December Issue 2014

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 5 years ago

When Christopher Nolan was a little boy, his father took him to Leicester Square in London to see Stanley Kubrick’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was a key moment for Young Nolan, who has said in interviews that he has tried, with his own films, to recreate for his audiences what he felt all those years back. Now, to compare Nolan with Kubrick would be a folly. Nolan doesn’t rip off Kubrick, he merely pays homage to the great master with his latest project Interstellar. In fact, his science-fiction epic is also quite evocative of Peter Hyams sequel to Kubrick’s classic, 2010: The Year We Made Contact. But generally speaking, in terms of spectacle, Nolan has more than once proved his mettle as a director who brings true intelligence to the blockbuster and Interstellar, a marvellous effort, is no different.

Nolan never simply ‘blows stuff up’ in his high concept pictures. Even though his films might not always work, he genuinely tries to say something different each time. He’s interested in the human condition and his filmmaking does serve a societal purpose. In Interstellar, Nolan’s ninth movie, our world is slowly but surely becoming inhospitable. We are in the near future and by some chemical reaction the Earth is literally turning into dust. “We’re not meant to save the world, we’re meant to leave it,” says Michael Caine’s scientist to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). Cooper, a former NASA test pilot who has taken to farming like everyone else, now has a chance to save mankind with the help of an underground space station led by Caine.

It’s fairly simple (it’s really not): Cooper, leaving two kids and a father-in-law behind, will lead the Endurance mission and fly into a wormhole in space, which will perhaps give way to a new planet. No one knows for sure why that wormhole is where it is, but ‘they’ (whoever they may be) might have placed it in space to help the humans survive. It’s intriguing enough and Cooper is up to the risky challenge. In this mission, he is accompanied by Caine’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathway), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi) and two robots, TARS and CASE.

Cooper’s decision to take on this mission breaks his daughter’s heart. Who knows how long he’ll be gone, she wonders. In the film’s most brilliant scene, when Cooper is on another planet for a couple of hours, 23 years have passed on Earth. This has to do with the gravitational pull being dissimilar and Cooper has video messages from his children piled up on his space hard drive from all this time. His daughter is now a young woman (Jessica Chastain), still bitter, but now a NASA scientist herself. At the film’s core is this father-daughter relationship and it’s one that is ultimately the key to understanding the film. But no spoilers here.

One has to admire Nolan for his latest feat. Never has he operated on such a grand scale, and it’s awe-inspiring to watch. In terms of cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema), Interstellar is perhaps the best-looking film of 2014. The acting isn’t out-of-the-world, but it all works on a metaphysical level — as viewers, we are left back on Earth, while we hope that McConaughey and Co. find a suitable planet for us to inhabit. The scene in which the Endurance finally flies into the black hole is breathtaking, making us feel irrelevant and small as humans. Interstellar is interested in the bigger picture: how humans can actually, individually contribute towards a better society.

Perhaps the film’s last 10 to 15 minutes are too melodramatic, too humane for its own good. It could have ended on an even more ambiguous, more sombre note. But to Nolan’s credit, he never backs away from the one message he sets up from the start: that this is a science-fiction film about humans, not other-worldly creatures. And it is therefore a celebration of life itself, of its possibilities and of what humans are capable of. Nolan might just have surpassed himself with Interstellar.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s December 2014 issue under the headline, “Celebrating Life”

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany