Interstellar

Interstellar photo starrating-3stars.jpgInterstellar is vague in every way that a film can be vague. The year is difficult to pinpoint. It feels like sometime in the indeterminate near future, say 2050, but the production design is more inspired by John Steinbeck novels set in the 1930s. This is the heartland of America, possibly a state like Oklahoma. We see them watching the Yankees as a barnstorming team so maybe they’re in New York. We really don‘t know. The very existence of the human race is endangered by dust clouds, described as blight, that are gradually eliminating the number of crops that are viable on Earth. We’re to assume the whole world is at risk, but only the U.S. is addressed or even mentioned. Farms are collapsing. In a prologue, elderly people reminisce about the farming era in which they lived. Most of the interviewees are actually non actors from Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary The Dust Bowl repurposed here to represent a different ecological disaster.

However one of those subjects is an actual actress – Ellen Burstyn – who plays Murphy Cooper as an old woman. Flashback to the proper start of our adventure. Murph is the highly regarded 10 year old daughter of Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). She is initially played by Mackenzie Foy and later Jessica Chastain. This father-daughter connection is the heart of Interstellar. However the tenderness between father and daughter rings hollow. They are given little to do, save for hunting down an errant drone spy plane together.  Their relationship is an emotional void and the drama fails to engage at this level. Cooper’s eagerness to leave his family and blast off into the stratosphere doesn’t help.  Father Cooper also lives with his seemingly disregarded 15-year-old son Tom (Timothée Chalamet). The script barely acknowledges the boy. Rounding out this foursome is his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). Murph communicates with a ghost in her bedroom which ultimately leads her father to a secret NASA base location. There he meets a team of explorers that hypothesizes the solution to the Earth’s problems lies somewhere beyond this galaxy.

Christopher Nolan is a storyteller and he fashions a chronicle with a great deal of attention. There is a lot of science tossed around in the explanation of space travel. I won’t bore you with the particulars but it involves Einstein, relativity and the space-time continuum. I’m not a scientist, but most of it sounded pretty logical to me so I accepted it at face value. Christopher Nolan fills the world with little details that make watching more fun. TARS is a robot helper on the mission. He looks like a monolith that separates into rectangular limbs when he walks and talks. He is refreshingly outdated in style but uncomfortably human when he enunciates. Several times I couldn’t figure out who was speaking, only to realize, it was TARS the robot. He has a sarcastic personality brought to life by actor Bill Irwin. “I have a cue light I can use to show you when I’m joking, if you like.”

Interstellar is filled with fascinating setpieces: (1) a tidal wave on a water planet that rises up out of nothing like a wall, (2) the arrival of a guest with depressing news, (3) an altercation on the frozen tundra of another planet, (4) a docking maneuver that is a nail bitter. But the whole isn’t equal to the sum of these parts. Interstellar is certainly a wonder to behold. Nolan gets the majesty of the universe in all its wide expansive grandeur. The director was clearly inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem “Also Sprach Zarathustra” was utilized to legendary effect in that picture. Hans Zimmer attempts to outdo the epicness of that piece. The score is bombastic, almost assaultive. In space no one can hear you scream. That’s because Hans Zimmer’s score will drown you out. Long-time collaborator Wally Pfister was busy directing Transcendence, so Nolan tapped Hoyt Van Hoytema to shoot this saga. The cinematography is full of breathtaking images as they reinforce a lofty tale of epic proportions. If you can feast on the visuals, then perhaps that will be enough to hold you. But any movie that MUST be seen on a big screen to be enjoyed, falls short at telling an engaging story.

Interstellar is an extremely long 3 hour movie. For roughly half the drama, the ideas feel organic as they effortlessly support a real respect for the wonder of the cosmos. But by the 2nd half, something happens. The ideas become more ponderous, the tone more solemn. Physics gives way to mysticism. An initial set up that was driven by the joy of space travel devolves into a superficial meditation on love. Yet for all its efforts to be tear-jerking, I felt nothing. It’s not a bad film, but it is Christopher Nolan’s least captivating picture. It doesn’t seem informed by the director’s vision. It’s more like the 2nd greatest work that M. Night Shyamalan never directed.

11-04-14

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37 Responses to “Interstellar”

  1. To be honest I still dont know what to think about the movie but somehow I want to watch it again.

    • At first I was a bit befuddled by the picture. Was this from the mind of the director of The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception? I reflected upon the film for 4 days. I’m glad I did because time helped me express my thoughts precisely.

  2. Agreed with you. One thing I noticed is that Nolan utilizes deus ex machina, which is something that he’s never done before. In fact, he goes as far as to purport man is God, which looking back, I can’t see any kind of faith or religion in Nolan’s work. Like Armond White fashions, Nolan has been a bit of a Nihilist. This film seems to be a reflection of that but in crisis with the themes.

