By Hollywood standards, Christopher Nolan has always asked a lot of his audience. The writer/director’s breakout film Memento, which is plotted in reverse chronological order, leaves it to the viewer to piece together its convoluted narrative. His Dark Knight trilogy asked that we expunge from our memory nipple-clad batsuits in favor of his gritty, stone-cold stoic vision of the Caped Crusader. And his genre-mashing head-trip of a heist caper, Inception — well, just Google the film’s title and the word “infographic,” and you’ll see that Nolan’s films reward active engagement, repeat viewings, and, on occasion, the use of visual aids. The filmmaker’s latest enigma to hit theaters, the spectacularly mind-bending and affecting space opus Interstellar, is no exception.
The story is set in a not-so-distant, dust-storm-plagued future where crops are dying off at an alarming rate and “nonessential” programs like NASA, the military, and even Major League Baseball have been gutted. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a widowed aviator/engineer-turned-farmer raising his young daughter and teenage son with the help of his father-in-law. Upon discovering that humanity faces certain extinction, Cooper is enlisted by an old colleague into an interstellar expedition to find a new home for mankind among the stars.
Previous Nolan films have been faulted for their heavy reliance on exposition, and this film — which crams a crash course on astrophysics, wormholes, and relativity into its first act — is by no means immune to those criticisms. However, once our crew (which, in a nod to Kubrick, includes some gallows-humored AI) blasts off, the explanations take a backseat to some seriously stunning visuals, an epically organ-heavy Hans Zimmer score, and a plethora of solid performances.
Of particular note is McConaughey, who continues his hot streak of weighty roles here. In one especially moving scene in which Cooper receives a series of video transmissions from Earth, McConaughey demonstrates once more that we are living in what has only half-glibly been termed the McConaissance. And though the film may lose some viewers along the way and fly a little too close to the sun in its epic ambitions, it is undoubtedly a journey on which you will want to reembark — with infographics in tow, of course.