During the ten years that I’ve been writing film reviews, this has only happened to me with a pair of movies: I’m unable to write a review based on just one screening of the film. Both occasions were films from filmmakers that I highly admire. Prior to each, my anticipation was through the roof, causing the lead-up to its screening to resemble the excitement that kids experience during the first 24 days of December. The first film to warrant my inability to review it after a single viewing was Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. When I revisited it on opening day, my hoped-for perfect five-star rating was confirmed. After seeing Interstellar for the first time this week – not only because of the anticipation, but because of the mind-blowing experience of the events in the film – I knew that I loved it, but couldn’t express those thoughts into words. Now, after having seen the nearly three-hour epic film for a second time, I’ve found the words for describing this brilliant and perfect film.
One type of film that we don’t get anymore are epic films. After the Lord of the Rings movies showed what a contemporary epic could look like and how successful one (or three) could be, we were bombarded with titles that mimicked its grand scale; however, nearly all of them mistook “epic” for “CG hordes of people in battle.” (See Troy and the theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven for examples of this error.) The scope was missing, as was heart and emotion. More is needed that large casts, huge sets and thousands of computer-animated digital extras. Visionary director Christopher Nolan understands this. Starting with The Dark Knight, his films have progressed in grandeur and style. Inception forced moviegoers to use their minds to comprehend the creative and unique world in which is was set. Also pushing towards the three-hour mark, The Dark Knight Rises upped the trilogy’s ante and earned its place in history as an “epic” film – but as large as that was, it’s nowhere near the scale that he masters with Interstellar.
Interstellar begins in the not-too-distant future. Earth is dying. Blight is infecting the world’s crops, destroying humankind’s food sources. The resulting loose ground has caused dust storms to sandblast what remains. Wars, armies, technology, entertainment and anything else that’s not crucial to the survival of the human race has ceased to exist. The only important thing now is survival.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) used to be a pilot and engineer for NASA, but as superfluous jobs became extinct, all of that changed. Like the rest of those who found themselves jobless, he and his wife took to farming. The scarcity of food caused many to do the same. Although it wasn’t his passion, he was glad to do it in order to provide for his two children, Tom and Murph. We’re never told how long Cooper has been farming, but it seems to have been for some time. The only piece of his history that we can place on a timeline is that it’s been seven years since he lost his wife. To help with the kids, his father-in-law (John Lithgow) has been living with them.
Please note that everything I’ve described thus far happens prior to the movie opening. The narrative of the film kicks off when Cooper and Murph (played by the wonderful child actress Mackenzie Foy) start noticing odd occurrences in and around their home. Trying to solve the mysteries, under pure coincidence, the father-daughter duo stumble across one of Cooper’s genius former professors (Michael Caine). Fate brings them together at the perfect time, as an intergalactic mission is being planned to send a small crew through a wormhole to a far away galaxy in hopes of finding a suitable replacement planet that can sustain human life. As we know from the trailers, Cooper accepts the invitation to pilot the crew on this mission. He will have to leave his children behind, understanding that due to the laws of relativity, his children will be much older than he is when he returns – given that he does return.
Aside from images of the exploratory adventure through space and on other planets, the trailers for Interstellar reveal nothing more than what I’ve described. Knowing no more than this is the way to go. Like the experiences of Cooper and his crew (which consists of Anne Hathaway and others), experiencing Interstellar with no knowledge of what lies ahead is the best. It’s not a twisty and turny film, but it follows the law upon which Cooper’s daughter Murph was named, Murphy’s Law: whatever can happen, will happen.
Just as Inception wasn’t so much about hijacking dreams as it was about a guy trying to cope with his wife’s death and find a way to get back to his children, at its core, Interstellar isn’t really about a crew of astronauts looking to transport humankind to another world; it’s about a father trying to keep humanity in the human world and return home to his daughter. This is the driving force. Because of this powerful and easily relatable concept, there’s gravity to the movie’s plot. In fact, that gravity is so strong that it turns Interstellar into quite an emotionally moving film. The one-two punch that comes with it is the thought-provoking nature of its grand tale. After seeing both The Matrix and Inception for the first time, I remember coming home and not being able to sleep because of the shear amount of thoughts running through my head. Interstellar causes the exact same mental reaction.
My first viewing of Interstellar was on an IMAX screen. For IMAX presentations, because Nolan loves to shoot on the larger IMAX format, much more of his intended image is shown – specifically in the top and bottom areas of the screen. My second viewing of Interstellar was on a standard screen that didn’t have the extra space above and below the main image. The standard viewing wasn’t bad, but it was definitely missing some of the grandeur. I highly recommend shelling out the extra bucks for IMAX. While I’ve made this recommendation before, it’s never been as much of a “must” as it is now. What lies in those extra spaces of the screen makes the experience much bigger and impressive.
Interstellar is a perfect film. I cannot find a single complaint with it. It’s a masterpiece, a completely original film of the likes we’ve never seen. Get out there and see it immediately, as you won’t want to have a single bit of it spoiled before having the chance to experience it for yourself.
(Photo credit: Paramount/Warner Bros.)