Rating: 3.5 of 5
Christopher Nolan… I don’t even know where to begin. Which is, I guess, a good thing. His movies are not simple. They’re never straight forward and easy to analyze. I like that about them. But it also means there is no clear cut – this was a good movie or I didn’t like that movie. They are certainly never an easy thing to review. There’s always all these layers in Nolan films of the things that worked and didn’t work and sometimes both liking something and not liking it at the same time. It’s all very complicated.
In some places Interstellar was slow. It’s a cinematic movie, the sort of thing that lingers on slow pans across a starfield with a tiny ship drifting in the silence. The sort of thing meant to convey beauty and silence and the vastness and how small we are in it. Which it does. But it’s also a shot that lasts about a minute too long and doesn’t serve the story. I’m more interested in the story than the shot. I can’t say that it’s filmed badly at all, but just that I didn’t care that much about well it was filmed. Totally made to be seen in IMAX, though.
Then there were other places where the editing was so brilliant – expanses of time covered in brief moments of film; transitions across hours and months conveyed succinctly and effectively. It bounced between the here and the there incredibly well.
The casting almost made me laughed since this one basically had a Steven Soderbergh cast. Which is not to say it wasn’t well cast. Just that half of Ocean’s Eleven is in it. Also, I had no idea Mackenzie Foy was actually a good actress, but she and Jessica Chastain kind of own this movie.
Intellectually, it’s a staggering film. Not as intricate as Inception but cerebral and philosophical and a finely tuned narrative (even where I saw the interconnections and expected certain turns).
the twists I saw coming »
I mean, it was pretty clear the moment Mann woke up and said his first line about how good it was to see another human being that he was lying about his planet and that he just kept pushing the button so they’d come save him. Which, then I didn’t understand why he perpetuated the lie. They were going to find out eventually (unless he marooned them all there) so why not just cop to it and move on to the next planet? Also, guessed that Murph’s ghost was Cooper from the future. I mean, it was a very personal sort of communication to a little girl in a movie where her dad was about to go into outer space. It was either Cooper or some other version of future humans, which it turns out were future humans creating wormholes and tesseracts so humanity would be saved and evolve into the future humans. That’s kind of how sci-fi movies go.
The question with a Nolan film is always, has he finally figured out how to add emotional resonance to his intellectual films. While emotion plays a huge role in this story, I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s figured that bit out. Murph is the only one I really connected to and became invested in. She worked and all three actresses who played her were great. And while the rest of the characters are actually moved quite a bit by the things that happen it’s a cold, stoic sort of emotion that doesn’t reach out and envelope the audience in any desperate need to connect with them on that level.
Which is not to say I didn’t feel anything at all. There’s a darkness to Nolan films; a stark reality that burns with its unflinching despair. They’re good movies. Well written and well executed movies. Smart movies. But they’re not really fun to watch. Interstellar, at least, provides a stark, cold movie appropriate for that sort of darkness.
That’s where the philosophical elements come into play.
the parts that are all spoilery »
There’s a moment just before they take off where Brand says she’s looking forward to going into deep space because there isn’t evil out there. The first thing I thought was how naive that idea is. Evil isn’t something bound to this world. It isn’t wrapped up in the dirt of this ground or trapped in our stratosphere. Yes, there is evil. But there’s also us. We break ourselves and we break each other.
The thing I liked was that the Nolans exposed that in Mann. He justifies his actions and his choices but they sound so empty and false – almost as he doesn’t even believe them but he desperately wants to. He does horrible things. His selfishness costs each of them. And then he tries to kill Cooper, all the while pretending it’s something as simple as an evolutionary imperative. It isn’t. Space is no better than earth because we’re still out there.
It’s even as small as the choice Brand makes on the water planet. It’s just a mistake – a choice she couldn’t have known would cost them so much. There is not ill intent or evil in it. But it hurts them all. That’s how we break each other, the little choices, the good ideas gone horribly wrong.
And in the wake of that you’re left with nothing but pain and despair. Because space is an unforgiving, desolate place. There are no answers there. Hope does not exist among the stars. There’s only rocks and light waves and emptiness. And Nolan forces the audience to dwell in that pain and that despair and it’s hard.
But in all of it, the thing he comes back to is that those close relationships between us are the things that really matter. That 20 years with Cooper’s kids is so much more valuable than data or their mission or anything else. Those years are the thing that hurts the most.
Brand comes around and I like her speech about love – about it how it crosses dimensions and it’s an instinct worth following more than scientific facts or data. That it’s something that should be trusted. She learns more quickly than Cooper who takes so much longer to come around to trusting how much he loves people. That love is the only hope.
It reminds me of 1 John 4:19
We love, because He first loved us.
Love is not a faceless, soft emotion. It is not an insubstantial word we toss about because it’s easy or something pink and sweet or a box of chocolates. It is a person. And the only reason we know love, the only reason we dream of it and revel in it and tell stories about it is because He first loved us. He is the only hope we have.
And it’s almost as if Nolan was grasping toward that – with five dimensional beings who exist outside of time and the only way Cooper and Brand and Murph and the others have any chance at all is because these beings have stepped in. Like Nolan knows that we need help but can’t quite bring himself to say the word God.
It’s fascinating to watch him grapple with these ideas; to see them conveyed through such subtle moments. But it’s also hard. It’s a well made movie. And it’s different in a landscape of reboots and sequels and the recycling of ideas. I just can’t bring myself to consider it great.
Still, I respect that Christopher Nolan is one of the few filmmakers today who has the ability to film original stories; who gets to make unique films and makes them well and they make money! There’s so much potential out there for interesting stories and it’s good that at least one director continues to show it doesn’t have to be a recognizable property to be successful.