As the end credits began to roll, there was an audible silence across the cinema hall. There were more than 400 people who had risen early to catch the 9:30am show at London’s BFI IMAX on the day of the film’s release, and by the end of the show they were wide awake with stunned expressions plastered across their faces, unable to utter a word until they left the auditorium.
The scene was unlike the one at the end of any of director Christopher Nolan’s previous movies, which have two standard audience reactions: the cheers and hoots that greeted his Batman trilogy, and the bamboozled “What the f*** just happened?” chaos after Inception, The Prestige and Memento.
But not Interstellar.
It took the long walk down the winding stairwell towards the exit for the audience to speak their first words. “That was…something!” said a young man to his female friend, who agreed with a dumbfounded nod. Nolan had got to their heads again, just in a different way.
Interstellar, made on an estimated budget of $165,000,000 (according to IMDB), has the basic elements of an apocalyptic space movie and is even loosely inspired by some other sci-fi flicks such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and Armageddon: it’s got the mankind facing the end-of-the-earth scenario, extraterrestrial signs from aliens to come and explore life beyond earth, a hero team of NASA space explorers tasked with saving mankind, a rotten apple who threatens to sabotage the mission, love and sacrifice. There’s even an R2D2-esque talking robot—the only difference being Nolan’s TARS is sarcastic with adjustable quotients for humour, honesty and discretion.
The movie, which is set two generations from the present, also bears Nolan’s signature of toying with the dimension of time. In Memento, he made his audience watch a movie backwards. In Inception, he messed around with time via an infinite maze of dreams within dreams. In Interstellar, Nolan goes a step further by using Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and playing with the space-time continuum by making his spacecraft hop through a “wormhole”—a tunnel through space-time.
What separates Interstellar from other space flicks is Nolan’s compelling and dense storytelling, backed by his vast imagination, exceptional research and the profound importance given to human emotions and relations. Like many of his earlier films, Interstellar’s fiction borders on the absurd at times and you will probably have to watch it again to understand all the logic after brushing up on your science, but at the end of the show he makes you want to believe that whatever he has shown is possible.
Nolan’s protagonist upgrades from saving Gotham City in the Batman trilogy to having to save the whole world in Interstellar. Matthew McConaughey, who leads an enviable star-cast of Oscar-winning actors, plays Cooper, a widowed father-of-two and former NASA pilot who is forced into farming due to a food crisis on earth caused by the “waste and excess of the 20th century”. Cooper is hauled up by NASA, including father-daughter scientist pair Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway, to lead their quest to find an alternate home for mankind.
Nolan’s esteemed cast, including four academy award winners, put in a solid performance but barely have to step out of their comfort zones, and that is one of the few criticisms that can be pinned to the movie. McConaughey effortlessly coasts through playing Cooper, an emotional and doting father, and isn’t stretched to the limits as he was in his Oscar-winning role in Dallas Buyers Club. Anne Hathaway puts in an assured performance as the movie’s other lead, NASA scientist Amelia Brand. Nolan newbie Jessica Chastain manages to impose herself with an assertive portrayal of Cooper’s grown-up daughter Murph, despite lesser screen-time than the two protagonists. Nolan regular Michael Caine, meanwhile, is almost wasted.
What helps boost the movie’s acclaim is cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, of Her, The Fighter and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, who produces breath-taking vistas of space, wormholes and extragalactic planets with mountain-high waves and frozen wastelands. The soundtrack, by Nolan’s other regular Hans Zimmer, is not as gripping as Inception and the Batman movies, but manages to captivate you during a couple of thrilling sequences.
With Interstellar, Nolan goes high on the budget and higher on the grandeur and grey matter, but the film’s climax lacks his trademark thrill factor that ramps up the goosebumps. However, it does enough to leave you stunned for a few minutes, when you are wondering what to make of it.
“I have spent years of my life thinking only about this film and I mean only this film,” Nolan had told the Guardian in an interview. Interstellar has enough splendour and brilliance to warrant it blockbuster status, but is perhaps not Nolan’s one true masterpiece that he can rest on for the rest of his career.