Caveat Lector, I’m terrible with accidentally including spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
Tuesday I got to see an advanced screening of Interstellar on a 35mm print – I’m sure when I get around to seeing it in IMAX, I’ll fall in love all over again. Those who know me, know that I love Christopher Nolan, so I’m sure it’s no surprise when I say that I thought this movie was amazing, though as we get further into this it may not be for the reasons you think. Also, since these tend to be long winded, allow me to sum up my whole review for you – do whatever you have to do to see this movie in the theater. It is truly a full movie-going experience and I’m sure it will lose some of it’s amazing-ness if viewed on a poorly setup TV with only quasi-decent speakers (aka, most everyone’s living room).
Technically, this film was phenomenal which is pretty much par for the course for Nolan. Beautiful visuals, lensed by a true artist, Hoyte Van Hoytema. Sound was amazing, music as well (more on this later). Editing was perfect – tying two storylines together, perfectly creating tension and emotion. All of this would make it a picture worth seeing. But there was more… so much more.
First, the science. This is a science fiction film that doesn’t have to stay fiction. It’s a believable near-future Earth, with buildings and technology seemingly based on our actual Earth. In other words, all of society hasn’t been replaced by new shiny whatever just to make it seem more future-y. In fact, in this future the Earth is slowly dying and there’s really nothing shiny and new any more. Overpopulation and an incurable disease that affects plant life is leaving the Earth with a bleak outlook of mass starvation. Cooper, the main character, is actually told at one point that the world no longer needs engineers (his former job), just more farmers. Eventually people wind up in space and theres quite a bit of scientific mumbo-jumbo bandied about in regards to space travel, relativity, and quantum physics… Except it’s not just pseudo scientific babble for the movie. The movie has been screened by scientists of all different types and they have nearly universally approved of the content. In fact, using theoretical physicist Kip Thorne’s data and equations, the visual effects team made a bonafide scientific discovery while trying to create one of the movie’s main effects. In an age of writers and movie makers doing whatever they want to advance their hackneyed stories, it’s refreshing to realize that this movie lines up pretty closely with what physicists are saying is just over the horizon for us.
Secondly, the performances were great. Matthew McConaughey who for years was not much more than a stock character in romcoms has really been proving that he is an absolutely amazing actor the past couple of years – and this may be his best yet. His character, Cooper, has to express almost the totality of the range of human emotions – sometimes with little to no on screen chemistry with other actors. At one point in the story, after traveling through space and being out of communication with his kids for an extended amount of time, he is seeing several years of their lives in small snippets of video messages. Sitting alone he expresses joy, deep loneliness, and intense sadness. At no point did I think to myself, “this is cheesy,” or, “wow, he’s a good actor.” I was far too deep into living through this with him to even think about the movie – that’s how good he was. The rest of the cast was stellar – which is because Nolan has always understood that some times small roles are actually super critical, and therefore he casts Oscar-grade actors in what could seem like bit parts.
As an aside, there is a supporting role played rather unexpectedly by Matt Damon. Because of how he is introduced and the fact that it was about 90 minutes of tension-filled cinema in, I reflexively broke the tension with my best Team America “Matt Damon”, causing several adjacent rows to also laugh.
Along side the performances, the whole movie was crafted as an experience. In the movie space, quite correctly, has no sound. Some of the most nail-biting moments in the movie happen in silence – some are lacking even the score under them. Which brings us to the score. It is haunting and beautiful. It swells perfectly with the emotion of the scene. Some scenes are so strong emotionally that the score swells nearly to the point of being distorted, completely covering any dialog that was trying to be delivered. At no point when this happened did I mind, because the music delivered me to the emotional place Nolan wanted and I needed to be. Coupling this with the visuals, the film is truly a visceral experience. It is a master piece.
Finally, the story is amazing. Not only is it amazing, but it can be summed up in one word: Love.With the world close to global starvation, Cooper does the only thing he truly knows how to do – he flies to space, looking for a new planet to colonize with the hope that he can save the world in time to save his two kids. Everything he does is motivated by that love and it leads to extreme decisions and sacrifices. At the end of the movie, Love transcends everything we know about relationships and science and it does the impossible. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this may be the clearest understanding of unconditional love seen in a movie to date. In fact, this story shares the Gospel more clearly than any “Christian” film I’ve seen. No, I’m not saying Luke Skywalker/Neo/Cooper is really Jesus. What I am saying is that a father’s unending love is shown so beautifully that if you can’t find a way to compare that to the love of a Heavenly Father and you claim to be a Christian, you probably need to re-examine you’re beliefs. And all of this is done by a writing and directing team that (to my knowledge) are not followers of Christ.
Now, there are some (I’m looking at you Chris) who will say this movie is merely derivative and is barely above a reboot of 2001: Space Odyssey. It’s understandable – there’s only so many things you can say/do with a black hole and I won’t deny there are hommages paid, but there is so much more to this movie in all aspects than just a mere re-hashing of Kubrick. Do not skip this movie just because you’ve seen 2001. Though, you should totally watch or re-watch 2001 whenever you get a chance because Kubrick.
So, to re-sum up, you absolutely need to make time to see this in the theater. It is a beautiful experience that, while still great at home, is something not to be missed at the cinema.