With the new year approaching, we celebrate our films of 2014. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is up.
Interstellar has been one of the most divisive movies of the year. You can see why – it’s long, complex, arguably pretentious and it features an ending that is undeniably ridiculous, whatever one thinks of it. But it’s my favourite movie of the year for its sheer vision and ambition. It’s probably Christopher Nolan’s most epic film yet. Inception, a challenger for the title, explores different worlds within our minds. Interstellar has similarly mind-bending scope in exploring different actual worlds, including different planets and galaxies, a wormhole and a black hole. And like Inception, Interstellar doesn’t always make much sense, at least not to those without a PhD in astrophysics (the science, too, is not always so accurate).
Nolan strives to answer not only the deepest questions about the universe, but also the deepest questions about human nature
But so thrilling is the ride you’re on and so persuasive is the vision, Interstellar doesn’t really need to make complete sense – it just carries you along with all the force of the black hole Gargantua. This is because it evokes a sense of childlike wonder absent from so many films now. Some of this is the natural result of growing into adulthood as a cinemagoer, but a lot of it is because, as CGI and special effects have improved immeasurably over the past couple of decades, they’ve become somewhat subject to the law of diminishing returns.
How many cars need to explode, people need to die or buildings need to fall for you to be impressed by an action film now? With Interstellar, Nolan avoids this issue by, once again, pushing the boundaries, this time quite literally out of the stratosphere, striving to answer not only the deepest questions about the universe, but also the deepest questions about human nature, often at the same time. Most notably Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) weighing up staying with his family or saving the world and sating his unquenchable thirst for answers to the universe and Amelia’s (Anne Hathaway) emotional paean to love basically being the only fundamental of the whole universe.
So needless to say, if you view it as a film, sure, there are arguable flaws. But view it as an experience, and Interstellar’s pretty flawless. (It’s a distinction that probably explains how the film has an 87% score from the audience on Rotten Tomatoes yet a relatively average 73% from critics.) The stellar cast, which includes McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine, are all on top form, as is Bill Irwin as the voice of robot TARS and a surprise A-lister cleverly hidden from pre-release publicity (no spoiler).
Zimmer’s score is not peripheral to the action like many soundtracks, but absolutely central, adding a human touch to the unknown
Lead McConaughey continues the ‘McConaissance’ by adding a new string – explorer of far-away galaxies – to a bow which now includes depressed detective, AIDS-affected, Robin Hood-esque pharmaceutical dealer, and brilliantly bonkers banker (see his show-stealing cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street), all of which came in the films and TV shows of 2014. But the performances are by no means the only things factoring in the film’s brilliance.
One factor is time itself. The film uses it as a plot device, creating a fascinating narrative where the crew of Endurance have to consider where to go based partly on how much slower they will experience time, in order to get home in time to see their friends and family before they die. And crucial to the film is the score from Hans Zimmer, the acclaimed composer who’s provided music for over 150 films, including Inception. It’s a fantastically grandiose piece of music; not, like many soundtracks, peripheral to the action, but absolutely central, adding a crucial human touch to the unknown.
Nolan has said he and regular collaborator Zimmer’s score has the “tightest bond between music and image that we’ve yet achieved”. It’s a bold claim, but it’s not mere self-publicity. The combination of high strings, low organ and haunting, eerie piano is so fucking epic that hearing it play whilst in a lift could probably make you think you were actually ascending to board a spaceship. And having it soundtrack a beautifully rendered journey through a black hole is breathtaking. As Zimmer told Slate: “There had to be a virtuosity in it…I wanted to show how amazing man can be. I wanted to show the best of man.”
Even if it takes some wrong turns, Interstellar is what cinema should be: daring and visionary
…Hence the accusations of pretentiousness. But ask yourself this – would you rather have another Jennifer Aniston rom-com, another Adam Sandler fart-fest, another Michael Bay explosion-athon, or an epic voyage into another galaxy, even if it arguably takes some wrong turns along the way? That’s why Interstellar is my favourite film of 2014, because it’s what cinema should be: daring and visionary.
All images: Warner Bros