‘Interstellar’ ambitious, struggles reaching new heights

Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway star in the mind-bending cosmic expedition, “Interstellar.”  (Photo provided by interstellar.withgoogle.com)
Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway star in the mind-bending cosmic expedition, “Interstellar.” (Photo provided by interstellar.withgoogle.com)

Acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight” trilogy) has never been one for brevity or subtlety. His films pack a cerebral punch that the screenplay strings along until a raging climax in which the audience may or may not fully understand what they just witnessed.

His films more often than not require repeat viewings, and in the case of his two most recent original films, “Inception” and this year’s “Interstellar,” even if one thinks they understand them, they are still hard to explain.

“Interstellar” is his most ambitious film to date, both an achievement and a setback in and of itself. Nolan has also never been one to back away from complex ideas. “Memento” was a tale of a victim of sudden amnesia told backward; “The Prestige” dealt with magic, never a simple topic; his “Dark Knight” trilogy turned the Batman franchise into a full-fledged metaphor for terrorism; and “Inception” delved into the world of dreams. Nolan is always reaching for the stars, and with “Interstellar” he actually goes there in thrilling, breath-taking fashion. But it’s not without its faults.

Nolan’s films have always been aimed more toward the head than the heart. His complex ideas and exposited storytelling don’t necessarily tug at the heartstrings, but they do make your head hurt. And it has, for the most part, worked for him. With “Interstellar” the director quite clearly wanted that second layer of emotion present.

The film, on its surface, is about saving mankind in the midst of a food and resource shortage; dust storms cloud the air at random occasions, and the human race is running out of options. The other layer, the emotional layer, comes in the form of a farmer and former space engineer Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey—coming hot off his Oscar win for “Dallas Buyers Club” and Emmy nomination for HBO’s “True Detective”—and his relationship with his daughter, Murph. The actor plays Cooper with a ruggedness and determination to be admired.

Cooper agrees to pilot a space shuttle that will travel through a wormhole with the intention of finding other life-sustaining planets. It’s hard to go further into the plot without giving much away, but over the course of the film, it’s obvious there’s more to this space adventure than just going where no one has gone before. It’s about love—it’s the one thing that can travel with you to other galaxies when everything else that you know is billions of miles away. If it sounds a little silly, it sort of is. In a way though, it’s thought-provoking. When the future of an entire species is in your hands, do you listen to your gut or your heart?

As with any Nolan adventure, there are twists and turns that thrill and complicate. Nothing is ever simple with Nolan, and it’s never more apparent than with “Interstellar.” While not necessarily a bad thing, Nolan’s determination to go bigger here is highly apparent, and he’s gone bigger with each film. There’s a fine line between “ambitious” and “bloated” in filmmaking. It’s close, yes. The film has plenty of deep exposition, as with any Nolan film. He seems to be the only filmmaker who can routinely get away with it though. It’s because he’s one of the most creative, original filmmakers in the industry today.

There’s no doubt the film is visually stunning. IMAX is the way to see it, despite the reports of sound problems being true (it doesn’t necessarily detract from the film, though). In hindsight, the actual wonders of space could have been exposed more; the film focuses so much on the human element that, ironically, it loses some of the sensation of the universe it’s trying to explore. Then again, this isn’t “Gravity,” which subtly told a story in the vast expanse of space. That aimed to wow us with amazing visuals more so than Sandra Bullock’s backstory. “Interstellar” is a different entity; it punches the audience in the face with its story. It’s sometimes to a fault—it can be pretty on the nose—but it’s often wonderful.

Nolan is a frustrating filmmaker. “Interstellar” has taken a lot of heat for being overly ambitious but in a world of remakes, sequels and all around unoriginality, Nolan is still firing out creative films. There must be something to be admired about that.