Matthew McConaughey seems to have won his Academy Award for best actor a year early.
Interstellar is Christopher Nolan’s latest foray into the world of non-Batman endeavors, and this time we see him tackling the rather large topic of dimensional transcendence and space. And while the scope is massive, Nolan’s movie holds up amazingly… up until the last thirty or so minutes.
It all starts with Cooper (McConaughey) and his family raising corn on the family farm, as it is the last vegetable able to be grown due to a dust phenomenon known as blight killing every other kind of food source. This dust also damages breathing, and is thus making earth uninhabitable, giving us a good setup for the movie. It’s a bit of a slow wind-up, a good forty-five minutes or so of meandering around with Cooper on a rapidly deteriorating earth, but it feels natural. Cooper’s organic relationship with his family and a well-realized soon-to-be dying earth make this opening feel weighty and substantial, the essential feelings required for emotional investment later in the film when Cooper is sent on his mission to save humanity by finding another inhabitable planet.
Cooper then finds NASA’s secret HQ due to a gravitational phenomena that creates binary coordinates for him to follow, where he then meets Dr. Brand (Michael Caine in his four-billionth Nolan film), a man determined to figure out the equation for gravity and figure out these gravitational mysteries. He is also in charge of sending Cooper off with a whole batch of test-tube babies to go through a wormhole and find an aforementioned new planet to inhabit. These test tube babies will be the start of a new generation of humans if Dr. Brand fails to figure out a way to manipulate gravity with his equation to the point of moving everyone on his colossal subterranean NASA ark into space to follow Cooper’s trail. In short, if Brand fails, test tube babies start the human race anew. If he succeeds, not everyone (only around 99%) on earth has to die horrible deaths of starvation and lung cancer. The plot is fantastic so far, as the writers have clearly done their homework to make everything sound semi-feasible, even if they’re using terminology that we, the common viewers, may not fully understand. In particular, there was this one extremely cool moment where they explain how wormholes work in one of the most simple yet mentally stimulating visual representations ever, using nothing more than a piece of paper and a pencil. That’s how most of the science lingo in the movie is; that is to say, extremely fascinating.
Eventually they meet Matt Damon’s character, Dr. Mann, who was supposed to scout out one of the potential planets that Cooper is sent to visit and potentially colonize. Mann has gone off the deep end, however, and eventually attacks Cooper and leaves him for dead, then going on to try and steal Cooper’s ship and colonize a different planet by himself. And this is the best part of the movie, in my opinion: it’s the grand finale of the second act, Mann blows a good chunk of the ship up by operating the shuttle lock-on incorrectly, and meanwhile on earth Dr. Brand admits that the gravitational equation was a hoax and that he never expected any of the humans currently on earth to make it off the planet in time. Brand drops this bombshell of a twist on his death bed as a sort of last confession, admitting that he’s intentionally damned every human being on earth to gain enough support to at least get test tube babies out in space and potentially save humanity. At this point I was feeling gut-wrenching agony that I’d NEVER felt in a movie before, which is when I knew it was doing something right. If the movie had ended right there, with the humans on earth realizing they were screwed (and the majority of them just uninformed of their soon-to-be grizzly fate) accompanied by Mann accidentally screwing over humanity’s last chance at repopulating humanity in space, it just might have been my favorite movie of the year. If it had had that sad ending, where humanity ultimately causes its own downfall, it would’ve A.) been a far more reasonable ending than the one we got, and B.) been a lot more accurate to what’s bound to happen. Humans have always been humanities’ greatest enemy, and a deflating ending like that could’ve elevated this movie to “extreme cautionary/visionary tale” status. But no, we got some fifth dimensional bullshit to wrap the movie up with.
Here it is: the third and final act. In short, the human spirit triumphs like every other bullshit movie out there. Cooper goes through a black-fucking-hole and finds himself trapped in a yarn maze which symbolizes the fifth dimension, in which he can see every possible outcome of every possible choice for any given point in time. Essentially, any parallel universe for any decision he’s ever contemplated in his life. And then we find out HE was the gravitational anomaly affecting his family the whole time. But the major flaw in the logic here is: what started the initial push? Cooper is only in the fifth dimension because someone put it there, and even if he had originally placed it there FOR himself, he’d still needed to have gone into it initially to set up THAT potential future. In short, the movie throws us a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” argument where the answer is a fucking megalodon shark. If that sounds immersion breaking, that’s because it is. Then we see Cooper reunite with his daughter, and even though he’s like five billion space-years old, he hasn’t aged a bit in this universe, whereas his dying daughter is the old age of ninety-plus on her death bed. A glaringly stupid time travel cliche, where Cooper doesn’t age a shred while his daughter does.
Ugh. Now, all of this could’ve been remedied had Nolan not made Cooper the reason for the fifth dimension existing. All throughout the movie they’d hinted at some greater, trans-dimensional being as the catalyst for these events. If they’d stuck with that, it would’ve been far more feasible and still retained that level of mystery and intrigue that the third act was trying so hard to capture. Even if it was just an ominous rift in space that was described as the being, as long as it communicated in some way, that still would’ve been better than the Cooper-solves-it-all ending we got.
Now, I bitched pretty hard about that final act, and it’s not because I hated it (I just thought it was kind of poor and belonged in a far less quasi-realistic sci-fi movie) but rather because I loved the rest of the movie soooo much by comparison. I mean, right in this review I’ve provided two better endings for the film, so I am amazed that they let Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan just spew this final act out onto the screen without any sort of supervision.
In terms of acting, everyone is fantastic. Matt M (his last name is a pain to spell) kills it as Cooper, Matt Damon gives an amazing (literally amazing, like, wow) performance for a role that really steps outside of his regular comfort zone, and even though I’m not a big fan of hers, Anne Hathaway is stellar as well. Bill Irwin was surprisingly my favorite character in the whole movie, and all he did was voice act an extremely cool robot companion named TARS, so props to him for outclassing everyone else without even appearing on-screen.
Most of the above praise of TARS is due to the great dialogue and just overall fantastic writing. Nearly every bit of the script can be qualified as “that one amazing line from that one movie”, except for it’s an entire three hour journey of that. Which is why I am saddened that Anne Hathaway’s dialogue is so campy at times and why the third act is so poorly written, as these two things really detract from a previously near-perfectly written movie.
Visuals are amazing <insert an overabundance of gratuitous compliments for the multitude of CGI artists>, as is to be expected. Hans Zimmer creates one of the most haunting space soundtracks of all time, and I was surprised as I thought I’d seen his entire range after Inception, TDK trilogy and TASM2. Once again, Zimmer proves us mere mortals wrong.
In short, go see Interstellar. I originally went to see this movie for the sole purpose of catching the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer in cinemas, I shit you not. But when that trailer didn’t air, I got a three hour near-masterpiece as a very acceptable consolation prize.