The crash of two separate commercial spaceships barely a week before the opening of “Interstellar” had a poignant resonance for the film, which makes an unabashed case for spaceflight of the government-backed NASA variety. It argues, in effect, that giving up on the space program not only reflects a deadening of the progressive spirit of exploration imbedded in the American soul, but could potentially threaten the human race’s ability to survive in the long run. With this picture, set in a not-too-distant future where some unexplained but apocalyptic degeneration of the planet’s agricultural foundation has led to impending starvation of the species, co-writer and director Christopher Nolan shifts from the murky nether-regions of his “Dark Knight” outings to gaze heavenward. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)—widower, father and noble farmer—is haunted by his past as a pilot and our past as a society that once leaned toward enlightenment. Though McConaughey’s recent accomplishments on screens big and small have been of the ambiguously shaded, almost anti-hero variety, the only brooding uncertainty from this hero will be whether he made the right choice when he left his kids behind to head to space and save the human race.
In collaboration with DP Hoyte van Hoytema (“Her”) and production designer Nathan Crowley, Nolan’s cinematic craft is superb, and for two-thirds of its nearly three-hours running time, the film is an enthralling visual feast, a sophisticated exploration of contemporary astrophysics at its most mind-blowing. The interstellar imagery overtly recalls those “blue wonder” images of earth from space, those old IMAX movies about NASA missions; Nolan shot about a third of this picture with an IMAX camera. (See it big.) The earthbound visuals are just as engaging as deep space, with lush expanses of cornfields, farm houses and small-town suburbia. The post-America of “Interstellar” is unsettling in its calm and familiarity; its dust-bowl apocalypse seems far more likely than the usual armageddons. Hans Zimmer’s orchestral score is a character itself; sometimes drowning out the dialogue, then, at other times, receding to complete silence. That space is a very quiet place is one of the unspoken messages of the film, the kind of detail that enriches its experience. Read the rest of this entry »