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Interstellar: Nolan’s Conflicted Sci-Fi Vision
Movie Features

Interstellar: Nolan’s Conflicted Sci-Fi Vision

Christopher Nolan presents a thrilling, yet emotionally baring ride that we do not often consider when pondering the stars.

“Space: The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the star ship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

As the credits began to roll at the end of Interstellar, I couldn’t help but hear William Shatner’s voice echo his famous quote in my mind. Christopher Nolan has given us multiple films that touch upon some of our dearest morals, but Interstellar takes a different turn from his usual pedigree storytelling. Perhaps his farthest reaching endeavor yet, Interstellar is less of a cinematic certainty and more philosophical risk that reminds us of older classics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Contact. More simply put, it is another superior science-fiction tale of wonder, sacrifice, and bravery in the face of true unknown.

It would be impossible for a fan of Nolan’s previous work to walk in to Interstellar without previous bias, and in facing that Nolan makes a daring choice to ignore everything that came before. This is no Batman movie, nor any Inception or Momento type-twist to find here: It is, at its most bare, an emotionally charged story between a father, his daughter, and what one man must do to save her (and his entire species) from extinction. Infused with babble of theoretical physics and time travel, Interstellar smartly avoids getting bogged down in the sciencey part of the plot and stays centered on the minor – and major – conflict at heart.

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Without treading into spoiler territory, the trailers everyone has seen are a good summation of what the film entails. Cooper, played by yet another brilliant performance from Matthew McConaughey, is well aware of Earth’s bleak future: their food is running out, and the world is quickly turning into another more permanent version of the dust bowl from the Great Depression. Upon a chance meeting with his former professor (played by Nolan veteran Michael Caine), Cooper is asked the unthinkable for a parent—leave his children, board a spaceship,  and explore a wormhole in the chance that they may find a new planet for humanity to survive on.

While the acting chops are in full-strength across the entire cast, the most credit must go to McConaughey for the best performance. Faced with what most would consider a “lose-lose” situation, he plays a father first and foremost before anything else, and it is where his character is most rooted. His drive is born of a selfless and most likely vain need to save mankind and his daughter, but McConaughey shows that weight brilliantly. There is a particular scene that will undoubtedly bring mist to most viewers’ eyes, as Cooper sees firsthand what his choice has done to his children. There is no question that Nolan, like his predecessors Rodenberry and Asimov and others, understood what is truly at stake if, and when, a mission as important as this will take place for the human race.

Despite its three-hour length, Interstellar is rhythmically paced to keep the watcher engaged without fatigue. When the time is right, the film shifts focus from the emotional portion to the science-fiction elements that truly draw you in. After each set piece, however, Nolan knows to remind the audience of what is at stake back home on Earth. This mixture of heart and mind is perhaps Nolan’s greatest strength, of being able to blend high-minded and doctorial physics talk with relatable emotional trauma.

Throughout his career, Nolan and his team have proven their technical and visual genius many times over, and Interstellar is no exception.  Visually, Interstellar might rank as his best yet, but in that same discussion is also the film’s biggest problem. Quite often, the score will drown out the dialogue of almost every character. Even if only for a few moments, they are also at times when crucial plot points are being delivered, forcing the audience to figure out exactly what’s going on in the minutes to come.

Normally I would consider this forgivable, but this isn’t Nolan’s first time making this error. Throughout his films, there have been numerous times where the audio seems to overpower the subtle voices of his quieter cast. How this has continued to be a problem baffles me, and it makes me wonder if this is less of a filming issue and more of the format in which I viewed it.

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(EDITOR’S NOTE: I viewed the film in the special 35mm print edition on my first viewing. After a second viewing with a digital version, I found the audio problem was less pronounced, but still noticeable. Film reviews from other sources have also confirmed this pattern.)

The film’s final act is of course tumultuous and diluted with an amalgamation of something Stephen Moffat might be proud of (the only way I can describe this without spoiling anything is the phrase ‘wibbely-wobbely, timey-wimey’). But I must confess that it is also where the film makes its largest digression. How you feel about the film’s final moments is of course up to you, but it is not without discussion that I hope Nolan will elaborate upon in the months and years to come, as it feels like a large abandonment from the plot he has painstakingly created.

Given his vision, Interstellar is a thrilling, yet emotionally baring ride that we do not often consider when pondering the stars. As our future accelerates and our technology continues to take advantage of our planet, Nolan delivers a fascinating, gripping, and overall superb adventure into the great unknown that we, mankind, must inevitably embark upon – whether we want to, or not.