By Eleanor Ringel Cater
“Interstellar” isn’t interminable. It only seems that way.
Further, it only seems that way during the second hour. That’s the Geeks Gone Wild part during which some intrepid astronauts do some extremely high-tech fiddling around with fancy dials. They also engage in daunting sci-fi dialogue about relativity, space-time continuums and all that other stuff that made many of us so very glad we’d chosen English Lit as our college major.
And then there’s oft-uttered word “gravity.” Which is too bad since every time someone says it, you tend to flashback to last year’s award-winning lost-in-space epic starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
That said, director Christopher Nolan is incapable of making a bad film. Not even “Inception” was a stinker, just a too-gimmicky disappointment. “Memento,” which Nolan co-wrote with his brother (they’ve re-teamed here), is one of the best pictures of the 21st Century. And let’s not forget that little franchise known as “Batman,” which grossed so many gazillions that Nolan has pretty much been given a free rein to do whatever he wants.
Hence, “Interstellar” which is okay at almost three hours and probably would’ve been superb at closer to two.
The film certainly doesn’t lack ambition or imagination. It begins in a distressing near-future — maybe around 2050. As our hero Coop (Matthew McConaughey) tells us, mankind became so obsessed with its gadgets that it forgot about the basics. Like, say, food. The entire world has regressed into a monumental Dust Bowl, which means several CGI dust storms worthy of Hal Ashby’s Woody Guthrie movie, ”Bound for Glory” (which was not CGI’d).
So farming is the name of the game. Almost everyone’s game. Coop, who once upon a time was a NASA astronaut, now raises corn and lives in a beaten-down clapboard house that makes Dorothy’s Kansas digs looking positively palatial. He is also a widower, his wife having died from an aneurism that, back in the day (say 2014), might’ve been cured. But in this barren new world, MRI’s are as common as unicorns.
Nolan creates this distressed future with the same expertise he brought to his Gotham City. Coop and his family — father-in-law John Lithgow, son Timothee Chalamet and, most especially, daughter Mackenzie Foy — wander around a kitchen straight out of a “Lassie” episode. Then, they pull out a laptop to look up something. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition: “The Grapes of Wrath” meets “The Matrix.”
You may want to toss “Poltergeist” in there as well. Something — someone? — is messing with little Foy. They — it? — don’t do any harm, but when she goes upstairs to bed, she finds her books tossed off their shelves and thrown randomly around the room.
That’s truly about all you should know except that — as the title, the reviews, the talk-show circuit and the trailers have already revealed — we will end up in outer space. From there, the movie gets quite complicated — and, as best it can, spiritual and metaphysical.
“Interstellar’s” fault lies not in the stars— human or intergalactic. There’s not a weak link in the cast. McConaughey does his sexy-smart drawling Everyman as well as ever and he’s ably supported by Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain and a half dozen others in lesser roles. The problem isn’t in the execution either; you’d be hard put to find a film as expertly made as “Interstellar.”
But quite simply, “Interstellar” attempts to stake out a claim on our hearts as much as our heads and it can’t quite pull it off.
In “Memento,” Nolan nailed feelings of loss and despair and the myriad ways in which coping methods can manifest themselves as well as you’ll ever see.
“Interstellar” just has too much story to tell, too many characters to juggle and too little emotional resonance. Which would be fine if Nolan were Stanley Kubrick (as in “2001”) and didn’t give a rat’s ass about how an audience feels.
But Nolan does (to his credit) and his failure to engage us as fully as he intends is all too reminiscent of what was lacking in “Inception.” He takes us to infinity and beyond, but it’s likely you cared more about Buzz Lightyear than you will about anyone in “Interstellar.”