Nolan has always dedicated himself to making truly big films. It’s why he has been compared to the likes of David Lean, Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg, film makers who formed bold new ideas and presented audiences with grand set pieces the likes of which they have never seen. They are arguably generous comparisons. He does not have the cerebral or artistic qualities of Kubrick, the subtle, human aspects of Lean, and has yet to make films which are so widely embraced as Spielberg, with even his most loved films still holding as somewhat divisive. But what he does do, is make films as big as they did.
Interstellar is no different. What bigger story is there than the pursuit into the great unknown that is space. Themes of progress and human development, of what unknown things lie in the beyond. Humanity is on the edge of destruction, with all crops but corn being destroyed, dramatically decreasing the population. As worries grow of corn, humanities last hope, also soon disappearing a talented former astronaut Cooper (McConaughey) leads a mission to explore Space via Interstellar travel, travelling through a mysteriously formed wormhole to find another planet suitable for humans to live.
There are some stunning set pieces, from the realistic portrayal of a black hole, to images of an ice planet so cold that even the clouds above are frozen. This film is made for Imax, and it is most definitely worth the extra price. The images combined with the stunning score, Zimmer bringing his own bombastic style with influences from Phillip Glass’s stunning Koyaanisqatsi score and inevitably 2001: A Space Odyssey, bring a stunning operatic experience. This is not just a film, this is an event.
However, while the story has great scope, some have said it isn’t as smart as it thinks it is, and while it may be unfair to say that as the film never tries to be too intellectual, it is true the scope of the film leaves you wanting more on the thinking side. It is also not always the most subtle of films, with a character who is meant to represent the weaknesses and struggles of mankind being called Dr.Mann feeling slightly too on the nose. And there is no doubt the ending of the film will be horrendously divisive, though not for the same reasons as Inception’s famous endings.
In fact the ending, and in many ways the entire film, is being seen as an odd departure for Nolan, in its emotional sentimentality. Many are describing the ending as “too Hollywood”, too happy, feeling more like something from Spielberg than Nolan, a director who is seen as mostly cold. But Interstellar is not a cold film, and in fact is routed very much in humanity. For all its big scope, it is a story about a father’s struggle between doing the right thing, helping save humanity, helping save the lives of millions and fulfilling his own sense of adventure, while also desperately wanting to be a good dad with his children. It makes sense that Nolan, a man fulfilling his own sense of adventure by making big ambitious films in places far away from his own children, would make a film with this topic. He has discussed his own upbringing in interviews, where he was often in England while his dad was working elsewhere, and his arguably most personal film, Inception, also tells the story of a father separated from his kids, to go create new worlds and ideas no less. It’s no surprise this film is emotional therefore, as it covers the emotional conflicts that Nolan himself wrestles with.
The ending isn’t a typical Hollywood happy ending, in fact it is extremely bitter sweet, and many are complaining the end of the film is too outlandish, breaking from the more realistic aspects of the rest of the film. It’s an unfair criticism, given that it’s impossible to realistically portray what happens on the other side of the event horizon of a black hole given no one has ever been there. It would have been easy to avoid portraying what no one knows, but they choose to, a brave decision which used to be far more common in older films like 2001. The film is about how humanity are MEANT to push and explore what we don’t know, and the film practices what it preaches. It explores the idea of what could be beyond, what could be in what we don’t know.
It might be a flawed film, it might bite off more than it can chew, and it might feel rushed at parts even given its 160 minute running time, but its flawed because it has what many other Hollywood films nowadays don’t have: ambition. It seeks to push our stories beyond the stars, into the unknown. And this ambition, alongside a more emotional, personal aspect to Nolans film making, makes Interstellar a cinematic event, even if it might be a flawed one