Since his first commercially successful film, 2000’s “Memento,” Christopher Nolan has–whether purposely or inadvertently–found himself attempting to bridge the gap between the human element and the uncontrollable forces that consume those who find themselves at the forefront of his characteristically “trippy” narrative architecture. The Batman saga, once Nolan decided to proceed with his own rendering of the story, was turned upside down then placed within the light of something unmistakably human; the Dark Knight trilogy of the mid-2000’s offered a superhero burdened by the inescapable permanence of distinctly human impulses–an aspect that made the films refreshingly rational–and, to a point, more relatable than the outlandishness that permeated previous renderings of such a popular slice of cinematic pop culture.
In 2010’s “Inception,” Nolan again conjured ‘big ideas’ (by way of a near psychotic trajectory in narrative arc) under the umbrella of intangible forces exerting themselves on his central characters. Loss, or, the remembrance of such a thing, drove its main character to execute the ultimate subconscious ‘reverse heist’ in the most dangerous of time-hopping dreamscapes. Similar to “Inception,” “Interstellar,” at its core, concerns itself with a different kind of loss–one of possibility rather than the reality of a painful memory.
For “Interstellar,” Nolan piggybacks on the idea of toying with space, and–more specifically–time in an attempt to portray profound emotional resonance within a story that, when placed through the lens of meticulously calibrated narrative details, transforms itself into a grandiose cinematic fantasy of crippling unevenness, awe-inspiring ambition and fascinating technical achievement. A frame of sprawling cornfields opens the films’ proceedings, seemingly endless and lush, all of which seem to be more Spielbergian than something of Nolan’s own derivation. True, the crop is lush, but it won’t be for long. An undisclosed famine has struck Earth, and many, if not all of its inhabitants have turned to farming. The clock, in essence, has been set back to a forgotten time–a forgotten way of life.
Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper harbors the astuteness of a renaissance man. He’s the caretaker for a close knit family of four: his headstrong, fearless daughter, Murph, his son, Tom and his father, Donald. Beset by destructive dust storms, unlivable conditions and a potent sense of apathy held by those around them, Cooper and (and Murph) remain unable to resign themselves to the plight of impending calamity. In search of a worldwide cure-all, Cooper finds himself at the head of a NASA mission (now a secretive underground entity) to find hospitable life among the vastness of deep space. Teamed with Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and two of the most unorthodox robots ever put on screen, the six of them set off in search of an unexplored anomaly.
Any further detailing of the plot of “Interstellar” would be doing an extreme, if not unforgivable disservice to the reader. After all, Nolan–always ever-so emphatically–treats the unfolding of his plot with all the decadent twists and turns that a rare, hyper-intelligent storyteller can provide.
To understand thoroughly where Nolan is going with all of this, his character’s dialogue should be treated as anything but half-muttered minutiae. Each piece of the enigmatic puzzle is parceled out in short blasts of convoluted technical speak, and key elements of the story depend on how well-versed you are in the science of black holes, event horizons and, oh, you know, that theory of relativity thing. Much like “Inception,” the filmmaker’s key device, again, is time, and, the hinge by which “Interstellar’s” door swings is how said time and gravity interact with the basic certainties human beings remain bound by. These futuristic explorers are slaves to an ever-changing clock, both literally and biologically. Only so much time can pass before those on Earth begin to lose hope in the mission to saved a seemingly doomed humanity. Who will they lose to such a baffling undertaking? Who will be left when they return?
All of its intricate scientific psychobabble aside, Nolan’s space-time spectacle is an impassioned love letter to film written in resplendent, unmistakably ardent prose. “Interstellar” is an ode to the power of cinema’s capabilities, but–more specifically–its ability to transport us mentally and move us emotionally. It’s a confounding exercise for many reasons; in its attempt to maintain palatability, Nolan’s screenplay can’t resist the urge to tie a proverbial, painfully hokey bow around the its context clues, which may be its only fatal (and glaringly obvious) flaw.
For many critics, the films of Christopher Nolan unceasingly commit the ultimate sin of cinematic insanity. Time after time, rather than committing to one way or the other, the English filmmaker is persistent in his attempts to pull off the decisive amalgamation of art and action. “Interstellar” continues in this same vein, and the fact that anyone would think otherwise is to perceive the polarizing director’s filmography myopically. To successfully bridge the gap between art house and the mainstream audience, en masse, Nolan must find his key ingredient, and, what that ingredient is, I do not know. “Interstellar” has made huge strides in achieving that goal, but the mixture is still tilting off-kilter.
“Interstellar” is a relentless attempt to blend density and convention, and, like the Endurance on its return trip through Gargantua’s event horizon, exhausts all of its resources in the process. At times, it succeeds enormously and profoundly. At others, it is anticlimactic and palpably hackneyed, but, sometimes its not about the destination, but the journey one takes to get there. “Interstellar,” in defiance of its tendencies to drift into the overly-mawkish, is a powerful, exceptional piece of cinema in its purest and most enthralling form.
In movies, there are instances when–as a letter of the law–scope and ambition supercede weakness. This is one of those times.