Christopher Nolan’s films have always pushed genres past their boundaries. Were his Batmans just superhero movies? Was Inception just an action heist thriller? If Nolan were to direct the next Adam Sandler comedy he’d take the flatulent tortoise seriously. The director takes that approach to Interstellar, a thinking man’s sci-fi that attempts to be a natural successor to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris.
Earth is dying. Those who won’t starve because of blight will eventually suffocate from nitrogen build up. The next generation will be the last. The only hope is to colonise another planet, which means traveling through a worm hole near Saturn, placed there by ‘them’, to another galaxy and track down the astronauts who disappeared seeking inhabitable planets. Reluctantly, McConaughey’s former pilot/engineer/farmer/father of two offers to command a space shuttle to do just that...
That’s skimming over what’s there because there’s a lot going on in this three hour epic. This is a meat-and-two-veg sci-fi and a real feast for the eyes. What might one experience traveling through a worm hole? What does the inside a black hole look like? Nolan is only too happy to attempt to visualise what the eye struggles to make sense of. There’s awe and surprise and wonder to be found in the stars and Nolan does his best to show it all. But he’s interested in man’s place among the celestial bodies too.
Interstellar takes its sweet time taking to the stars; it’s about forty minutes before lift-off but that time is well spent with the daddy-daughter (a feisty Mackenzie Foy) relationship, which becomes not just the heart of the film but it’s raison d’etre too. Through this relationship, Nolan, with screenwriting brother Jonathan, set out to explore humanity at its most beautiful. That love may pass through space, time and dimensions might be hokum but it’s nice hokum and keeps things grounded when Interstellar is in danger of disappearing into its own narrative worm hole: it takes some doing to sidestep the science gobbledy-gook to hang on to the story and thematic threads.
But it’s not all hands-across-the-galaxy. As tension ratchets up and hard decisions are made, the Nolans aren’t shy about the flipside of that beauty. There’s the instinct for survival and colleagues be damned; as one character points out, we look after only us and ours and don’t have much solidarity beyond that.
It’s more of a talkie than a zippy action sci-fi. The action here is based around the danger of docking and taking off, of cracks in helmets. Nolan does, however, undermine some tense scenes by cutting back to the less interesting events on Earth.
Although guilty at times of lifting straight from other sci-fi, Interstellar often surprises too. This is another strong outing from the Nolan brothers.