There’s a line of dialogue in Interstellarwhere our protagonist, Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey), laments the lack of exploration, pioneering, and discovery in the dystopian future enveloped around him. A former astronaut turned farmer, Cooper recalls the days of old with a heavy heart, remembering when mankind, before a blight plagued Earth’s food supply, aimed beyond the stars. Much like our protagonist’s lamentation, the director of Interstellar, Christopher Nolan, sets his aspirations on an age when cinematic innovation and exploration were rampant.
Much of Interstellar draws inspiration from the 1968 Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. From the awe-inspiring visuals and slow-moving camera pans against an intergalactic canvas to the classical, operatic music, Interstellar works to capture that majestic, mystifying space magic Kubrick wowed audiences with decades ago. For the most part, Nolan succeeds. Interstellar is a work of absolute beauty, a visual ode to an innovative film made in a time when Hollywood was under siege from cinematic auteurs – filmmakers with unique visions who wanted to push the bounds of the film medium. It’s a powerful tribute on one hand, a sparkly eyed wink of appreciation and respect, and on the other hand, an attempt to bring back that sense of innovation, to test the waters in an age of superhero flicks and teen dramas and see if the time’s right for a return to this era.
The almighty box office will decide if Nolan has broken the dam. In the meantime, viewers can decide if they’re ready for a film that visually dazzles us, that seizes hold of our brains with glorious infinite and juggles multiple plotlines to mend together a simple theme Nolan wants us to meditate on. The theme is love, and in the universe of Interstellar, it’s the subject of debate amongst our characters. Is love merely a feeling that worms its way through our bodies, or is it an energy we can channel, a limitless power that can exert concrete results? In Interstellar’s three hour run time, Cooper and Brand (Anne Hathaway) blast through a wormhole in an attempt to save humanity from a blight plaguing Earth’s food supply and find an ultimate answer to these questions, and just like Kubrick with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Nolan presents us with a coded call-to-action. For mankind to survive, the people must evolve. Technology can only take humanity so far. From that point, it’s necessary to attain a higher consciousness to transcend the limitations of our biology and unlock an inner potential through love.
This is the grander vision Nolan directs us toward. These are the cosmic blueprints on the other side of that wormhole. While his theme resonates well with ideas of the late 60s and early 70s, his approach bears fewer hippies and avoids the hallucinogens. Interstellar, for the majority of its run time, is straight-laced science fiction. For the first two hours, it’s cold vastness – science jargon mumbled along a pilgrimage that could very well sew the permanence of mankind in an ever-changing universe.
But as these greater plans of Nolan’s unveil themselves, Interstellar begins to stumble under the weight of its multiple subplots, characters and story. This is a movie about big ideas though, and those who get wrapped up in the little details will find their minds percolating with questions and plot holes, some of which seem ham-fisted in to beat home this greater theme. Even supporting character motivations seem questionable at times. When the film’s villain is finally revealed, said villain goes from zero to maximum on the Snidely Whiplash meter, and viewers are left to fill in the gaps as to why this seemingly intelligent character flipped the crazy switch.
That said, these plot and character issues may lessen the ride for some, but they’re minor annoyances in the whole scheme of the film. At the end of the day, Interstellar succeeds in showing audiences something they haven’t witnessed before. Nolan makes cinema innovative again, having developed new software to help capture a sense of realism in this movie. This new software was developed solely to compute mathematical equations buried in scientific notes concerning wormholes and black holes and render visuals more closely aligned to real physics. According to some reports, individual frames took up to 100 hours to compute and render this data.
The result, however, is mesmerizing. The scenes of Gargantua, a massive black hole inInterstellar, flashed in front of the audience with bated breath. Even the dopey teenagers in the back row had to quit tweeting for a moment and gawk in wonder.
Much like those audiences in 1968, Interstellar is an experience meant for the biggest screen viewers can find. It’s a paramount vision with high hopes and daring dreams. While Nolan makes a few missteps with the plot, there’s still much beauty to be had in an experience audiences would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.