  3. This was spot on! It definitely left a lot of questions,and was clunky in parts (but there were some undoubtedly sensational scenes) great write up!

  4. I saw this last night and I’m still finding it somewhat ponderous.

  5. I actually enjoyed this film a lot. I cant say it’s the best and most entertaining movie I’ve ever seen, but it was excellent. Yes, there are flaws, but even Nolan can’t be perfect (see Insomnia as an example) 🙂

    I think that this movie can also be enjoyed on the small screen, but it’s best on the big screen.

    I cant wait to rewatch it in a few months and see what I think of it then.

    Great review Mark!

    • Of course every movie has flaws. We watch and decide if those weaknesses matter. In this case the issues had to do with the essence of the story which, for me, were significant enough to affect my enjoyment.

      Interstellar has still got a lot to recommend. I was enthralled by the first half and those space scenes are spectacular!

      P.S. I enjoyed Insomnia more. 🙂

      • ouch… 🙂

        I actually fell asleep during Insomnia the first time I saw it 🙂

        I agree that it could have been better, but I still found it to be entirely entertaining.

        That’s what I love about movies, everyone has a different opinion on them, so we can all friendly debate things when we slightly disagree

  6. I enjoyed this movie quite a lot. And I really wish I’d seen it with my father. He’s so fascinated with space.

    • Space has been the subject of so many great movies. Why just last year we had one of the best ever made: Gravity. There’s Apollo 13, The Right Stuff, and 2001: A Space Odyssey too.

  7. I really liked this film, probably my favourite science fiction film in years. The concept was right up my alley.

    Great review Mark 😀

  8. you know, i don’t think the science is supposed to be perfect. i think it’s purposefully presented as conjecture to allow for human failure (and also to focus on the wonderful human emotional arc). but it is quite overwhelming at times, for sure

  9. Astronaut Brand’s musings on love was the closest Nolan has come to derailing. That part was entirely too cheesy and did have me wondering just what exactly hhe intended to do next. Fortunately, I felt that this moment passed and we dove back into a more exciting, explorative story that challenged audience members as much as it entertained. I think…..after sitting on this now for more than a week, Interstellar is both Nolan’s worst film, but the one where he stood to lose the most as well. Kudos to him and his crew for tackling such an ambitious mission

    Great review man.

    • I admire his craft. Nolan is always interesting. But yeah, Anne Hathaway’s dialogue got awkward. It’s like Nolan needed to shoehorn some emotion into the film, but it didn’t feel natural or organic.

  10. the movie is long at nearly three hours but I might be in the minority who didn’t have an issue with that. It was a great experience for me at the theater. the set pieces were indeed fascinating but I thought that the movie was so effective in telling its whole story even with the vagueness.

    • The vagueness wasn’t a problem. The ersatz emotion that the movie tried to elicit was. Yes agreed the production was an “experience” but I felt nothing for these characters. A mixed bag.

      • i get really involved with movies about mankind being threatened by forces of nature; and imagine what feelings would be involved, the fears, sacrifices, panic, and so forth. the actors did a good job in conveying those, or what i thought to be, expected natural feelings. so i was completely onboard this movie.

      • The first film your plot description brought to my mind was Roland Emmerich’s 2012. I’ll admit this was a lot better. 🙂

      • oh yes, much better:) my plot description certainly brings all kinds of disaster movies to mind (like 2012 which i watch occasionally). But that’s why interstellar is so great imo. Because it’s about the earth dying, and then the story expands out into the universe, the nature of universe, the nature of man, mystery, etc… I wonder what other movies Christopher Nolan has up his sleeve. He may very well be the most exciting film maker of modern times.

  11. I don’t think we’ve ever been more in agreement on something. I kept nodding my head as I read. So much yes in this review. You get me!

  12. Good review!
    Somehow, this film did not have th Right Stuff for me…
    Funny u should mention Shyamalan – it did seem to cross over into his territory.
    Try this:
    http://bradscribe.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/interstellar/
    Cheers!

    • Yes the narrative was more influenced by his aesthetic than Nolan’s. These days that sounds like a criticism, but it doesn‘t have to be. I LOVED The Sixth Sense.

  13. I see you notched your original 3.5-star rating down to a 3-star rating. Shucks!

  14. Disappointed. The fantastic scenes you mentioned were great, but it was too long. The beginning was interesting, but the ending got a little corny. 3 stars.

  15. Didn’t know that the documentary footage in Insterstellar was actually real. Very cool. I couldn’t agree more that the relationship between Murph and Coop is hollow. The movie failed to engage me with any of its emotional aspects. It came off cold, like Nolan often does. The robots were the most human in the movie, which probably says something. The film has great set pieces like you mention, and I thought that overall it was visually stimulating. You’re completely right that the second half becomes more ponderous and serious. The movie gets lost in scientific mumbo jumbo and mysticism. I also felt nothing by the end, which was probably the most disappointing part of the movie.

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