Not Quite Good Enough: A Review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar

interstellar 2014

The Film: Interstellar
Director: Christopher Nolan
Primary Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, Michael Caine, David Gyasi, Casey Affleck
U.S. Release Date: 07 November 2014

Disclaimer: I had to sit in the 2nd row and had an uncomfortably full bladder for about 3/4 of Interstellar . . . so it’s possible that I am being a tad harder on it than I should (but probably not tbh).

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is a visually impressive sci-fi/fantasy/fable about love and exploration. It’s also a decent film that has no excuse for being as not-great as it is. Does that make sense?

Interstellar: The Movie
It’s the not-too-distant future, and mankind has ruined the earth, doesn’t like to explore anymore, and is running out of food. Cooper (McConaughey) used to be a hella good pilot, but he crashed, and now he’s a farmer. He lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and has two kids, a teenage son, Tom (Timothee Chalamet), and a ten-year-old daughter Murphy (Foy). Tom is cool and all, but mostly Cooper likes Murphy, because she’s a lot like him or something. They are quite close, and their relationship is vital to the film.

Anyway, after some strange little events, Cooper ends up at NASA (which he didn’t realize still existed). At NASA, Cooper finds Professor Brand (Caine) who he happens to know. Brand convinces Cooper that he must pilot a spaceship through a wormhole to another galaxy to save the human race. Cooper agrees to do so, and he breaks his daughter’s heart in the process.

So Cooper goes to space. Along with him go professor Brand’s daughter (Hathaway), a man named Doyle (Wes Bently), another named Romilly (Gyasi), and a couple of robots. Then they have space adventures while everything on earth continues to go to shit.

The Good
Before I start bitching about all the problems I have with Interstellar, allow me to pay it a few compliments. First, Hoyte Van Hoytema’s work is beautiful, even breathtaking at times. Filling in the cinematographic shoes typically filled by Wally Pfister, Hoytema does a fine job. Hoytema and the visual effects teams for Interstellar are responsible for most of the film’s best moments. The film is visually powerful and some of it’s shots (including many in the wormhole sequence) are awe inspiring. That many of my favorite moments in the film are those in which none of the characters are visible on screen probably says a lot. 

Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack (quite predictably) is also a delight. It’s powerful and atmospheric and maintains the film’s bleak, emotional, and strangely reverent tone quite beautifully. I probably won’t make a habit of rewatching Interstellar with any sort of regularity, but I’ll definitely be listening to the score once it’s released. Zimmer’s Score pairs wonderfully with the film’s visuals. (If anyone is wondering literally no one is wondering, it’s far more orchestral and ‘composed’ feeling than Gravity‘s amazing score, but it works well all the same).

McConnnaheueheyyy does a decent job. His performance is emotional, and perfectly watchable. In fact, he even brought me to tears a few times (what can I say, I’m a softie). As young Murphy, Foy is also surprisingly good. Her performance is affecting and comes across as delightfully natural. The interactions between Cooper and young Murphy are also the post emotionally powerful an dynamic in the film (it’s a shame they don’t last long . . . because space adventure). Most of the film’s other performances are fine, but are nothing to write home about.  (I didn’t really enjoy Hathaway’s work in this film, but I am beginning to suspect that I just don’t care for her acting in general).

The way Interstellar uses space to tell a story about time is also a positive. If it weren’t for this element in the film (which explores time dilation and other things I can’t explain), it would fall pretty flat. In fact, most of the emotion in this film has very little to do with the impending extinction of the human race. Rather, the film’s emotional center is composed of an interest in familial relationships and in what time does to those relationships. 

The Slightly Annoying
“A wild Matt Damon appears! Oh look, there’s Topher Grace!” – these are thoughts that I had during Interstellar that I don’t want to think while watching any film ever. Throwing someone like Matt Damon into a film late is rude, clunky, and annoying. All it does is distract viewers by pulling them out of the film and into the paparazzi-photo-filled real world. It’s disorienting. Don’t do it. There was no reason a recognizable actor needed to play Damon’s part. Ugh. That’s some bad decision making right there. This isn’t Anchorman 2. 

There are some robots in Interstellar, because it’s a sci-fi so we have to have robots I guess.They are fine, but they are also funny. Maybe too funny? (I’m still making up my mind on this point).

This film clocks in at just under 3 hours. No one leaving the film will be surprised by this information, because it feels like 3 hours and then some. Perhaps it’s fitting that a film as interested in the relativity of time and in distortion of time as Interstellar feels like it lasts longer than it does . . . in a sense, to watch a film is to live a lifetime in mere hours, and this idea ties in well with several of the events portrayed in Interstellar. Still, it’s just too difficult to give Nolan the benefit of the doubt on this point, and I’m left feeling that the film is longer than it should have been, simply because he was just too in love with it to cut it down properly.

For me, one of the most annoying (but not necessarily totally terrible) things about Interstellar is its determination to say something grand about the power of love. Love can transcend all dimensions! We must follow our hearts into space! Love can make even the messiest plot make sense because LOVEVEV! No. Stop it. Apparently Nolan has forgotten that not all of a film’s messages need to be spoken aloud by the characters verbatim (and more than once at that). Several of Interstellar‘s most cringe-worthy and clumsy moments are those in which the film abandon’s all subtlety to explicitly reassert the power of love. Why Nolan felt the need to include these moments is beyond me, and the story would have been plenty powerful and poignant without them.

The Crap
The worst part of this film is the script. Nolan and Nolan’s writing is not good enough. A good deal of the dialogue feels forced or out of place. It’s clunky, it’s pedestrian, it ruins what otherwise could be interesting, beautiful, and memorable moments. Brand the younger’s spiel about love is particularly hard to sit through, but it is just one example of the screenplay’s lack of artfulness, finesses, and subtlety.

Unfortunately, one of the weakest points in the film is its ending. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that the last few minutes of the film simply do not live up to what precedes it. They could have been cut entirely, and Interstellar would have been stronger for it. But they aren’t. Instead, this film that wants to be a life-changing epic ends with a sequence that is too hopeful, too absurd, and too ordinary to work. 

Interstellar: An Exercise in Wasted Potential
Interstellar reaches for the stars and beyond. It falls far short of those ambitions, but since they are so great to begin with, the result is film that’s at once pretty good and considerably disappointing. The occasional plot hole or discontinuity isn’t the problem (those exist, but they are irrelevant). Rather, the film’s writing simply is not good enough, is not inspired enough, to support Interstellar‘s ambitions and potential. Interstellar provides the sort of spectacle that is sure to delight audiences the world over, but the film has one too many hiccups to be great. It’s emotional, it’s powerful, it’s beautiful, and it could have been far greater. 

Until Next Time
Thanks for reading. What did you think of Interstellar? Have I got it all wrong? How do you feel about Nolan in general? Let me know with a comment below.

5 thoughts on “Not Quite Good Enough: A Review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar

    • Exactly. If someone with a better ear for dialogue had gone through the script, it would have helped the film immensely. I certainly won’t deny that Nolan is a gifted filmmaker (it’s because he is that I expect more), this one just doesn’t quite live up to his abilities in certain areas.

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