Christopher Nolan reaches for the stars with this staggeringly ambitious space epic, Interstellar, as he sends an intrepid band of astronauts led by a ruggedly heroic Matthew McConaughey on a desperate mission to save humanity from extinction. Yet despite mind-blowing spectacle, even more mind-blowing ideas and occasionally heartbreaking drama, pulling off a timeless sci-fi masterpiece remains just beyond Nolan’s grasp.
Striving for the impossible, however, is what the film is all about. Its setting is a near future in which Earth has been pushed to the brink of total ecological collapse. Scratching a living in an American Midwest that resembles the Dustbowl of the 1930s thanks to a crop-destroying blight, McConaughey’s former Nasa test pilot turned farmer, Cooper (the Gary Cooper echo is clear), is dismayed that the authorities appear to have turned away from bold solutions to the crisis in favour of fearful rearguard actions.
‘We’ve forgotten who we are: explorers, adventurers, not caretakers,’ he protests. ‘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.’
Then, thanks to a series of freaky circumstances that the viewer initially has to take on trust, he is given the opportunity to pilot a spaceship that has been designed to nip through a wormhole near Saturn and emerge in another galaxy in the vicinity of several potentially habitable planets. The hazardous project is being directed by Michael Caine’s crusty boffin, Professor Brand, whose brainy daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) is one of the crew, along with scientists Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley).
Nolan’s cinematic mission has a scientist on board, too. Theoretical physicist Kip Thorne has given the film’s brain-stretching science his imprimatur, although other experts have picked (black) holes in the plot. Most of us, though, will go along with the story’s flow. Our reward is a succession of awesome images given even greater intensity by Hans Zimmer’s soaring score, from stunning shots of Cooper’s craft flying past the rings of Saturn to the view of a distant mountain range that turns out, terrifyingly, to be a mountainous tidal wave.
But what keeps us strapped to our seats for the film’s 169-minute running time is the human drama, above all the relationship between McConaughey’s widowed hero and his questing, questioning daughter Murphy, played as a 10-year-old by Mackenzie Foy and as an adult by Jessica Chastain.
The screenplay (co-written by Nolan and his brother, Jonathan) too often veers between the clunky and the corny, between technological jargon that recalls the ‘Gravimetric Field Displacement Manifold’ that propelled Star Trek’s Warp Drive to such hokey greetings-card sentiments as ‘Love is the one thing that transcends dimensions of time and space’.
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But the truly stellar acting of McConaughey, Foy and Chastain does away with the need for words to convey cosmic depths of anguish, yearning, sorrow and hope. Ultimately, it is human emotions not quantum physics that propels Nolan’s movie to its destination.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 169 mins. Director Christopher Nolan.
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