It’s quite a ballsy thing to promise audiences they will not only be visually stunned, but will be shown something they have never seen before. It’s even more impressive to set the bar that high and completely vault it, which is what Christopher Nolan has miraculously succeeded in doing. This film manages to visualise some stuff which has not only never been shown on film previously, but in some cases haven’t even been conceptualised in any visual way. That’s no hyperbole – the research done for this film actually led to a breakthrough in the visual concept of what black holes look like. That’s the level of verisimilitude being thrown around. Nolan is genuinely breaking new ground here, filming the previously unfilmable, going where (dare I say it) no man has gone before.

People often complain about the science in science fiction being dumbed down. While it obviously takes several liberties for storytelling purposes, that is not a claim that can really be levelled at this film – not only is most of the technical stuff very carefully adhered to, but some of the most challenging and complex mysteries of human existence are directly tackled head-on. Wormholes, black holes, gravity, space-time physics – pretty much every chapter of Stephen Hawking’s seminal book A Brief History of Time is touched upon. This is a narrative piece that takes Carl Sagan’s writings (and his outstanding TV series Cosmos, as well as the recent remake/sequel by Neil deGrasse Tyson) and runs with them, boldly attacking the biggest questions modern science currently faces. It’s actually hard to think of how, conceptually, this film could have been any more ambitious.

Yet this is no science lecture. While all of these lofty themes and ideas are kept in the foreground, the film’s raison d’ĂȘtre seems to be going one step further than all that, if such a thing is possible. It tries to puncture what many see as the limitations of science and reasoning. Hamlet says “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy” – science can explain a lot of things, its critics say, but not everything. Well, this film begs to differ. Not content with pushing into the realms of pure theory over controversial and hotly-debated topics, this is a film that makes a point of seeing whether science is compatible with human emotion, specifically the concept of love. Not just Hollywood love between romantic partners, but the love of a father for his daughter, the love of a person for their own planet and species, the love of a human being for his or her own self. This film argues – successfully – these things too are part of quantifiable, measurable science, and not to be dismissed by cynics or dry, emotionless robots.

Speaking of robots, there are several in this film, and they’re brilliantly implemented. Science fiction has a ropey history with this particular subject, but the automatons in this film are handled perfectly. On a visual level, they’re remarkable in that their design is very simple, yet unlike anything seen before onscreen (another accurate use of that phrase). Utterly original in the way they move and interact, they’re by no means the centre of this film – they’re just there in the background mostly, occasionally interacting in stunningly-realised ways, like some kind of amazing afterthought. Without ever becoming as integral as the artificial intelligence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (obviously a huge influence here), they still have their moments, with hints that they possess the same need to connect and love that we do. The main example, known as TARS, is one of the most memorable characters in the whole movie, and will become a classic reference for all future science fiction.

Amidst all these wider conceptual achievements, it’s easy (and unfair) to overlook individual work. Matthew McConaughey shoulders most of the film’s dramatic weight with aplomb, nailing his father-daughter relationship and using it as a counterweight to his other responsibilities. A fine supporting cast of Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck and others all do strong work too, particularly Anne Hathaway who is given the most difficult speech in the film to sell, and to her enormous credit just about manages it. Another A-list star (uncredited and hitherto unannounced in any publicity) also turns up unexpectedly, and his casting works perfectly in the context of his character. Hans Zimmer, yet again, manages to conjure a score that somehow threatens you with the enormity and scale of the film’s themes while plucking raw emotion from the most intense moments.

But the lion’s share of the plaudits here have to go to Christopher Nolan. This is the fourth time he’s raised the bar – he challenged the limits of narrative innovation in American independent film with Memento, he elevated the superhero genre into something transcendent with The Dark Knight, he proved that summer blockbuster audiences will flock to an original, cerebral property with Inception and now he’s put together a modern science fiction classic that incorporates some of the most profound questions of existence without sacrificing the basic human interests of storytelling. At some point you have to acknowledge an artist’s total influence on his or her medium – if we weren’t well beyond that point with Nolan before, we are unquestionably there now. Someone with his degree of commercial and critical success will always be sneered at in some quarters, especially when he bravely tackles new ground as he does here, but anyone who pushes the medium forward with such regularity should be encouraged, discussed, even disagreed with – as long as we all continue to make progress, whether it’s scientific, artistic or personal, into the unknown.

INTERSTELLAR
Promising an unprecedented level of visuals, and actually delivering10
Directly addressing the most complex scientific theories of our time10
Successfully incorporating love and human existence into those very theories10
Cast, cinematography, production design, editing, sound design and score10
Christopher Nolan is arguably the world's greatest filmmaker10
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
Bechdel Test Failures
  • I'm pretty sure they only talk about men
10Overall Score

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