Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ Is Brilliant Filmmaking


Interstellar is a brilliant piece of filmmaking, not surprising since its director is Christopher Nolan, easily the most interesting, and possibly the best, director of our time. For a change, we have a movie — a very, very long movie — painted on a huge canvas. The meaning of life and love are portrayed in interesting ways within the structure of a huge scientific enigma.

Nolan is one of my favorite directors. His Memento managed to work beautifully even though it worked backward in time. The Dark Knight was probably the best comic book movie ever made. Inception was fascinating. And in this movie, he uses his art in new ways, focusing on love and sacrifice.

The world is facing ecological disaster in the future as crops die off. The educational system teaches children that the moon landings were faked to limit their dreams. Coop (Matthew McConaughy) is a former pilot-astronaut who now just grows corn and dreams of flying. His daughter Murph (played as a child by Mackenzie Foy, as an adult by Jessica Chastain and in very old age by Ellen Burstyn) sees “ghosts” that provide a clue of a place to go. Coop figures out where the place is, and they discover that NASA still exists, and they want Coop to lead an expedition through a wormhole to another galaxy where they hope they can move what is left of the human race.

Coop is torn between love for his children and the need to save the human race. He chooses space. (One weakness of the film is the rapidity of his decision. One minute he is agonizing, and suddenly he is leaving. Next thing you know, he’s blasting off into space.) He goes into extended sleep along with other crew members and, two years later, wakes up to discover that Murph has refused to send messages along; she still refuses to talk to him. There are many adventures, with superb special effects as Coop and sidekick Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) along with a couple of disposable, and disposed of, crew members (Wes Bentley and David Gyasi), plus a robot voiced by Bill Irwin. They meet an unbilled star on one of the planets, and his actions lead to more adventure. Eventually, Coop winds up back with Murph.

The film is really long (2 hours and 49 minutes) yet it seemed to fly by as the different set pieces worked together. There was a lot of extra dialogue about the space-time continuum that sounded right, but then again, I am a science fiction fan. But the mix of human love and the normal patterns on sci-fi films (there are more than a few hints of 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Right Stuff and even Lost in Space in the movie, along with a bit of Grapes of Wrath) could stir anyone.

McConaughy is superb. Coop is the archetypical American who is somehow going to save the human race, even if it means major sacrifice. He manages to hold the plot together, even when it seems to be wavering on the edge of chaos. Hathaway comes off less well, perhaps because of the nature of the plot. She is not sympathetic at the start and changes gradually. It is not easy to process the change, another weakness in this movie. Foy and Chastain are marvelous in their portrayal of Murph (Burstyn is excellent as well, but is in only one brief scene) — for a change, they are performers actually look like they might be the same person at different times of life. All the rest of the cast, including Michael Caine, Casey Affleck and John Lithgow, are also extremely good.

The movie has an optimism we seldom see anymore in our movies. “We’ve forgotten who we are,” Coop says. “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” Nolan builds on this; humans have their destiny in their own hand. Instead of looking for bare survival, we can be great.

I really liked the picture. Despite its length, I was deeply involved all the way. This is one of those movies that you should see and probably will see again in the future because of its greatness.