Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I Loved "Interstellar." Keep Reading to Find Out Why.

Interstellar
Interstellar is a rare film for writer/director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception).  His films are notoriously cold and technical, though they excel when it comes to scope and visual beauty.  Emotion is usually quite lacking in his films.  This is not to say that there is no drama in a Nolan film.  There is emotional drama in everything he has done, but, at least for me, it has never been this effective.  Surprisingly, Nolan has found true emotion in a film that takes place largely in deep space, the loneliest possible environment. 

Interstellar is essentially a father-daughter story about a pilot/engineer (Matthew McConaughey) who missed his chance to go to outer space and his daughter (Mackenzie Foy), who feels abandoned by him when he does get the chance to leave.  McConaughey’s reason for leaving is pretty justifiable, though: he’s going to look for a new planet for the human race.  There are same vague comments about what has happened to Earth in this film (world wars over food, for one), but the real problems are just beginning with a blight that has wiped out most of our food supply except for corn, but corn might not be safe for long.  The film certainly makes Earth look miserable, though it’s done on a small scale.  We never get the broad view of what the world is like.  In fact, there are really only two locations for the film on Earth: a farm and a hidden NASA compound.  While a larger explanation of the status of the entire planet would be interesting on its own, it is not the point.  The film is called Interstellar after all.  You know McConaughey is going to leave; the question of the film is, how long will he be gone?

Leaving a child behind for an uncertain amount of time is emotionally charged already, but when the science of gravity and black holes is added, it becomes downright devastating.  Apparently, gravity near a black can mess with time.  An hour on, say, a planet near a black hole, could last years elsewhere.  (For the record, I have no idea why that is, but scientists claim this is true.)  This possible problem coupled with the fact that McConaughey and his fellow astronauts cannot send messages (they can only receive them) back to Earth makes his absence that much more heartbreaking.  This film, though very much science-fiction, is actually a love letter to Nolan’s daughter (the working title was Flora’s Letter), and you get the impression that going off to make these giant movies might be his version of leaving Earth while his daughter grows up.  It is quite clear that Nolan wanted to tug at the heartstrings with this one and, for me, at least, he accomplished his goal.  How else can you explain why a review of a science-fiction film written by an admitted dork has gone three paragraphs without gushing about visual effects and cool, weird robots? 

The emotional impact of the film was surprising, and it made me care about the characters in a Nolan film more than ever before.  It was truly unexpected.  The great visual effects and general cinematic excellence of the film?  That was expected.  This is what has been troubling me when it comes to reviewing Interstellar.  My first attempt ended up being a bit of a rant about why people should appreciate the movie (read it here if you want), and I explained how annoyed I was with people (critics and film buffs alike) calling the film “ambitious” in both negative and positive terms.  “Ambitious” is far too loaded of a word to use to describe any film (and I will attempt to stop using that word in my reviews from here on out).  It only implies that someone tried to do something.  Well, of course they did.  Interstellar is not an example of someone “trying.”  It is an example of Christopher Nolan and the rest of the filmmakers doing exactly what they set out to do: create an entertaining science-fiction film that adheres to reality as much as possible while also engaging the viewer on an emotional level.  And yes, it all looks great and should be seen on the biggest screen available (full disclosure: I saw it on a regular-sized screen at Tell City and still loved it).  My point is that it has become moot to discuss the technical brilliance of a Nolan film.  Let’s just assume the brilliance and move on.

Interstellar is much more interesting thematically, anyway.  The possibilities of life after Earth stayed with me, and I found, upon reflection, that the film was deeper than I initially thought.  It can be seen as a father-daughter love story, a save-the-Earth space thriller, a plea to stick with film instead of going digital, etc.  Any story that can be viewed symbolically always gets a few extra points from me.  The literal story of the film is more than enough, though.  Exploring deep space has always been more interesting to me on the human loneliness level than the visual level.  Normally, films in which characters are so far out in space are set in a distant future or world in which it is normal to be out there (like Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy).  This film keeps it grounded, so to speak, in reality.  Characters have to deal with being away from their loved ones.  This is rarely the focus in such films, and it is refreshing to see here. 

There's quite a bit of this.
Because of the focus on love and loneliness, the cast of Interstellar had a tough task.  They had to cry quite a bit and make the audience care about why they were crying.  To top it off, their characters were slightly one-dimensional in that everyone is simply trying to accomplish the goal of sustaining the human race.  Some would see this as a flaw, but I imagine (or hope) that people tasked with saving all of us would be singularly focused with the task at hand.  Because of this, there’s nothing terribly memorable about each character.  It’s up to the actors to bring their natural charisma to the role to make you care about them.  That said, Interstellar has an amazing cast.  McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, and everyone involved gets the job done. 

This review has been a long time coming because I loved the film on so many levels, and I wanted to see if that wore off a few days after watching it.  It didn’t, but I have still put off writing this in fear of not mentioning everything that was great about it.  Which reminds me: there are these amazing (and hilarious) robots in the film that look like the monolith from 2001.  The main robot, TARS, is actually my favorite character, now that I think about.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some other things, and I know I’m ignoring a lot of issues others have with the film (I will concede that McConaughey’s character definitely showed favoritism to his daughter and largely ignored his son, and that was never acknowledged in a fulfilling way).  It can’t be helped, though.  Interstellar is just such an awesome science-fiction film, and I am an unabashed fan of anything sci-fi.  I’m still trying to digest all of it (obviously), but it’s certainly going to be one of my favorite films of the year, and it’s definitely going to be a film I revisit over and over again.

Interstellar receives a:


Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

"C'mon, TARS, let's go bust up the robot mafia."
I can't wait for the sequel in which McConaughey and his robot buddy, TARS, travel through the galaxy fighting crime.

Everyone seemed very much okay with Wes Bentley dying, didn't they?

Some have complained about the exposition in this film (and all of Nolan's films), but I like it. Is it weak storytelling?  Oftentimes exposition is, but here I don't think so.  I like that the characters explained the science and their plans every now and thing because that's how the world works.  How often do you do a job in which the manager/planner/whatever simply assumes you know what's going on?  Life deserves explanation sometimes.  Sometimes, it does not.  

Which brings me to all of these 2001 comparisons.  Who said that this was supposed to be just like 2001?  I never assumed that.  And I certainly didn't assume Nolan was trying to be Kubrick here, but many people have.  I suppose that's due to their nature of picking up on implications rather than looking at objective facts.  Nolan is not Kubrick and is not trying to be.  Interstellar is not 2001 and is not trying to be.  We can enjoy both of these directors/movies, by the way.  Just don't bring the same expectations to both.  If I went in to Interstellar wanting everything left to interpretation, I would leave extremely disappointed, and vice versa.  I'll never understand why some people who love one movie in a genre take up some unwarranted fight to crap all over anything else that comes after.  I just really like movies.  I guess I'm simple that way.  This doesn't mean I don't hate some movies, by the way.  Stay tuned for my Dumb and Dumber To review for proof...

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