Sunday, 16 November 2014


Any film that makes overt parallels to 2001: A Space Odyssey and is publicised by trailers like this ( ) is evidently very ambitious, and in his latest film Interstellar Christopher Nolan reaches or the stars in just about every sense of the word.

The plot is suitably audacious and absurd, and bursting with as many ideas as you’d expect from a Nolan-directed sci-fi. Set in a near-future where civilisation has regressed to the point where mankind can barely produce enough food to survive amidst an increasingly hostile climate (global warming is a never directly mentioned elephant in the room), ex-pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is directed by what seems to be a ghost in his daughter Murph’s (played by Mackenzie Foy as a child and Jessica Chastain as an adult) room towards the location of a secret NASA base planning to repopulate humanity on another planet outside of the solar system via a wormhole.

With such a grandiose premise, it comes as a surprise just how down the earth the film is. In the past Nolan has struggled to make an emotional connection with his characters, but Interstellar is grounded by a central relationship between Cooper and his daughter that is both involving and convincing. Perhaps that’s down to the choice to focus on a father-daughter dynamic rather than that between two lovers, where even actresses as talented as Marion Cotillard, Scarlett Johansson and Maggie Gyllenhaal failed bring to life the partially-conceived love interests in his past films.

It’s just as well Nolan has succeeded in establishing this emotional heart to the film, as individual relationships are crucial to what is perhaps the film’s main conflict; whether to save the people currently living on earth who we already know and love, or to start again with a new colony though frozen embryos. “We must think not as individuals, but as a species” posits the professor in charge of the mission (played by Michael Cane), but the film itself, through highlighting Cooper and Murph’s relationship, does resolutely the opposite. In fact, the only people depicted in Interstellar are those living in a remote cornfield and those in the secret NASA base. There’s no montage or parallel storylines to widen the scope, and we never get a sense of humanity as a whole - or, indeed, as a ‘species’.

In this sense Interstellar differs largely from its most obvious forbearer 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was intentionally cold in its depictions of human characters. But aside from this there are plenty of similarities, from startling jump cuts to mesmerising versions of the famous ‘stargate’ sequence. Nolan is as good as you’d expect as sci-fi visuals, and there’s plenty here to take your breath away, while Hans Zimmer’ well-judged soundtrack switches deftly from tension building to triumphant crescendos without ever, as is sometimes the case with his scores, becoming overbearing.

For all its innovation and emphasis on big philosophical ideas, there’s an unmistakably Hollywood-feel to proceedings, and it comes as no surprise that the ending chooses to both have its cake and eat it. But it’s easy to look past such flaws and acknowledge how great it is that at least one director left in Hollywood is licenced to make big-budget films as ambitious as this. Interstellar may not reach the highs of 2001: A Space Odyssey (will any film ever?), but its very existence shows that the spirit of Kubrick’s classic just about lives on. 


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