Film in Review: Interstellar

Ryan Van Til

Several weeks ago, after re-watching 2001: A Space Odyssey with some friends, I wondered “would people enjoy this if it were released today?” In case you’re unfamiliar with 2001 (you might at least know it from parodies in South Park or The Simpsons), the film is a high-concept sci-fi movie from the 1960s; 2001 has cemented itself as a classic for both its unique visual effects and its mind-bendingly ambiguous story. The story has little to no character development or plot, satisfied instead with long, uncut shots of space with classical music caterwauling in the background. In short, it’s the opposite of the flashy, action-packed blockbusters of the 21st century, which prompted my question.

Why is 2001 relevant to this year’s Interstellar? Interstellar answered my question in spectacular fashion: people still will pay to see a movie like 2001 (as box office results have shown) and enjoy it (as reviews and reactions show).

Like 2001, Interstellar tells the story of a space expedition exploring an anomaly. In the case of Interstellar, the anomaly has the potential to save humanity from a deteriorating earth. The widowed father Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an ex-NASA pilot forced to become a farmer due to a resource shortage on earth, is given the choice between following his old love (space exploration) to find a new habitable planet or his new love (what’s left of his family).

Many critics have accused Interstellar’s director Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight) of being a cerebral storyteller. And while Nolan’s Interstellar still focuses on the intellectual rather than the emotional, this time his style works. For Interstellar, he has a reason for his method; in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he said that the film was about the overall “experience” of watching. And an experience it is.

Despite being stuffed with expository scientific dialogue, the film works. Nolan takes full advantage of the “otherworldly” in creating a new galaxy, showing the viewer unique planets – such as a water-based planet or a black hole – without getting silly or over-imaginative. Unlike Inception, which had literally limitless potential for visual creativity go to waste, the science-heavy Interstellar benefits from Nolan’s realistic and intellectual style.

The cast, mostly a ragtag bunch of now-Nolan-regulars (Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway) as well as some newcomers (McConaughey, Jessica Chastain) do fine work, though all are light years away from grabbing Oscar nods for their performances.

 Nolan also draws influence from the Breaking Bad style of POV camera work, which works well for the movie; at times the film seems like footage stolen from a NASA probe. Hans Zimmer’s organ-based soundtrack is also excellent, though at times it blares so loudly that it overpowers the dialogue.

The film’s one major flaw is its transitions. Late in the movie, the story cuts back and forth between Cooper in space and his daughter on earth; the mundane earth scenes seem like a chore to get through compared to the excitement of watching a space voyage. It’s jarring and takes away from the “experience” that Nolan’s representation of space gives the viewer.

Interstellar isn’t a movie for everyone. If you enjoy a faster, easily understood plot, then this probably isn’t the Friday night popcorn fun you crave. But for those who enjoy a well-made and ambitious movie, for those who crave a film “experience” (like 2001: A Space Odyssey), it’s definitely worth the time and ticket price.