Christopher Nolan excels at making movies that seem to require deeper thought to truly get. Of course, when one take the time to think deeply about the themes in his films, it soon becomes apparent that their depth is mostly illusion. Nolan makes the thinking man’s blockbusters because most blockbusters actively discourage thought. His movies are intricate puzzles boxes that require some work to figure out, but once you figure out the trick they are simple. I don’t mean to sound like I don’t like Nolan’s films, I really like them. His trilogy of Batman movies are the top of the line among the incredibly popular superhero movies. And while it has been a long time since I’ve seen Insomnia or Memento, The Prestige –for my money the best Nolan film – and Inception are both truly excellent. Interstellar is right in line with all of those films. While not without its flaws, it is a truly excellent movie.
Interstellar stars Coop (Matthew McConaghey), a pilot and engineer turned farmer after war and drought kills the majority of the people living on earth, who must decide whether to pilot a NASA mission through a wormhole to another galaxy to find a new planet for humanity to colonize even though that means leaving his two young children on alone for what will assuredly be years. It paints humanity is desperate, barely surviving. Coop has to go on the mission to save his family, and all of humanity, but doing so means abandoning them. It is a compelling motivation.
Interstellar feels like a throwback science fiction movie. Most sci-fi movies since Star Wars have been influenced by that pop culture giant. Look at this summer big hit Guardians of the Galaxy; that movie is Star Wars through a Marvel superhero lens. They may take place in space, but science tends to be pretty far down the list of their concerns. Interstellar, whatever flaws it may have, is about the science of space travel. The wonder on display in its visuals is unforgettable, whether it is skimming the rings of Saturn or exploring the frozen clouds of a faraway planet. The film also spends plenty of time showing explaining the nature of wormholes and black holes, as well as things like relativity and time travel.
The biggest problem with Interstellar is that it just feels overstuffed. The film is long, nearly three hours, and it still manages to feel rushed at times. It jumps from luxuriously slow, beautiful shots of space and alien planets to speeding through the coda like it is caught in a whirlwind. This rushed feeling mostly comes from the scenes back on earth once Coop leaves. It shows enough to be tantalizing while not spending enough time to develop any of the characters, besides Murph, beyond a single note. She has an acquaintance, maybe a boyfriend, maybe just a coworker, that helps her out, but we learn nothing about him. Her brother and his family get only slightly more time. The team in space is much better developed; their motivations are all much clearer. It is easier to understand their stances and the pressures on each of them.
This movie leaves the viewer with a lot to process. It is a big movie. But I honestly can’t think of a better use of three hours than to see Interstellar if you haven’t. It goes a lot of places, and wraps around itself like a Gordian Knot, making for a movie that deserves to be thought about. Interstellar is probably the best movie I’ve seen this year, and even though I think it is more empty than it seems once everything is untangled it is still worth untangling.