Review: Interstellar


In SCREENWRITING 101, Film Crit Hulk devotes an entire chapter to plot holes. A subsection of that chapter specifically discusses the works of Christopher Nolan, using The Dark Knight as the primary example. Christopher Nolan has a reputation as a brilliant filmmaker but a subpar storyteller. At first glance, the films seem perfect, but in retrospect (and after multiple viewings), they’re full of plot holes and many of his ideas simply don’t make sense.

Hulk argues that people who focus on the negatives are missing the point and that the broken logic is irrelevant if it doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the film as it progresses. What you feel in retrospect is less important than what you feel in the moment. If the moment works at the time, there’s no real “plot hole” there, because clearly having a consistent plot wasn’t the point. Christopher Nolan movies have always been about entertainment, and if the broken logic underlying one of his films doesn’t stop it from entertaining you, then so what?

But unlike his Nolan’s films, Interstellar has plot holes. You’ll get caught up in the moment trying to piece together the puzzle at the time because certain moments seem to contradict each other within the narrative as presented, and then you might miss the next nonsensical moment that you have to then parse.

It’s a testament to Nolan’s talent as a filmmaker that it doesn’t matter.

Interstellar - Trailer - Official Warner Bros. UK

Director: Christopher Nolan
Release Date: November 7, 2014
Rating: PG-13 

Interstellar isn’t something you think about. It’s something you feel about. As soon as the film begins, turn off your brain. You won’t need it where you’re going, and if you brought it it would just get in the way. Think of your brain as your awkward younger sibling and Interstellar like that super awesome party you’ve been excited about since you went to that last one where the guy who sounded like Sean Connery blew up a football field. You brought your sibling to that party too and regretted it as soon as they started asking questions with no answers.

Don’t make that mistake again. Because as I very explicitly stated above, those questions won’t just start up afterwards, they’ll hit you early and often. And as the film continues, those questions will eventually turn into a torrent of confusion. You can’t enjoy a party like that. Nor can you enjoy Interstellar like that.

But as you turn off your brain, keep your heart (or gut, or whatever it is you use to feel) ready, because doing so is the key to understanding what Interstellar wants to do. As with his previous films, Christopher Nolan is trying to tell a story that is far more complicated than its runtime allows. He cuts corners lots of them in service of hitting you with all the things that really do count. The action, the drama, the feelings. Trying to actually make sense of Inception would take a miniseries at least. Trying to make sense of Interstellar would take a full TV season.

It is a film that spans planets and dimensions and time and space. It does things that most people couldn’t even dream of, and it pulls them off with aplomb. The earth is dying, but humanity isn’t going to go down so easily. Like Inception, it would be difficult to actually spoil Interstellar. In fact, I don’t even know how to try to spoil some of the crazier parts of Interstellar, because I don’t really have the words to accurately describe them. I don’t know that words really could. (A novelization of Interstellar would be interesting. Probably not very good, but interesting.) But there’s no reason to even try.

Interstellar still

Instead of focusing on the underlying logic, let’s think about the feelings. Say what you want about Nolan’s writing, his ideas are fascinating and thematically rich. Interstellar has so many ideas running around it simultaneously, but the two emotions that run through every single moment are love and survival. Survival isn’t really an emotion like love is, but the instinct and the need to save both onesself and the entirety of the human race may as well be. Perhaps it’s something related to love. Whatever it is, it’s real. Put into the position where humanity will die out in a generation, what do you do? What does everyone do? What is the next step, and what sacrifices have to be made to get there?

Those are the questions that Interstellar tries to answer, but it does so in a human way. This isn’t a film about humanity. It’s a film about Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a man who could save humanity. Maybe. Many stories about the One Man To Save Them All are hokey, but Cooper’s talents are simple: He’s a pilot in a world devoid of pilots. No one knows how to fly spacecraft because no more spacecraft are flown. The world needs a man who has done it before, and Cooper had done it. And his reasons for doing this are simple: He wants to save his children. Everything he does is for them. And it is all so real.

And for that, Matthew McConaughey deserves a second Oscar. His performance in Interstellar is truly his finest, and not really for the reason you’d think. We now expect McConaughey to be great, so it’s no surprise that he excels in his role here, but there’s a point in the film where the narrative goes from implausible to straight-up unbelievable. And in that moment, the only thing we have to hold onto is his performance. He has to ground us in a moment that is basically ungroundable. I cannot overstate how insane things get, nor can I overstate just how incredible it is that McConaughey reacts in a way that someone may actually react in that literally impossible situation. Your visceral reaction to the event will probably every bit as incredulous as mine, but that will be tempered by McConaughey’s performance. “NO!” becomes “No?” becomes “Alright… if you’re sure.” In one moment, Cooper watches a series of messages sent by his children. The context of the scene is heartbreaking, and my eyes welled up at the mix of emotions displayed on his face. It’s spectacular.

This movie is so weird

Let’s switch gears and talk about just how spectacular everything looks. Interstellar is the first movie that Christopher Nolan shot without Wally Pfister since they teamed up for Memento fourteen years ago. Pfister went off and directed Transcendence, which is also nonsense (he learned from the best, I guess) but less compelling than any of Nolan’s films. But I’m glad that Interstellar brought in some new blood, because it means that the film feels just a bit different. With Her cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema at the reins, everything feels a little less polished. Much of the camerawork in Nolan’s other films is flawless, but here there are imperfections, and they make the film feel more immediate and more real. Given that this is a film about immediacy, the new style makes for a film that is arguably more interesting to look at than anything the Nolan/Pfister pairing has done. Whether on the ground or up in space, this is Nolan’s best-looking film.

But it absolutely looks better in space. The dusty farms on Earth look very good (and definitely appropriate), but the scenes won’t shock and amaze you. In space, all bets are off, and this is made even more noticeable by the fact that most of the IMAX camerawork was done in those sequences. I have a lot to say about the use of IMAX and the way the shifts between the 70mm IMAX film and the shift to upscaled 35mm affect the visual perception of a scene, but everything I could say about this I already said about The Dark Knight Rises two years ago. There are problems with the decision to shoot in multiple formats, but to be clear: the experience of seeing Interstellar in a proper IMAX theater is absolutely mindblowing. On multiple occasions, people around me literally gasped at the beautiful shots of space.

This is space the way IMAX documentaries see it, not narrative filmmakers Especially in the moments where the space station is a human-sized dot on a building sized screen, there is nothing like it in cinema. Gravity was successful at giving depth to space and making the infinite blackness feel, well, infinite, but it didn’t feel like this. The scale of an IMAX screen and the fullness of an IMAX image is simply incomparable.

Interstellar - space!

Interstellar is the culmination of everything that Christopher Nolan has done. His devotion to film shows both in its use of IMAX  and the fact that all “digital” transmissions were actually shot on 35mm film. His devotion to practical effects makes the line between reality and unreality blurred in a way that is absolutely stunning. Every film has gotten bigger and crazier, tackling larger ideas and concepts. And then suddenly we have a film that cannot be transcended. There is nowhere for Christopher Nolan to go from here. If he tries to top Interstellar with his next film, he will fail. I can say that with 100% confidence, sight unseen. Because if he goes to the only places he could go to top it, the film will go beyond incomprehensible to the point where someone may finally say, “Mr. Nolan, no. You cannot do that.”

Clearly no one said that during the development of Interstellar. There’s no compromise in this film. None. This may not be Christopher Nolan’s best film, but it’s absolutely his boldest. In an industry so loathe to take risks or try new things, that matters even more.

Editor's Choice