Review: “Interstellar” (***)

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Matthew McConaughey stars in “Interstellar”

Here’s the first thing I have to say about Christopher Nolan’s newest film “Interstellar”: 159 minutes is too long. There are films, though rare they are, that warrant this kind of length: “Boogie Nights” (149 minutes), “Titanic” (195 minutes), “The Godfather” (175 minutes)… you get the picture. “Interstellar” does not belong on this list. That’s not to say it doesn’t belong on other lists, because I absolutely think this is a quality film with valuable insights. But there is a whole chunk of the movie, that had it not been there, I think it would have made for a much better viewing experience. Without spoiling or revealing too much, there’s a 30-minute subplot line that involves a very tragic and angry Matt Damon that is so maundering and unnecessary that it nearly defines the word superfluous. There was an extremely dumb looking fistfight (boys will be boys, I guess?) on am extremely gorgeous looking planet, and I found myself laughing at a part of this film that had no intention of being funny.

I do admire Nolan’s reach, though. “Interstellar” is nothing if not grand. His work sparks conversation not only about the work itself but about the filmmaking process and the subject matter with which he’s working. I remember watching “Inception” and just losing my mind at the end of that film, I was so taken by it. Was he awake or was he dreaming? I have to know! Nolan romanticizes, almost to a fault, the limitless capabilities of this world (and others) and the far-reaching potential of human beings. His films, despite their imperfections, are fascinating, and “Interstellar” is no exception. There were moments in this film where I was, quite literally, at the edge of my seat eagerly waiting and wanting to see what was going to happen next.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is the lens through which we see this “Interstellar” world. He has the most emotionally moving story (though, I’ll be honest, I don’t think that’s saying much). We first meet him and his family in a post-apocalyptic, dust-bowl, impending-Armageddon kind of world. Things are looking pretty bleak. Until… Cooper and his daughter Murph (played by Mackenzie Foy in her younger years, Jessica Chastain in her middle years and Ellen Burstyn in her older years), named after Murphy’s Law (which basically says that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong… as if that wasn’t warning enough) accidentally stumble across NASA. That’s right, NASA. Remember, at this point, everything in the world has gone utterly and horribly wrong, and so NASA was forced to become a super-secret society. They operate underground and with their own rules. We quickly learn that earth is doomed; it will soon become uninhabitable – either because of the dust or the corn or the carbon… I’m not really sure. Which is another problem I had with “Interstellar,” I was so bogged down with all of the math and space and time and science jargon. I love films like “Looper,” who when asked to explain time travel Bruce Willis just yells and spits, “It’s too complicated” or “We don’t have time!” And I really do like it when filmmakers make me, as an audience member, work for the answers; I don’t appreciate condescension or being spoon-fed, but, a lot of times, in “Interstellar,” I literally had no idea what they were talking about, and I had no way of figuring it out.

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in “Interstellar”

So. Back to the story. Cooper learns he has to leave earth to find a habitable planet. He flies off to space with Brand (Anne Hathaway), a computer named TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and a couple other periphery characters. Coop’s kids stay home with their grandpa. Oh, this story is especially tragic because Coop’s wife died a few years back from cancer; so when he leaves his kids to go save the world, he’s really leaving them alone. And though this family was the emotional driving point of the story, I wasn’t fully committed to it. I wanted more of it. Despite how long the film is, very little of it is dedicated to developing and nurturing this familial relationship. I wanted more of that. Instead, I got more space… which, I guess, that’s cool too. And then while they’re in space, time is fast and problems are everywhere and there are a bunch of dimensions… and that’s basically the movie. I mean, more happens, obviously, but that really sums it up. Cooper has to find a way to either make earth livable or find a planet that’s habitable if he wants his children to live. And there’s character evolution and plot development and a lot more happens, but that is the bare-bones of it.

The score of “Interstellar” is spectacular in the way it augments the loneliness and infinite depth of space. It’s very grand and very, very loud, but it’s purposeful, I think. There’s a particularly lovely moment, when one of Cooper’s shipmates, Romilly (David Gyasi) is having a panic attack about this very concept (being isolated in infinity). Cooper hands Romilly his iPod which is tuned to nature sounds. And as we cut to the next scene, which is a wide shot of their small spaceship among the bleak blackness, we hear rain and a thunderstorm from back on earth. It’s really gorgeous. I also the absence of sound in space, and the effect that absence has on the viewer. There were quite a few explosions and in the moments where you expect to hear a huge KABOOM, you hear nothing; it has a very poignant effect on the viewer… or at least it did me.

I’d give this movie 3 out of 5 stars. It’ll certainly be a big hitter come Oscar season, and for that reason alone I’d recommend seeing it. That, and, honestly, it’s pretty good. I’m glad to have seen it, and I don’t think I need to see it again. Plus, the grandiose, caustic world that is “Interstellar” would be best seen on a big screen.

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