he seems to end up every other time with very attractive eye candy that thinks it is far more clever than it truly is. Such was the case with 2010’s Inception, and so it is with Interstellar. It seemed to me that Nolan was looking for a film with the size and scope of 2001, but he ended up with a film with the size of Bollywood and the scope of The Black Hole.
Plot: Earth is in big trouble. A superstrain of the blight that caused the Irish potato famine in the 19th century is systematically killing off the food supply crop by crop. The majority of humans left on the planet after the food wars (which are referenced in the script, but we see nothing of them; they happened ten years before the action begins) are now farmers, just waiting until the last crops are destroyed and they starve. Among them is the Cooper clan. The father (Mud‘s Matthew McConaughey), whose first name we never learn, is an ex-engineer who chafes at his imposed farming duties, but does what he needs to for the sake of his family—his late wife’s father Don (Raising Cain‘s John Lithgow), son Tom (Homeland‘s Timothée Chalamet), and daughter Murph (The Conjuring‘s Mackenzie Foy). Murph believes she has a ghost in her room. The rest of the family passes it off until it finds a way to communicate with Cooper, giving him a set of coordinates. They lead him—and Murph—to what is left of NASA, who have a bold plan, code-named Lazarus, to colonize distant planets with the use of a wormhole discovered some years ago near Saturn. They need someone to pilot a ship that can go track down the original Lazarus astronauts and see if any of them who have sent back data have actually discovered habitable worlds, and Cooper is just the man for the job. Promising his family he will return, he goes to space with a crew composed of Brand (Brokeback Mountain‘s Anne Hathaway), the daughter of one of Cooper’s old college professors (Sleuth‘s Michael Caine); Doyle (The Hunger Games‘ Wes Bentley); and Romilly (Cloud Atlas‘ David Gyasi).
The movie is quite nicely divided into two parts by one of its most striking sequences, that of the Endeavor, Cooper’s ship, going through the wormhole into the other galaxy. The first half of the film is more concerned with events on Earth—the blight, the recruiting of Cooper by possibly-supernatural forces, getting everything ready. The second half is the crew in the other galaxy trying to find the Lazarus astronauts. Opinion seems divided on which half of the film is better, but most folks seem to be in agreement that the two of them are quite different both in tone and content; the first half of the film is a drama, the second a thriller. For me, the first half was better from the perspective of it being a drama; while it lagged in places, it did a very good job with its characters and setup. Nolan had a stable of fantastic actors, and he used them to the best of his ability. The second half falters in that the thriller itself unfolds in a paint-by-numbers fashion; once you have figured out Nolan’s structure, much of the rest of the film becomes easily predictable. Which leaves us right back where we started: with a great deal of eye candy, a bunch of pontificating, and a thriller that holds together, though doesn’t do any of the mindbending it thinks it’s going to. As an hour-and-a-half flick it would have been darned good; at more than an hour longer than that, it’s pretty, but sometimes tedious. ***