Interstellar | Review

“The probability of success is difficult to estimate; but if we never search, the chance of success is zero.” –  Giuseppe Cocconi & Philip Morrison

There’s an allure to the unknown that never ceases to amaze and inspire, even during our darkest moments, in our most desperate hour.  As a species, we’ve pioneered incredible technological advances, made huge leaps and bounds in the understanding of our own biological makeup, and rocketed 238,900 miles just so that we could set our feet on the dusty surface of the Moon.  These achievements, and the sense of wonder that we feel when we remember them, are supposed to inspire us to do greater things in our future, to reach further into ourselves than we ever have before, and attain the impossible.

But what if there’s no future for us?  What if, by our own doing, we doom ourselves to extinction, and then simply consign ourselves to that fate?

This is where Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar begins–on an Earth where human beings have given up hope for their future.  Crops are dying off each year due to blight, massive dust storms ravage towns, and people flee en masse to try to survive as best as they can.  Cooper (Matthew McConaunghey), a former NASA pilot-turned-farmer, along with his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy & Jessica Chastain, younger and older, respectively), son Tom (Timothée Chalamet, Casey Affleck) and father-in-law (Jon Lithgow) grows corn, one of the last sustainable crops on Earth.  Cooper yearns for the days when we looked up into space and saw our future, a prospect that’s not shared by many, including his children’s teachers, who claim as fact that the lunar landing was a hoax to bankrupt the Soviets.

But Cooper’s sentiments are mirrored by some, including Professor Brand (Michael Caine), his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), and a handful of other NASA engineers and scientists, all of whom have secretly been working towards giving humanity one last chance at survival, by sending a small crew of our brightest and best through a wormhole and hoping that we’ll find answers on the other side.  At the urging of Professor Brand, Cooper is brought up to speed on the plan, and has to choose whether or not to leave behind his family in order to save the rest of mankind.  The choice, however, is a double-edged sword.  Only two outcomes are possible, and neither one is appealing: either the team dies during their search among the stars, or, after what’s only a few years to them, they return to our galaxy, where decades might have passed, thanks to relativity and the slower passage of time during travel at light speed; he and Murph could be the same age once he gets back to Earth.

This is the stuff science fiction thrives on.  Answering unanswerable questions, visualizing physical impossibilities, taking us places we’ve never dreamed of going.  Nolan has a knack for making movies that do that sort of thing, and many of his previous films aim for the grand and the theatrical, but Interstellar is on a completely different level, both in its scope and its emotional bearing. Even though the story deals with wormholes, quantum mechanics, and scientific theories and postulations (backed up by theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who was an executive producer on the film), Nolan smartly grounds the entire film to the most human and relatable emotion we possess: love.

This is undoubtedly his most emotionally intensive film, and we see that play out in the absolutely incredible performances of McConaughey, Hathaway, and Chastain, all three of whom devote themselves to their characters completely, infusing real, gripping emotion and believability into a story that might have felt outlandish and implausible otherwise.

Acting aside, so many other people had to come together in order to make this film such a unique experience: Nolan’s pitch-perfect direction,  Nathan Crowley’s beautifully futuristic-yet-realistic production design, Hans Zimmer’s mesmerizing, grand score, Double Negative’s insane special effects, and Hoyte van Hoytema’s show-stopping, Oscar-worthy cinematography.

I saw Interstellar in 70mm IMAX, and I cannot stress enough just how important it is that you see it in the same format.  A normal viewing experience will pale in comparison to the awe of the images that appear on that giant screen, and I can’t even imagine trying to watch a film of this magnitude on my TV or phone. Nolan’s use of IMAX cameras isn’t just for show, nor is it a gimmick like 3D so often is.  It truly heightens and enhances the experience, bringing distant, water covered planets and supermassive black holes to life right in front of your eyes. Just be sure to get to the theater early to get a good seat.

I also did something that I’ve never done before for a movie: I actively avoided, at all costs, watching the trailers and reading reviews for Interstellar.  This sometimes meant darting out of whatever theater I was in during the previews, or plugging my ears and humming to myself, in order to stay as blind as possible to what Interstellar was about.  When I finally did get to see it, I knew of only the title, the director, key crew and cast members, and the three main posters that had been officially released.

Nolan’s films are always shrouded in secrecy, like J.J. Abrams to the nth degree. But sadly, today’s movie-going culture is so obsessed with knowing everything beforehand that oftentimes, it makes it nearly impossible for studios to keep everything under wraps.  I wouldn’t plan on doing this for every film, but if there’s one that you’re really looking forward to seeing in the future, I really do recommend that you try your best to avoid any promotional material.  In my opinion, it makes the initial viewing of the film much more powerful and exciting.

Interstellar is a very special film to me, not just because of the fact that I loved it so much when I finally saw it, but also because of what it represents: that old-fashioned filmmaking still works. That special effects and CGI and green screen aren’t the only ways of making fiction seem real.  That it’s possible to dream up the biggest, most ambitious story you can think of, and still make people believe in the impossible while watching it.  Interstellar succeeds where so many other films have failed:

It captures our imaginations completely.