A culture blog, mostly focused on film and television. Warning: spoilers!!!
Film Analysis and Review: Interstellar (2014)
January 21, 2015
This is long over-due but, bonus! An extra long post!
Interstellar is Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated space epic, which explores themes of love, survival, the pursuit of knowledge, and that good old science fiction standard—time travel—all wrapped around the story of a hero who must choose between his family and saving America/humanity. Widowed engineer/farmer Coop and his family live in a not-so distant future where Earth is dying and the only important job is making enough food to live. There are no wars, no technological advancement, just farming. Coop rages internally against the circumstances that he and the world are placed in. He believes that the answer to mankind’s situation lies in the vast frontiers above his head, not in tending to the planet ruined by humanity’s rapid and ruinous technological progress. Luckily, Coop and his similarly scientific-minded daughter, Murph, are pulled into a secret government mission to save the world via a mysterious wormhole that has miraculous appeared within the solar system and offers intergalactic travel to other possibly habitable planets. But whose hand sets these events in motion? What amazing deus ex machina has been guiding Coop and his team towards humanity’s salvation?
Depending on how much you like Nolan and his work, the reveal that future human beings have evolved into higher dimensional beings who can go back in time and set clues for Coop and Murph to find will either bother you slightly or enrage you a lot. Interstellar comes from a mind that has consistently produced great plot twists in the realm of cinematic time travel (see Memento and The Prestige), but has occasionally also fallen prey to sentimentality, sometimes to the detriment of a film (see The Dark Knight Rises). But does this completely discount Interstellar as a great movie and story? Nolan seems to argue for sentimentality throughout the film in his debates between the scientific and the emotional. This is perhaps best exemplified in the logic-versus-love monologue delivered by Brand, played by Anne Hathaway, about halfway through the film. She argues that love and emotion should not be seen as without use or as having less value than logic and science because it is not “quantifiable”. Of course, we also know that the mission that Coop’s team embarks on is given much more meaning by knowing that Coop does so not to simply save humanity but to return to his daughter. He goes forward so that he may come back. Love is his driving force.
Admittedly, Nolan is a little heavy-handed with his message of familial love. The idea that Coop is able to communicate with his daughter through time because of his special transcending-space-and-time bond with her is quite hard to accept. It is also not a secret that Nolan wrote Interstellar for his own daughter, which is incredibly sweet. But, I will let it slide since I actually went to see this film with my own father because of our special bond over sci-fi films.
Another dichotomy, briefly mentioned earlier, that Nolan deals with is humanity’s exploring/pioneering spirit versus the results of scientific advancement on the planet. In fact, in Interstellar, NASA has gone into hiding as very few believe that technology and space travel is the answer to humanity’s problems. Modern life has become stagnant because of the need for food over the desire for machines. Many characters tell Coop to accept his role as a farmer on the dying, overpopulated Earth, but Coop’s drive to know and to move forward means that he doesn’t want to merely survive while humanity slips quietly into extinction. He needs to go beyond. Thus, the idea of stewardship does not really seem to be advocated in Interstellar at all. I wonder what happens to the terra-formed planet after the end of the film. Will it face the same abuse as Earth did?
Speaking of the end of the film, I’m still not quite sure how everyone got to where they were. Was it some sort of space station or human-built planet? What equation was sent back to Murph via Morse code and how did it save humanity? Why were they still playing baseball on the new planet? Did they only save Americans? I say this because we never really get a sense of what’s going on in other countries. Really, the ending was a little messy and badly handled. The plot twist involving Matt Damon as Dr. Mann was executed poorly as well. As soon as he popped out of that sleep pod, my instinct was to mark him as an enemy. Partly, this is due to my own intense dislike for Matt Damon’s face. I blame The Talented Mr. Ripley. He was one creepy, disturbed, murderous psycho in that film. Mann’s fight with Coop also was overplayed. There’s no way that Coop would have survived such a long exposure on an ice planet with a cracked helmet without some serious and immediate repercussions. But nope. He was fine.
Here are some things I liked about Interstellar lest I seem to be merely criticizing the film. TARS and CASE were pretty great as nearly featureless, rectangular, multi-purpose, all-terrain robots go. It’s nice that they had distinct personalities too, given that they look identical. Monosyllabic names for almost everyone was also an interesting choice or happenstance, whatever the case may be. Matthew McConaughey was an excellent casting choice as I find that he was less glamorous looking than he was in his younger years and easier to regard as an everyman. McConaissance! Generally, great casting all around. Jessica Chastain needs to be in all the films. The outer space, spinning dock scene was breath taking and really thrilling to watch. Speaking of beautiful images, the three-dimensional rendering of time in the black hole was a great merging of science and art, in my opinion. Additionally, the idea of wormholes being spherical holes was something I had never thought of before but made perfect visual sense once explained. Finally, having Michael Caine recite “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas was also pretty great. There are so many levels of meaning for that poem in Interstallar! Overall, I really liked the film. It had a lot of themes that made it great to have long conversations over. It had all the elements for an instant classic. I would definitely re-watch this film; maybe I’ll even buy the Blu-Ray. And then re-watch it with my dad.