Stellar Sights

interstellar’s dazzling view of the universe

By earthly definition, a hole indicates an absence. Yet as director Christopher Nolan’s stunning visuals in Interstellar demonstrate, the wormholes and black holes in outer space above us are anything but empty. They glow with a blazing white heat. They mercilessly writhe and contort themselves. And they appear as alive as the humans bravely pursuing them. Nolan’s new film, which stars Matthew McConaughey as pilot Cooper leading a selfless search for a barren Earth’s hope among the stars and away from his family, is more than a cinematic space journey—it’s a beautiful imagining of what might be out there.

Interstellar is less emotionally raw than Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, 2013’s de facto space movie of the year, and it’s no futuristic journey of Star Wars proportions. But with this new take on the final frontier, galactic weaponry and existentialism don’t matter. With Interstellar, I want to explore wormholes and set foot on planets millions of miles away. Nolan satisfies my curiosity for images I want to see, but for that for the sake of safety—and the laws of physics—should probably never be witnessed by the human eye.

At this point, Nolan is no stranger to the spectacle. We can all recall the time when Inception’s inverted Paris street—you know, that one shot—was completely unavoidable on film review websites. Over the past few years, his films have increased in grandeur as they have moved away from their psychological sting. Interstellar’s astronomical ambition is nothing like his jarring, nonlinear thriller Memento. But though the jump to epic blockbusters may be detrimental to his scripts, when it comes to Nolan, I can cast that all aside and let my eyes feast.

No matter how good your Blu-ray player is, it is an injustice to experience Interstellar in any format other than IMAX. This was almost certainly the consensus of the theater in which I saw it; all popcorn-chewing and soda-slurping ceased an hour into the film as the tiny blip of McConaughey and crew quietly drifted across Saturn’s rings. When the subwoofers rumbled as the heroes’ ship violently rocked, our seats shook as well. Though the theater’s screen doesn’t perfectly accommodate portions of the film shot on 70mm, the changing aspect ratio is barely noticeable once immersed in outer space’s great expanses. Craning my neck to see IMAX shots in their entirety wasn’t a chore. It was a pleasure.

After Nolan’s go-to director of photography Wally Pfister took time off to make his directorial debut, Nolan instead hired Hoyte van Hoytema, the cinematographer responsible for the soft allure of Spike Jonze’s Her and the darkly unnerving Let the Right One In. Stunning as space may be, some of his most poignant shots are of Earth’s surface, most notably the terrifying dust storms that ruthlessly swallow the protagonist’s humble town. As far as galactic moments go, I’m not the first to draw comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I won’t be the last. Credit is also due to the special effects team and their voluptuous black hole, which possesses a gravitational pull not only on surrounding matter but also on the captivated audience.

Nevertheless, the film’s flaws warrant acknowledgement. There were a few clunky scene transitions that I can’t ignore. I also suspect Interstellar was partially adapted from a high school physics textbook, with emphasis on the high school part; the science grounding Interstellar’s plot is neither complex nor consistently accurate. And if you at any point have doubts on the mechanics of time dilation or wormholes, fear not, since characters spend ample time repeating their explanations. Nolan himself may as well be kicking the back of your seat in the theater, whispering, “Hey, did you get that?” When Matthew McConaughey isn’t sputtering out a physics curriculum in a charming Southern accent, he’s giving eye-rollingly profound speeches. Did Nolan forget that Michael Caine is the only one who can pull that off? Fortunately, Hans Zimmer’s magnificent and emotionally charged score provides brief respites from banter on love and gravity.

Interstellar makes me question the holistic approach to film criticism, the checklist of cinematic features that add up to a final grade. Sure, it looked pretty, but how was the script? The acting? The score? Across the board, Interstellar doesn’t always receive high marks. Yet that’s okay. Keeping in mind its imperfections, I absolutely love Interstellar—simply because it’s beautiful.

For its two hours and 49 minutes, suppress the childhood lesson that “what’s inside matters most,” silence your phone, and buckle up for a bumpy journey through space and time. Interstellar is a glimpse at a beautiful future—not one where Earth’s life is collapsing and Anne Hathaway might die in space, but one with more movies that look like this.