Christopher Nolan has a pretty good track record. His Dark Knight trilogy was excellent, and some of his other films like Memento and Inception have gone on to be modern classics. Unfortunately, Nolan finally hit a stumbling block with his ninth film.
Interstellar wants to be a space epic in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It also wants to feature a labyrinthine mystery like Memento and be mindfucky like Inception. Sadly, though, it’s none of those things. It just gets bogged down under its own weight and Nolan’s ill-advised aspirations.
The movie, bizarrely, starts with people talking about the apocalypse in a documentary style. This is weird, because, obviously, there was no real-life apocalypse. They could have easily portrayed this through the actual characters or even opening text. The way it is rings false and sets up a pointless diversion at the very beginning of the film.
After that, the movie meanders around on Earth for a very long time. It sets up some basic relationships, but in the most contrived and boring manner possible. MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY’S DAUGHTER HATES HIM! EARTH NEEDS MCCONAUGHEY TO SAVE IT! EVERYONE IS MISERABLE! LIFE SUCKS! YADA YADA YADA! Nolan beats us over the head with a hammer, and we are just salivating for the moment when McConaughey will get off the fucking planet and just get the movie going already.
Once the film moves into space, it gets a lot better. It suddenly has a focus it didn’t have before. Too bad it took 45 goddamn minutes to get there. There are some interesting scientific theories in play, most notably relativity. Where mere minutes pass for McConaughey and his crew, years pass for the people on Earth. It lends an interesting and unique set of stakes not seen in other films. This was actually showcased prominently in a famous anime called Gunbuster, and one wonders if Nolan had watched it before writing his script.
There is some decent tension, and a great diversion with a crazed Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut. The end of the film enters a strange alternate dimension where McConaughey can manipulate space and time in order to save the people of Earth. It’s a bit of a Deus Ex Machina, but I suppose it works well enough. I couldn’t really see any other way they were going to solve things.
One strength of the film is the core relationship between McConaughey and his daughter. You can feel his anguish as he decides to remain in space longer to benefit humanity but sacrifice the relationship with his own daughter in the process. The film does earn some deserved emotional payoffs as McConaughey finally gets to see her again; he hasn’t aged a day, and she is at the end of her life. It is a bittersweet and fitting ending to the story.
The film is constructed using a nice blend of practical and CG effects. The acting is great. And Nolan directs with a steady hand.
The movie is overly-long, and pretty bloated. A good thirty minutes of the first 45 could have been cut, and not much would be lost. The film would have been all the better for it. Despite its length and slowness to get going, it does pick up, and is worth viewing. It isn’t a terrible movie, but isn’t the masterwork Nolan was going for.