Saturday, November 8, 2014

Leap of Faith: Interstellar

I’ll take an epic movie any day, and thank God Christopher Nolan is willing to oblige – especially considering the narrowly envisioned, copycat films released one after the other.

The thrill of Interstellar is its masterful juxtapositioning of touching, earthbound family drama with mind-blowing space odyssey, its cutting back and forth between hardships at a dilapidated farmhouse in a rural dustbowl and a surrealistic journey into a black hole.

Thrilling, too, is how the film starts out in the dusty cornfields, with Matthew McConnaughey as Cooper, a farmer struggling, with the help of his father-in-law (John Lithgow) to preserve his crops of corn and raise his son and daughter. The daughter, Murph, as played by Mackenzie Foy, is an example of Nolan’s casting at its best. As a budding math and science genius fascinated by strange piles of dust on the floor, Foy gets your attention in every scene she’s in, and she sure as hell looks like a younger Jessica Chastain who plays the older Murph.

On the other hand, Matt Damon as a crazed Robinson Crusoe-like character stranded on a frozen planet doesn’t always work out. And what the hell is Topher Grace doing in this film? He does nothing as the unsuitably wimpy partner for the amazing Jessica Chastain who, as the grownup Murph, uses her brain power to solve the story’s physics conundrum while her father uses his courage and instincts to pilot a spacecraft where no film has gone before. Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway is mostly just servicable.

I will say little else about the plot because the joy for me was seeing Interstellar knowing nothing more than its basic premise – Earth is dying and a mission is sent into space to find a suitable planet to colonize. That the film takes you from a dusty farm to different levels far beyond space and time is what makes it special.

Though the story might get shaky with stuff that only Stephen Hawking really understands, the film is always lifted up by the performances of McConaughey as the father, and Chastain, as the daughter, separated by light years, but battling together to save the human race. Throw in some dazzling shots of the belittling vastness of space, mix in some space-action tropes, keep taking the story to another surprising level – like the multiple dream levels in Nolan’s Inception - and Nolan thankfully delivers a substantial epic.


John Hitchcock said...

I just saw this one yesterday. It was an amazing film. I could definitely see a bit of 2001 in there (especially during the climax, which actually touches on some similar themes) but it still managed to go in a few interesting directions of its own.

Actually, this whole film got me so excited I went out and started a blogathon to go with its release. Unusual I know, and it was certainly an ambitious project but perhaps you'd like to check it out, let me know what you think and maybe even participate:

Hokahey said...

John, thanks for the comment. Just got back from seeing this a third time. Very epic, very emotional, and I love the 2001 connections. I will check out the blogathon.

Steve's Blog said...

Finally got to see Interstellar this afternoon in a packed house on a huge screen. I have to say I was annoyed at the prospect of sitting for 3 hours with people all around me. I could hear the munching of snacks and "excuse me`s" for the toilet as the previews rolled. But to my pleasant surprise, there was not a peep, a crunch, or a movement the entire time. I only heard sniffles at about 5 different points in the film, including my own.

This is what separated this film from the coldness of other admirable sci-fi work like Gravity, Prometheus, and 2001. While the latter may be equally cerebral to Nolan`s quantum physical theories, it doesn`t match the humanity of Interstellar.

There were wince-inducing moments, like the Matt Damon contrivances and Anne Hathaway`s motivations. But those are forgivable as the haunting imagery of Saturn and black holes have made their way into my psyche. And I always applaud a director attempting to stretch the big questions. I like to think Nolan is not only claiming the nihilistic notion that the universe is chaotic, but he`s saying that we can find balance and create order in it. This is what the images said to me as I sat through the extensive credits and haunting score.

Hokahey said...

Steve - As always, thanks for the comment. Yes, there might be a few off-moments in the film, but I have been drawn to see the film four times, and I have to say that my 4th viewing was the most enjoyable - rough spots and all, this is an epic that is emotional while it is expansive and sometimes inscrutable in its physics. I could not help being totally engrossed and emotionally engaged for a 4th time. This has been a year of claustrophobic character-driven films - and I found it exhilarating to view a film that takes the viewer very far - while, at the same time, incorporating that emotional element that makes the film special. I applaud McConaughey for his tremendous performance.