“Interstellar” – Nolan’s Ethereal and Uneven Epic

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Christopher Nolan’s movies are the ones that prolific critics call as ‘rare beast in the Hollywood jungle’. He loves to make entertaining, epic movies that’s intelligence as well. They (Jonathan and Chris Nolan) weave a convoluted script that’s interested in both the emotional moments and grand visuals. “Interstellar” (2014), Nolan’s new opus is yet another boundary-bursting movie and is one of the elaborate and most ambitious film in the sci-fi genre.

It is important to note that “Interstellar” has arrived at the time when main-stream movie marketplace is infested with remakes, sequels, and young adult novel adaptations. It possesses an original script (with Nolan brothers’ trademark labyrinthine plotting) that philosophically and scientifically explores the concept of time, love, and human mortality. Yeah, Nolan’s certain choices could be frustrating, especially when he strives so hard to make his work emotionally resonant. Some may balk at the movie’s running time and the scientific concepts that are maddeningly difficult to follow. Others may say that it’s more prosaic than and not as enigmatic as Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (and it is a true observation). But, even after getting those negatives out of the way, we still have a magnificent picture with dazzling visuals and thought provoking themes.

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“Interstellar” is set in the near future, where nitrogen is spiking up in Earth’ atmosphere while oxygen is declining. Dust bowls have become a regular phenomenon and food crops — except for corn – are dying off. It is the era, where science is discredited (space age and moon landing are called as a hoax), young ones are encouraged to become farmers, and even NASA is plunged to work in a secret bunker. Widower and former pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) really hates this era, as he is a man who dreams of adventure (“We’re explorers, not caretakers” muses Cooper).

Cooper lives with his two children – a smart 10 year old girl, Murph, who possesses her father’s feisty nature and a down-to-earth son, Tom – and a moody father-in law (John Lithgow), who thinks Cooper is a man born “40 years too late or 40 years too early”. Cooper’s thirst for adventure and science is quenched when his daughter discovers a gravitational anomaly, which points them in the direction of the covert governmental outfit, NASA. The man who runs the outfit seems to be Cooper’s mentor Professor Brand (Michael Caine).

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Dr. Brand explains that somewhere near Saturn, a mysterious worm-hole (a short cut through space and time to travel to a different galaxy) has appeared. The wormhole seems to the only hope for human race as it can help to locate a habitable planet in an impossibly distant galaxy. Brand wants Cooper to lead this perilous mission (to fly larger space ship called ‘Endurance’). Initially Cooper is reluctant to leave his children, until he’s convinced it’s the only way to save them. Cooper is accompanied by Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), two scientists, and a brash robot named TARS.

Jonathan and Chris Nolan’s script (assisted by theoretical physicist Kip Thorne) tackles heady scientific theories that are difficult to comprehend. Concepts like space-time continuum, worm holes, black hole, fifth dimension, space and time puzzles are bit daunting to grasp, but it’s never difficult to understand the themes, the script tries to address. “Interstellar” isn’t just an exploration of monolithic themes, but also tries to explore the narrowly restrictive themes like love (between father and daughter). These emotional aspects may not be powerfully engaging, but I liked the way Nolan ties the happenings in some strange outer-space dimension with the occurrences behind the book-shelf in Cooper’s ranch. I don’t know about the scientific credulity about those sequences, but metaphysically these moments filled me with a sense of awe (As Brand says, “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space”).

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Director Nolan once again comfortably weaves those large set-pieces that are poetic and dazzling. Here too, there is Nolan’s trademark ‘spinning’ sequence (with Hans Zimmer’s booming music), which partly resembles a somersault and balletic dance. Then, there’s also that meticulous shot, where Cooper and his fellow voyagers move like tiny ants in the surface of enormous icy planet. Convincing visual sequences like this sometimes speak to us existentially (which is what I think is the difference between good and great sci-fi).

McConaughey once again turns in a magnificent performance as the affectionate dad and courageous space-jockey. He is especially extraordinary in the moving scene, in which Cooper catches up with 23 years of his children’s lives (through a video link), while he hasn’t aged slightly (as less time is elapsed on space than on earth). McConaughey’s focused and empathetic acting is what guides us through as the plot piles up one high-concept above another. The rest of the cast, including Jessica Chastain as Murph, doesn’t give a bad performance, although they all have a bit of one-note role.

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The ambition and limitless imagination behind Nolan’s “Interstellar” (169 minutes) unfailingly mesmerizes us. Its collective brilliance really outweighs certain hokey moments.

 

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