At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Interstellar “2014”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Interstellar “2014”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Epic Sci-Fi/Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Timothée Chalamet, Dickie Greenleaf (Not the actor’s real name), Topher Grace, Leah Cairns, David Oyelowo, Collette Wolfe, William Devane, Elyes Gabel, Jeff Hephner, Russ Fega; Voices of: Bill Irwin, Josh Stewart/Runtime: 169 minutes

I think it can be safely said that if you ever wanted a filmmaker in the past two to three decades who loved a good creative challenge then I would definitely put Christopher Nolan up for consideration. Indeed here is a man who gave us a movie where the end was the beginning and the start was the end, one where we were never quite sure if we were in a dream or reality, one that crammed three distinct storylines into a movie that was less than two hours, and who managed to make one of the most distinct superhero trilogies ever put to celluloid. With the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today though, 2014’s Interstellar, we as movie goers got to witness something truly remarkable from this master. Namely a movie that proved to be both an epic sci-fi saga whilst also being a grounded tale about the power of love and sacrifice. Indeed equal parts optimistic, jaw-dropping, riveting, and heart-rending this slice of cinema is one that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can possibly imagine. More than that though, this slice of cinema is one of the finest cinematic representations in awhile for what the term sci-fi was originally supposed to be all about so if you go into this excitedly thinking “oh boy! This’ll be just like Star Wars or Star Trek”….well I hate to say it, but that’s not entirely accurate. That’s because this film is actually more like 1997’s highly underrated Contact and 2013’s Gravity in how it grounds everything in a more or less plausible reality from a scientific perspective. Besides that, this is also a film that definitely treats the iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey as an outline with particular regard to the more majestic moments. Yet for those of you about ready to start screaming plagiarism from the rooftops, I would like to calm you by letting you know this is not a carbon copy of that iconic masterpiece. A fact made evident incidentally by the presence of both a degree of heroics reminiscent of The Right Stuff and the fact that at the heart of this film is the power of love that binds together a parent and their child like something you would see in a film by Spielberg. Suffice it to say that despite being a blend of two of the most iconic film helmers to have ever graced the medium with their respective bodies of work, it’s also something else as well. Namely it’s a slice of cinema that, between fantastic work on both sides of the camera also operates as a potent and powerful reminder of the magic of movies that, should you be the audience for it, will take you on a journey unlike any other.

The plot is as follows: Propelling us into the future year of 2067, Interstellar places us feet first in a version of our world that is familiar in some ways, but is otherwise very much an absolute nightmare. This is because a 2nd coming of the infamous Dust Bowl has occurred, brought on by a severe case of blight, thus bringing about famine on no less than a global scale. As a result, not only are crops becoming more and more scarce, but this has also seen the military forces of the world torn apart, scientific pursuits (including space travel) have all but been abandoned, and the majority of the planet has gone backward and become more rooted in agriculture rather than technology. We soon see that our main guide on this tour of an impending graveyard is a man by the name of Joseph Cooper or Coop for short. A man who might be a struggling farmer at the time our story gets underway, but who back in the day was as talented a test pilot for NASA as they come. Yet even though his days as a pilot are seemingly in the rearview mirror, we see that Coop has never stopped wanting to fly and find better lives for himself and his two children Tom and Murphy respectively. Yet have no fear dear reader for you see hope hasn’t been entirely extinguished. This is because, whilst going on an impromptu trip brought on by the discovery of some secret GPS coordinates, we see that our intrepid hero astonishingly discovers the remnants of NASA operating in secret and far from the prying eye of the public. We soon learn that an intelligent physics professor, and Coop’s former mentor, by the name of John Brand and the rest of the team at this facility have managed to come up with a bold two-pronged way to save mankind. Part one involves Brand solving the world’s most difficult math problem so the rest of mankind can board a giant vessel that would then be able to break free of Earth’s gravity (no pressure Professor). The second part however is where Coop comes in. It seems that quite a few years prior, an enigmatic monolith (sorry wrong movie) I mean wormhole showed up around Saturn by forces unknown and on the other side of the wormhole was no less than 12 planets that could be made habitable for mankind. As a result, NASA sent out a group of scientists to see which of the planets would work out the best. Thus, 10 years on, we see that Brand has put together a follow-up mission to evaluate the trinity of planets that seemed to have the most potential for a human settlement to successfully thrive on.  A mission comprised of Brand’s daughter Amelia, two fellow scientists, a snarky robot named TARS, and Coop as pilot respectively. Thus, this marks the start of a truly incredible voyage unlike any other in the history of our species. One that will see our crew go to new worlds, come across unexpected adversity, but all the while find themselves consistently engaged in a race against the element of time so that mankind can have the most amazing thing of all. That being a new place that we can all call home……

