After successfully piloting a hot potato superhero franchise through a trilogy of hugely influential real-world blockbusters, British director Christopher Nolan was given carte blanche to create whatever he wanted next. He had already proved he could sell a complex multi-layered dream heist thriller to the multiplex masses – and have them walk away feeling pleased with themselves for watching it – despite Warner Brothers’ initial misgivings. This time, Nolan’s follow-up would be a deceptively simple story of loss, regret, guilt and time’s inescapable clutches, disguised as an intergalactic space epic featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest hitters.
For the perfect combination of A-list bankability, critic-proof credibility and audience-friendly compatibility, you can’t do much better right now than Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon. Robustly supported by veteran thesps Michael Caine, John Lithgow and Ellen Burstyn, trumped by an astonishing turn from precocious youngster Mackenzie Foy and Interstellar, if only on paper, looks as sturdy as, well, the last Nolan ensemble. Thankfully, Interstellar proves even more accomplished behind the camera as it is in front, even without Nolan’s regular collaborator Wally Pfister.
The mesmerising cinematography from Dutch lensman Hoyte Van Hoytema (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Her) presents a breathless viewpoint from which to gaze into the endless blackness of space. But even when gliding over cornfields, across the alien wildernesses of Iceland or into conceptual, five dimensional realms, Nolan’s universe is always grounded in a tangible reality. It is Hans Zimmer and his ethereal, omniscient pipe organ, however, resonating with evocations of Philip Glass, Richard Strauss, Edward Artemyev, even the Almighty himself, who transports us beyond the infinite.
Visually, aurally and thematically, Nolan pays lip service to the great intellectual triumphs of science fiction cinema throughout his film, while keeping his own narrative rooted firmly in human-focused melodrama. Rumbling criticisms have cited considerable changes from brother Jonathan Nolan’s allegedly more cerebral first draft, or questioned the dumbing-down of conversations on quantum physics despite Kip Thorne’s heavily publicised involvement. In fact, those wishing for more conceptual, ambiguous and profound philosophising from Interstellar were left cold by Nolan’s grand, yet relatively simplistic work.
Granted, Interstellar is not a perplexing mind bender that questions our place and metaphysical worth when pitted against the infinite emptiness of the universe. On the contrary, Nolan ensures we marvel at the epic splendour that surrounds us, the incomprehensible magnitude of everything. And then he prods us squarely in the chest to remind us that it is precisely our children, our parents, our partners -the seemingly insignificant puny individuals only we care about and for whom the universe could not care one iota – that matter more than anything else.