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There are a number of strange moments of notably poor sound design in INTERSTELLAR. As Coop’s (Matthew McConaughey) pick-up truck powers through a corn field, crushing the upright reeves in its wake; or as the Endurance space-shuttle explodes off from Earth for the first time, drowning the cinema with smashes and bangs and a huge underlying rumble, absolutely nothing of what the characters are saying to one another, or indeed to us, can be understood. For all its visual flair and star names, oddly it is this sound design that is peculiarly emblematic of everything that is good, bad, and at the heart of Nolan’s latest attempt to make BIG cinema.

With the world exhausting its food supply, a mixture of a lack of conservation and a new plant infestation called ‘blight’ destroying arable crops, Coop and his family live in “the caretaker generation”. Resources are to be conserved and excess discouraged, humanity has lost its innovative streak – well almost all of humanity. Following a code placed in a freak gravity dislocation, Coop and his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy, and later Jessica Chastain) discover a secret NASA base planning humanities last desperate bid for survival. A wormhole placed by the mysterious “They” has open a window to another solar-system – a solar-system with habitable environments. Getting there, investigating the planets, and then relaying all the information back to Earth, however, is not all that easy.

In many ways, INTERSTELLAR is a typical Christopher Nolan project in both its successes and its failures. The scale is awesome, the ideas are conceptual, the character studies are AWOL. Moments of INTERSTELLAR provide immense spectacle, portraying space in a way we haven’t seen since … well, GRAVITY. The creation of the new worlds is so vivid and original that you would have to be an utter cynic to not be blown away. To add to this, the depiction of a dwindling human society on Earth is so rich and subtle, we can only be frustrated it is depicted for only moments, and not a whole film.

Along with the vast and vivid worlds of the new galaxy come vast and vivid ideas – classically paper-thin Nolan thought experiments. Is ‘care-taking’ better than pioneering? Should the living be sacrificed for the sake of the continuation of the species? Is the cost of one man’s personal life and freedom worth humanities survival? The questions come thick and fast, all are dealt with momentarily and dissipate as fast as they have arrived. It’s compelling. It’s frustrating. It’s very, very Nolan.

In truth, INTERSTELLAR would have suited a long series structure a lot better than a 3 hour film, and the toll for this condensed space is paid for by the characters. Matthew McConaughey gives a worthy performance as Coop, allowing us to be invested in a character who at times feels like a human prop, there to field the fallouts of the plot-twists. Nolan’s inability to write for female characters continues, Jessica Chastain’s Murph left utterly bland. And well, Michael Caine (the reviewer sighs). One day there will be a Christopher Nolan film without an avuncular Michael Caine. For now we are stuck with him, his wooden acting and his magic office with panels that slide away to reveal massive spaceships being built just on the other side.

Like an explorer, the audience are hit with all that is new, all that is fascinating, all that is challenging, all at once.

As you might have worked out from this review, it is all a big mess. So much is thrown in at once, slamming the audience from every direction. But, oddly, of all of Nolan’s films, for INTERSTELLAR these qualities are the most apt.

Along with its vast array of thought experiments, there is one singular intensely interesting ideological through-line for INTERSTELLAR – one which is ultimately redeeming. INTERSTELLAR is a film about pioneering and exploration, its overwhelming and unpredictable qualities. Much like Coop and co., the audience has no idea what the plot will throw up next. It could be a planet, it could be a moral dilemma, it could be an exploration of black hole physics. Sometimes it’s all three at once. We are powerless in the face of the infinite possibilities to have any bearing. In fact, I defy anyone who has not seen the film to try and predict the course of the narrative.

Messy, yes. But in the spirit of the unknown – the overwhelming unknown – this is kind of the point. Like an explorer, the audience are hit with all that is new, all that is fascinating, all that is challenging, all at once. Every new scene is like going through a wormhole. It’s utterly consuming and overpowering. Like human dialogue consumed by the rumble of an immense jet engine, the characters of INTERSTELLAR, their thoughts and feelings, are consumed by the immense nature of the forces they are constantly bombarded with, unable to cope with their awesome scope. It’s not to deny humanity or human design but the importance of any one thing is engulfed by the magnitude of everything, crashing and spinning and exploding at once. In the words of Murph’s Law, “whatever can happen, will happen” – and, boy, does it all happen.


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