Now I may be duty bound to avoid giving you any spoilers in terms of the narrative, but I don’t think it would be a violation of that rule to tell you that, behind the camera, this film is Grade-A magic. In all fairness though, I guess I shouldn’t really be all that surprised that this slice of cinema manages to have such a top-tier collection of talent working behind the scenes from such talents as production designer Nathan Crowley and sound designer/editor Richard King respectively. Alongside them though, we see that this film’s VFX supervisor Paul Franklin does a fantastic job with this film’s effects with particular regard to the robots TARS and CASE who are put in the same frame as the human cast in a manner that is astonishingly seamless. We also see that Hans Zimmer once again gives us a musical accompaniment that is creative, vibrant, and emotionally potent all rolled into one. Finally, it should also be pointed out that with every locale the ship traverses to, Nolan does a grand job at making each planet its own distinct place with one that will make you reconsider the wave pool at your local waterpark and another a winter wonderland turned frigid and frozen desolate tundra landscape (in other words: Antarctica minus the penguins). Along with that, we see that the scenes set in space do a terrific job at permitting Nolan to throw quite curves and bends into the concept of time in ways that are actually novel. Indeed whereas quite a few of Nolan’s prior protagonists are desperately trying to reclaim the past this film’s protagonist is having to race the clock so to speak with the caveat being that the clock operates differently depending on where you are. This incidentally leads to one of the more potent moments in the film that I won’t go into too much detail here, but what I will say is that it is a moment that makes as an emotional and beautifully done collaboration between director and actor that is sure to leave you with more than a few tears in your eyes by the time it is done. It is also worth noting that this moment also is where we see a shift occur in this film into a more ominous and enigmatic area. Yet even though Nolan manages to pull off some genuine stunners in this back half, we see that he also does something just as admirable. Namely that he never once makes the reveals in question feel watered down or as a way to neuter how complex the characters in this prove to be. Indeed the reason this is admirable is because on one side of the coin this film has great respect for the people through the ages who have devoted their lives to the proverbial “greater good”. At the same time though, because Nolan is skilled at knowing how a human being’s psyche operates, he does a magnificent job how the cost of living a life such as that for long enough might eventually see those we deem “the best of us” engage in despicable acts if they feel that engaging in them would be in keeping with their now-twisted devotion to “the greater good”. As a result, this film does a wonderful job of ensuring that its characters are by no means one dimensional and instead come off less as characters in a movie and more like people as real as you and me.

Of course, the other big asset to any Christoher Nolan film is the fact that the man, since virtually the beginning of his career with Memento, has been able to both attract top-tier talent to his movies and in the process get truly rewarding performances out of them. Suffice it to say that is a trend that definitely continued here in this film as well. This starts with the always enjoyable Matthew McConaughey in the lead role of Coop. Indeed I have always, within reason, enjoyed McConaughey’s filmography and here he does a beautiful job at playing a man who may want his shot at doing something notable yet finds himself torn between that, the immense love and devotion he has for kids, and the utter heartbreak knowing that if he goes on this mission he might never see them again. I mean it says something when one of the most emotionally gripping moments in the entire film is a scene simply featuring McConaughey watching something on a video screen in front of him and just bawling his eyes out the longer he sits there and watches what he is viewing (you honestly don’t think I would just sit here and tell you what it is did you?) Suffice it to say that it is a very potent performance and easily one of the finest that McConaughey has ever seen fit to give movie goers. We also get a really good performance here from Anne Hathaway in the role of Brand’s scientist daughter and Coop’s quasi-sorta second in command on the mission Amelia. Yes she does start out as a bit one-note, but as the film goes along we do manage to get more depth to her as a character so that by the end we really do care about what happens to her nearly as much as we do Coop. Besides the work done by both McConaughey and Hathaway, I also feel that praise should be given to Jessica Chastain and legendary talent (to say nothing of Christopher Nolan good luck charm) Michael Caine as Coop’s daughter Murphy when she grows up and Professor Brand respectively. Indeed in the role of the former we see that Chastain does a terrific job at presenting us with a woman who, since her dad left, has been torn between resenting him and missing him terribly, but who finds that she might need to put these feelings aside if she and the rest of the humanity want a chance to get off Earth and survive to see another day. Suffice it to say that it is a very gripping performance from one of the better actresses of her generation. As for Professor Brand, we see that Michael Caine does a powerful and very soulful job in the role of the man who has been desperately trying to find the solution to perhaps the most important puzzle in the history of mankind yet is also saddled with secrets I shan’t spoil here to say nothing of frustration and sadness that time seems to be winding up for him a lot faster than he would like. Indeed it’s a genuinely gripping performance from one of the silver screen’s finest plus if I’m being honest it should also inspire someone to hire Caine to read more poetry for a book on tape because his rendition here of “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” will easily leave you heartbroken if not desperately trying to hold back tears. Now there is another performance in this slice of cinema that I think is definitely fantastic and that is from an actor named Dickie Greenleaf in a small yet pivotal role. No that’s not the actor’s real name and no I’m not going to tell you who they play or when they show up during this film. What I will tell you though is that with maybe 30 minutes of screentime tops, this actor does a wonderful job playing a role that, up to that point, was very much against type for them and really does make the most of their screentime even if you find yourself really not liking them or the actions they engage in during that time. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in rewarding work from such screen talents as Casey Affleck, Timothee Chalamet, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, Wes Bentley, and David Gyasi what you are left with here is a collection of performances that are no more and no less than aces in every sense of the word.

All in all I think it can be safely said that, when looking at this slice of cinema through the sum of the massive amount of parts that it is choosing to operate with, Interstellar is able to come together and become a slice of cinema that movie goers haven’t gotten either the luxury or the privilege to be able to come together and witness in quite a while. Sure, this film is one that does prove to be nearly too much for even the most diehard lover of cinema to sit through at one time and yes there are some components scattered here and there that, unlike the majority, don’t operate nearly as well as they truthfully ought to. With that in mind though, there is no denying that this is still a riveting, draining, and yet engaging cinematic ride for the mind, the heart, and the soul all in one. Suffice it to say then that, with the aid of potent and phenomenal work on both sides of the camera, Interstellar is more than just another fantastic entry in a filmography from a master filmmaker that from top to bottom is no less than incredible and so much more. Rather, it is also a movie that operates as a beautiful reminder. Not only for why we go to the movies in the first place, but for the power that cinema can have on each and every one of us when it operates as the one-of-a-kind art form that it most assuredly is and always will be. On a scale of 1-5 I give Interstellar “2014” a solid 4 out of 5.