There are many terms that could be used to describe Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, but my choice is “spacejerker”. For all the visual bells and whistles on display (and they’re considerable), the picture is really an old-fashioned family drama that attempts to wring tears from its audience on an often annoyingly consistent basis.
It’s also a mix of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Field of Dreams, and, surprisingly, vintage M. Night Shyamalan at times. Add that peculiar concoction up and Interstellar is a mixed bag that still demands to be seen on the big screen (preferably an IMAX one).
As do most pics of the genre, we begin in the “near future” as Earth’s resources are becoming alarmingly scarce. The belief is that the planet will soon become uninhabitable and the citizens of Earth have resigned themselves to their eventual fate. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a relic of a time gone by as a former astronaut whose services are seemingly no longer required. The widower lives on a desolate farm with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and two young children. His daughter Murphy believes their home is haunted by a spirit attempting to communicate with her. Her father soon comes to believe that the messages she’s getting are legitimate. These otherworldly signals put Cooper in contact with NASA, who exist now as a secret organization. Professor Brand (Michael Caine, of course) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) are spearheading a mission to investigate a wormhole orbiting the planet of Saturn. This wormhole may lead to a planet that can allow the human race to travel there and survive. Naturally, they pick Cooper as their pilot.
Cooper’s decision to depart devastates Murphy, even though he promises her he’ll return. The mission begins and leads to many surprises that bend the course of time, so much so that we soon see Murphy all grown as Jessica Chastain (and Casey Affleck as her big brother) while McConaughey is off in galaxies of space still looking like he’s behind the wheel of his beloved Lincoln.
Going any further into Interstellar‘s plot would be getting into spoiler territory. In case you don’t already know, there’s an A list actor who makes a “surprise” appearance around midway through. There are twists and turns (some handled better than others) that gave me the aforementioned Shyamalan vibe at times.
Yet at its heart, Interstellar is about a relationship between a dad who promised his little girl he wouldn’t be gone forever and whether he’s capable of keeping that vow. When the emotional resonance of that dynamic is pulled off well, it’s due in main part to McConaughey’s skill. He’s proven himself to be a fine actor, especially in recent years and that holds true here.
It is not because of the dialogue, which handles the family dynamic in mostly familiar fashion. Hathaway’s character soon has her own daddy issues with her Professor father. This adds up to a lot of crying. McConaughey crying. Hathaway crying. Murphy crying – as a child and an adult. Caine crying. If the robots who help the team on their mission were capable of tears, I’m confident they would’ve as well. However, it’s only in a couple of spots where the film came close to hitting an emotional moment for me. The rest of the plentiful moments seem forced and don’t have powerful dialogue to accompany them.
On the bright side, Interstellar truly is phenomenal looking. Even with my issues pertaining to the screenplay, this is unquestionably worth the trip to the theater. Nolan is successful at staging a number of intense and impeccably choreographed action sequences, whether on a planet with giant awesome looking waves or on one that makes Antarctica look downright tropical.
When Interstellar endlessly tries to pull your heartstrings, it often comes up short. There are a host of significant “wow” moments thankfully that will make your eyes widen. They just won’t be as wet as the filmmakers want them to be.
*** (out of four)