This is a difficult review for me to write, I love Christopher Nolan’s films; even Dark Knight Rises, his messy diatribe against the Occupy movement, had redeeming features. For Interstellar, Nolan brought back Bat-alumni Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, and teamed them up with Matthew McConaughey for this 168 minute science fiction epic. I’d been looking forward to it for a long time, and made sure to see it as the director intended, in 70mm IMAX film projection.
Spoilers from hereon in!
Interstellar introduces us to an analogue world, stripped of technological frippery or ambition, all such indulgences seen as wasteful compared to dealing with a greater threat: A blight of crops, that seems to only affect plants one species at a time, and seemingly unpredictable dust storms. Between dwindling food supplies and the outrage of having to set tables with the crockery upside down, clearly this is a doomed world.
McConaughey plays Cooper, single father, farmer and former astronaut and engineer. Via a series of gravitational anomalies, ghosts and messages from the beyond sent to his daughter Murph, he is sent to find his mentor Michael Caine. Caine’s Professor Brand runs the new and secret NASA, together with his daughter, token female crew member Anne Hathaway. Together they have a plan to save mankind: Send a spaceship, if they could only find a pilot, through a mysteriously appeared wormhole to another galaxy, with a black hole at its heart. There they will pick a planet, and either repopulate it with a mobile sperm bank, or provide quantum data from the black hole to help solve the mathematical solution to gravity, allowing the Earthbound people to escape their dustball via space stations.
After a tearful farewell from his daughter, Cooper departs in beautifully layered scenes of his departure from the farm, and from the earth in his space ship. And from this point forward the spectacle of Interstellar unfolds, with dramatic visuals of space, and wormholes and strange planets and black holes; all soaringly soundtracked by Hans Zimmer. Unfortunately, it’s from this point onwards that the niggles of the first act are dwarfed by the clangers yet before us. The list of issues with the second act are numerous, but let me at least ask a few questions of it:
- Was anyone in any doubt, from the very first moment, that (surprise!) Matt Damon had ill intent? Did we, in a story of man vs time and man vs a doomed future, need a human antagonist too? Was there any other reason for externally mounted, easily removed radio transmitters, other than to solve a plot problem?
- Why did the space craft they were piloting need rocket boosters to escape earth’s atmosphere, but manage quite fine without them afterwards to take off from other planets?
- How can you have 100ft waves in one foot of water depth?
- Couldn’t we have waited for a little longer for the token female crew member to break down, lose her scientific rationality and declare her only motivation was love?
- Did we really need to hear that bloody Dylan Thomas poem over and over and over again?
Sadly this isn’t a comprehensive list, but I’m trying to show an element of restraint. What I did like were the visuals of the planets they visited and the beautiful black hole, even if Gargantua sounds more like a Marvel villain than anything else. Being unable to really feel an emotional connection to the majority of the cast, I liked both the design and characterisation of the robot TARS. It was a well-executed meshing of non-human, entirely practical design, with very human emotions. Sometimes more so than any of the stars of the movie.
And then there was the ending. The twisty, ‘I was the ghost all along’, time-travelly, hiding in the bookcase mess that was the ending. Somehow, by being within the event horizon of Gargantua, future humanity has enabled Cooper to hide behind his daughter’s bookcase and communicate to her with gravity, flung books and sending complicated quantum data via morse code. I challenge anyone not to have a quizzical look on their face during that whole sequence.
So, future us have enabled Cooper to travel through a wormhole and tell his daughter the answer to the maths problem that will allow her adult self to save mankind. That’s great and all, but I think future us might have to work on their communication skills.
And then there’s the denouement. Everyone is happy; Cooper’s now ancient daughter has saved humanity and, by some hidden narrative method, has been reunited with her rescued father. Rather than spending time with him after a lifetime apart though, she sends him off to the empty planet that lovelorn Anne Hathaway was stranded on. Because clearly, as she stands over the grave of her lost love, the thing that will save them both will be the love of someone with whom neither have any chemistry whatsoever.
So, there we go. Interstellar: Beautiful and flawed. I think most of my dismay with the film is disappointment, the potential and build-up this had, and the depth to which it has been squandered. For while there are many worse films that have come out this year, none have fallen so short of their potential.