Christopher Nolan is a grand filmmaker; a creative artist that takes thrilling ideas and applies them to a massive canvas generated by the studio system. Say what you want about his penchant for twisted narrative structures or exposition heavy dialog, but no one can deny that Nolan is deeply concerned with generating a cinematic experience that completely immerses the audience. After breathing new life into the wounded soul of Warner Bros. Batman franchise, and creating a world where we can explore and dissect a person’s dreamscape, it seemed only natural for Nolan to center his next feature film on an ambitious theory: interstellar travel by way of wormhole. Steeped in the knowledge of renowned theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, Interstellar passionately propels us into uncharted cinematic territory, but at its core, Interstellar is a loving ode from a father to his daughter.
Taking place in a not so distant future, Earth is a barren mother that’s unable to secrete sustenance for its starving children. The only morsel of food it can muster is corn, and even that is disappearing at an alarming rate. Beleaguered farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) feels death blowing on the wind, as dust storms randomly overpower the Earth. In Cooper’s mind, humans are slowly being buried alive, a bleak proposition humans have cynically accepted in the devaluation of technological progression. Cooper refuses extinction, especially in the name of his children, Murph and Tom. The former of which inadvertently leads Cooper into an impromptu meeting with Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), two secret NASA scientists preparing a mission to save the Earth. Torn between staying home with his children or embarking on a dangerous, world saving mission, Cooper reluctantly decides the only way he can save his children is by leaving them.
Divulging anymore information beyond this point is a fool’s errand, as spilling secrets will eradicate the film’s sense of wonder. Especially the film’s breathless third act, where cosmic theory, the relativity of time, and an inalienable love coalesce into a stirring ending. Heightening Nolan’s twisty narrative are divine visuals that are as seamless and immersive as they are staggeringly beautiful. The film’s artful aesthetic, with fantastic cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema, is nearly comparable to the timeless vision found in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Once again, as he has masterfully demonstrated in all of his films, Nolan’s investment in practical effects gives something as bizarre as a planet made of ice a tangible quality; we can’t help but be swallowed up by the unexplored worlds in front of us. Nolan’s visual splendor is perfectly married to a dizzying score from Hans Zimmer, who dials back his bombastic tendencies, and orchestrates both a frightening and moving score.
There is no denying that Interstellar is a technical marvel, but even when it seduces us with grand imagery, we’re far more dedicated to its digestible through line: a father’s journey back to his kids. Over the years many have criticized Nolan for making dead, emotionless films, which is a ludicrous assertion in my mind, but Interstellar is definitely his most sentimental film. Where his visuals hearken back to Kubrick, his central themes are reminiscent of Spielberg. Igniting the film’s massive heart, which at times tries to outweigh its heady themes, is Matthew McConaughey. His presence keeps the mission grounded. There’s a scene in particular where Cooper receives a collection of heartbreaking messages from Earth after an objective goes awry. Nolan simply fixates the camera on McConaughey’s tired face, and lets the acting tell the story. McConaughey perfectly captures the withering psyche of a father who no longer wants to save the world, but wants to reinforce the weakening bond with his son, while mending the fractured relationship he has with his daughter. It’s truly a fantastic piece of acting, and it’s in scenes like this that Nolan’s sincerity breaks through. Obviously, he’s deeply interested in creating a dangerous cinematic expedition born out of dense scientific theories, but Nolan’s grand statement about love, especially that of a family, is the most wondrous, genuine thing you’ll experience at a theater this year.