Big budgets and creativity don’t often go together. Limitations force us to be creative, to think and plan and dream; effectively unlimited resources too often mean a death to original thinking and problem-solving. Director Christopher Nolan may just be proving himself to be an exception to this rule: his smaller, early films like Memento and The Prestige are creative, intriguing, involving and engaging; all qualities found in mega-budget Inception and the occasion he was handed the reins of that most precious of commercial enterprises, Batman (in the form of his trilogy Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises). All of these are films which throw spectacle as well as ideas at the viewer, expecting the audience to work as well as be wowed.
Interstellar is the synthesis of this, a dizzying spectacle almost impossible to describe or articulate. It’s science-fiction set in a future where humanity’s food sources are dwindling out-of-control; a solution must be found elsewhere. What follows involves space-travel, space-ships and some very big philosophical and scientific ideas.
If all that sounds like the stuff of fan-boy culture, you’d be doing yourself and the film a grave dis-service; the opening act is earth-bound and centred around what becomes the film’s key relationship – father-daughter. For all the hyper-reality and wow factor that follows, this is seeking to be a very human story.
Watching Interstellar and then trying to form a coherent opinion of it is like trying to self-diagnose after beaten about the head by one of Pacific Rim‘s gargantuan robots. That’s not to suggest the film is clumsy; it’s that it’s so overwhelming, so expansive, so … big … that you’re left grasping for a response that actually does justice to the experience of seeing the film. It’s far from perfect – the script is clunky, at times giving in to some laboured plot exposition; it sometimes feels like a blessing that the sound mix is such that some lines are near-drowned out by Hans Zimmer’s intense, searing score. That means that the actors don’t really shine; especially those with a lot to do. The best performances are more to the fringe than the centre – especially striking is Mackenzie Foy as the 10-year old daughter, carrying an emotionally laden part that’s vital to the plot and the especially the film’s first third with a disarming ease. Nolan regular Michael Caine is on fine form; Matthew McConaughey struggles gamely with the inadequate script in the central role, and comes up short.
The film wants to ask big questions of the nature of reality, belief and existence; questions so big that it’s impossible to articulate them properly even in a near-three hour running time. It’s also trying to hymn the human capacity for the extraordinary; it does that successfully, with room to spare. For me however, it runs that alongside a deep awareness of humanity’s over-arching arrogance, capacity for self-destruction and the ability to ignore that which is self-evident. For all the wonder, the film never feels naive or misty-eyed.
In the end, it’s an essential, flawed experience; one of the few films that can tip such obvious references to works of the scope of 2001: A Space Odyssey and not seem ridiculous; that’s big enough in vision to ignore the lazy temptations of a third-dimension; the reach of which exceeds its grasp but somehow that’s all part of the experience, exactly appropriate for what the film is portraying.
Christopher Nolan has made many all-round better films, and will make more; but he will not make one that does such full justice to the purpose and experience of cinema as an art form. Neither will he make one as satisfying in its vision despite its failures; nor is it likely that any film, Nolan’s or anyone’s, will make you feel the way this will. It demands to be seen on a screen big enough to do justice to its ambition and scope.
I rated this film 8/10 on imdb.com and 4/5 on rottentomatoes.com