Well folks, we’ve come to the final week of the Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon! We’ll be wrapping things up with his most recent film, “Interstellar.” Thank you again to my husband, Aaron, for joining me on this blog-a-thon; I might have to invite him back to talk about Nolan’s new movie, “Dunkirk,” which is coming out this summer. 😉
“Interstellar” takes place at some point in the not-so-distant future, as humanity faces a global crisis and the threat of extinction from disease and famine. NASA has been operating off the grid and recruits a farmer and former pilot named Joseph “Coop” Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to join a top-secret mission. Coop and several other explorers will venture into a mysterious wormhole that could transport them to other planets capable of sustaining life. It’s a dangerous gamble, and also a mission that requires extreme sacrifice: due to the altered passage of time in the wormhole and on these other worlds, Coop’s children could be elderly by the time he returns to Earth — if he ever returns at all.
“Interstellar” is actually my husband’s all-time favorite film, so I’ll let him go first! Also fair warning: spoilers ahead!
I’ll just say right now that “Interstellar” is my favorite movie bar none. I remember the first time I watched it. It was right after the wife and I got married. We hadn’t moved into our new place yet and were sleeping on a mattress on the floor. We Red Boxed the movie one of those nights and watched it on my laptop. It blew me away. My opinion of it has held firm through multiple viewings.
So why is it my favorite? First, I’ve always been fascinated with space travel. “Interstellar” tackled that subject without being A.) a war movie (“Starship Troopers”), B.) a survival movie (“Apollo 13”), C.) an extraterrestrial movie (“Alien”), or D.) a love story (“Passengers”) — which is impressive. No aliens, no guns, few action scenes, and no budding romances. Just a story of endurance and determination through adversity.
I love that the story is cosmic in scope, but really focuses mostly on human relations through the whole thing. You’ve got the tension between Cooper and fellow crew member Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway). The abandonment grief that Coop’s daughter Murphy bears. The resignation of his son Tom. There’s the cold scientism of Professor Brand (Michael Cain) and Dr. Mann (Matt Damon). Plus you’ve got two robots that have more personality than most persons in other films.
It was also refreshing to see a movie take space physics seriously for once. I almost put “Gravity” in this category, but each time I do I remember the ridiculousness of George Clooney’s death scene and repent. The most obvious example of this is how they portray time dilation. I like how that was not only accounted for, but how the movie was built around it. Nolan did a great job creating powerful scenes showcasing what effects relative time could have on people. The scene where Cooper visits his daughter as she dies of old age while he isn’t even 50 is a tearjerker every time. Her sobbing line where she says she knew he’d come back “because my daddy told me so” is powerful and on the nose without being unduly milked. The scene is short, and benefits from its own brevity.
This probably isn’t bantered around as much, but I also really like how the movie takes on scientism. Who are the only villains in the film? It’s not nature. The black hole is powerful and dangerous but the protagonist’s struggle isn’t really against it. Their struggle is against Mann and Cain’s Brand. Both of them are out to “save the species” but are willing do all kinds of violence against the ones they claim to be saving. Throughout the movie Mann talks about the human race as if it were anything other than itself. He might as easily be talking about saving a certain species of tree or an endangered molerat. Mann displays all sorts of knowledge about basic human drives but is clueless about what makes a good person. The people who end up saving the day are not those who are willing to lie and kill in order to “save the species” but those whose profound love for other specific humans makes them unwilling to make that sacrifice.
I’ll talk briefly about the ending, because that’s always a point of contention. I’m okay with it. I think it’s ambitious, like the rest of the movie, but maybe not what I would have done. In general, I’m okay with protagonists sacrificing themselves to complete an objective (i.e. how “Passengers” should have ended and no, I’m not going to forgive it). If there were another way to get the data to Murphy, I’d probably have picked that. That being said, the idea that Coop is Murphy’s ghost is pretty cool and the ending stays true to the theme throughout the movie that, once past the event horizon, nothing inside a black hole can get out and that it requires something that can transcend dimensions to relay a message outside of a black hole. I definitely don’t think the five-dimensional beings have to be humans, as Coop says more often than I’m comfortable with. I also don’t necessarily like this whole “my love is quantifiable” junk. That whole “love transcends dimensions” line sounds more like straw grasping than anything else. All that being said, I’m okay with the ending
“Interstellar” is so cool. No movie is perfect, but most movies don’t even try. I really think Nolan tried to make a perfect space exploration movie, and he came real close. Kudos to him.
One of the things I admire most about Nolan as a director is how he constantly seems to be challenging himself and pushing himself in new creative directions. “Interstellar” — a sprawling epic about space travel — is one of his most ambitious films so far. It’s not a flawless film, but it is breathtaking and moving and beautiful.
One of the criticisms I’ve seen about Nolan in the past is that some say his movies come across as too cool and emotionless. That isn’t really a problem I have with his movies; his films have a certain aesthetic, and that’s what makes him distinctive as a director. Still, this is probably one of his most emotional films, highlighting Cooper’s sacrifice — basically giving up a normal life with his children so he can save the human race. The scene where Cooper watches through years’ worth of videos from his children is always heartbreaking; while he’s barely aged, many years have passed for them, and he’s missed important milestones, like the birth of his first grandchild. He breaks down in tears, and McConaughey completely sells this scene.
And speaking of McConaughey, I really like him in this role. His drawl and everyman portrayal make him easy to relate to, and this helps ground the movie as it ventures into the far reaches of speculative science. He is the heart and soul of this movie.
“Interstellar’s” cinematography is simply gorgeous; I love the wide, sweeping shots of deep space, the mystery and wonder of the black hole, and the other worlds that Cooper and his crew members explore. These other planets share some elements of Earth geography, so they don’t feel too unrealistic, yet they’re also clearly “otherworldy.” Although it might have been kind of interesting to see hints of extraterrestrial life on some of these worlds, I think that would have added too much complexity to a film that is already fairly long and complex.
Clocking in at almost 170 minutes, I think “Interstellar” could have been trimmed down some, although in Nolan’s defense none of the scenes feel like fluff or filler added merely to pad the film’s runtime. And I also have to agree with Aaron’s statement about the “love transcends dimensions” conversation in the film. Normally I’m a pretty sentimental person who enjoys themes about love and friendship in movies (I secretly tear up in that scene from “Guardians of the Galaxy” where they all become a surrogate family and join hands to save Peter Quill from being consumed by the Infinity Stone). But the speech that Dr. Brand makes about the power of love and how it can be a quantifiable force is just too much. The events of the film already express this concept without it needing to be spelled out in the dialogue.
I actually don’t mind the ending either, and I’ve appreciated it more as time goes on. The film seems pretty scientifically plausible up until the point where Cooper ejects from his ship and drifts through the wormhole, falling into a mysterious “tesseract” that allows him to communicate with his daughter in the past. While Nolan could have easily gone with a more grounded ending, I appreciate that he was willing to take a risk and try for something outside the box. It does highlight that we still don’t know a lot about the mysteries of the universe — or what could be hiding inside a black hole.
“Interstellar” is a powerful, thought-provoking movie that took Nolan to a new frontier as a film maker. I didn’t get a chance to see it in IMAX when it was running in theaters, but I really wish I would have. Hopefully humanity will continue to be inspired to keep exploring the stars!