‘Interstellar’ Is An Overwhelming Sensory Experience and (Probably) A Great Film

“For man, there is no rest and no ending. He must go on – Conquest beyond Conquest. This little planet and its winds and ways, and all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him, and, at least out across the immensity to the stars…. And when he has conquered all the depths of space and all the mysteries of time – still he will be but beginning.” – H. G. Wells

Captain Michael J. Smith of the Challenger space shuttle intended to read the above quote in space, before he and his crew fell from the sky. In the aftermath of the disaster, Ronald Reagan found this quote the most poignant and fitting words about the adventures that had risked and lost their lives.

Wells’ quote is also the best possible paragraph-long summary of the philosophy of Christopher Nolan’s new science fiction epic Interstellar.

In an unspecified time in the future, we recognize a world that could develop from the current trajectory begun by such decision as the defunding of NASA for other priorities. The viewer will note that much technological development has stalled; people have tried to manage crises and have ended up managing the decline of civilization.

A select group of men and women have been called upon to save mankind by once again finding in themselves to take enormous risks and challenges rather than making the best of the status quo. It is a metaphor by which Nolan means to imply that if the human race ceases to be explorers, adventurers and achievers, it might as well cease to exist.

I won’t spoil the plot. Too, I will not rate the movie here, because I am still taking it in. This is, first, because Interstellar is an overwhelming sensory experience. Second, it is not easily compared to other films. Both in terms of the power of the experience and in terms of being very different from other movies, critiquing Interstellar in light of familiar filmmaking is like comparing Cirque du Soleil by the standards of a typical circus.

I must stress that by this I don’t mean that Interstellar is light years better than other films in the way Cirque du Soleil is light years better than a normal circus; I mean that the sensory experience is intended to be wholly different from its closest medium.

I may scare people away at this point if I don’t emphasize that Interstellar is a fun science fiction movie with a fairly standard feature film narrative that is very watchable, especially in a theater. It’s just also something else – something not necessarily better or worse than other films.

Viewers who are familiar with Christopher Nolan’s previous work will note that the feel of Interstellar is different from, say, The Dark Knight trilogy or Inception. Not that is isn’t Nolan-esque. It’s just a further development in what Nolan-esque means. Fans who anticipated that he would stretch his boundaries won’t be disappointed. Those who thought he was going for something new with this movie are right, but perhaps not how they expected.

In contrast to Wally Pfister’s sleek, efficient and understated cinematography – featured in Nolan’s work from Memento through The Dark Knight Rises and earning Pfister 4 consecutive Oscar nominations (he won for Inception) – Hoyte van Hoytema’s work in Interstellar is rich, textured and contemplative, a style likely better suited to the beautiful images in the film. Both cinematographers like energetically moving cameras, but whereas Pfister pulls the camera back and takes quick shots, Hoytema likes a handheld with a more sustained take.

The latter appears to take pleasure in making even mundane terrestrial shots look beautiful. Action scenes on Earth that most cinematographers would phone in from a filter perspective, Hoytema takes care make unique in feel. He will have stiff competition for the Best Cinematography Oscar from Birdman, but he ought to be a shoe-in for a nomination.

Hans Zimmer, too, contributes to Nolan’s expanded direction by completely dropping the heavy, marching strings from Inception and The Dark Knight Trilogy and opting instead for more varied and often unconventional score, particularly behind the space shots and climactic scenes.

Though none of the cast will win an Oscar, each member is more than capable of playing a character unique to the film and not rehashing an earlier role or rehashing himself. Most notably, the emotional chemistry between McConaughey’s Cooper and his daughter Murphy (and to a lesser extent, between Cooper and Hathaway’s Dr. Brand) drive the narrative in more ways than one and is perhaps the deepest relationship between two characters in a Nolan film to date.

Again, I will not attempt to further compare or rate the movie. It is too difficult and too much. I only recommend that you see it, see it in the theater and, if at all, possible, see it in IMAX.

Whether it is becomes a classic loved by viewers for years to come or not, what Chris Nolan has put together is nothing short of breath-taking in every sensory aspect.

If he does not receive his first Oscar nomination for Best Director, the Academy will deserve to be hanged and quartered.