Interstellar Review: One Small Step For Christopher Nolan

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Look, Christopher Nolan doesn’t make bad films. Some of them just aren’t all that rewarding. Interstellar falls into that category. At a whopping 169 minutes, we actually get two films: a family drama and a space adventure. One works a lot better than the other.

The first chunk of the film takes place on a dying Earth. Former NASA pilot/engineer and current farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) yearns for the life of discovery he lived before the planet started turning to dust. But he has kids, who he loves dearly. The beginning of Interstellar introduces us to a warm family dynamic between Cooper and his kids, but their lives are believably flawed. It’s only once the space adventure portion of the film starts that the family drama shows it’s true colors, and they aren’t pretty.

It doesn’t take much for Cooper to get back into space, just a long chat with Nolan veteran Michael Caine, playing Professor Brand, the orchestrator of two options for saving humanity. This is literally where the film takes off.

Nolan and his crew have no shortage of stunning footage of the black abyss that is outer space. The vivid creations of wormholes and black holes put the “inventiveness” of Inception to shame. The director may not be CGI’s biggest defender, but he uses it to great affect as the crew explore several planets and phenomena we only read about. There is a sense of wonder here missing from most modern sci-fi movies. And I mean true wonder. It’s refreshing to see a less grounded Nolan taking on something he can’t really ground. Thankfully, he doesn’t try to.

That said, the film goes heavy on the science of science fiction, leading to some expository dialogue of astronauts explaining to other astronauts things they would probably already know. It’s easily forgivable though, considering the average moviegoer likely has no clue as to how wormholes work.

As a space opera, Interstellar is inventive and wondrous, which makes it even more disappointing every time we cut back to Earth to deal with more human drama. The story almost descends into melodrama when Cooper’s daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain) ages and still hasn’t forgiven her father for leaving. Her story leads to a few twists that probably could have been cut out to make this gargantuan film a little more manageable for one sitting. These moments take away from the stunning set pieces and the thrill of exploration that the space adventure part is so good at.

The ending does the best it can to tie everything together in a neat little bow, making every homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey it can on the way. But the resolution comes up short by not really solving any of the issues the movie presented. There’s some cheap writing at work here to get you to believe this ending fits, but when you’re walking out of the theater trying to put it all together, you end up with some pretty big leaps in both logic and character work.

Still, this film is far more inventive than anything Nolan has made in the past, opening the doors of his career to nearly infinite possibilities. Interstellar feels like a passion project and a love letter all in one. But its two narratives just don’t carry the same tone. It’s the director’s most disjointed work. But man, if you’re not jumping out of your seat when the exploration crew is faced with a wave taller than the New York City skyline, I’m not sure anything stirs you. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty



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