Interstellar was a movie at the top of my anticipated list for this year and I couldn’t wait to see what Nolan could do with the expanses of space and other worlds. Boy, do I know I am going to be rubbing some people the wrong way when I write this down. Don’t get me wrong, Christopher Nolan is indeed one of the best directors in the business today, and I too am a die-hard fan of his direction and vision, but his ideals of hope? Not so much. Just stick with me; you’ll understand what I mean very soon. While it was a theater experience like none other, with fascinating visuals and immersive sequences of gigantic scope, it did have some snags when it came to the cohesiveness of the plot and character development. I also have to admit that my affection and fan-gasm for 2001: A Space Odyssey may have influenced my views on this film, but I have tried to remain as objective as conceivably possible.
Interstellar is the sort of film that cannot be limited to the term of ‘movie’ but has to be referred to as an experience, for the sake of justice. I believe this movie to be the film that most represents Nolan as the person behind the lens, a geeky kid with a love for science and fiction thereof, coupled with the imaginative prowess of a visionary to strain at the bubble. The countless delicious sci-fi themes and theories explored, and the immensely dwarfing landscapes to match the same stand true testimony to the same. The expedition that take the characters through the most romantic elements of outer space were indeed the best part of the movie, only rivalled by the mind-bending science fiction themes (which may not be strictly fiction, but more on that later). Interstellar is a film that begs you to not suspend, but expand the scientific truths and knowledge of our universe. It is a film that loves tugging at the strings that keep our minds limited, and pull them a bit further each time, allowing for the real mind-bending to take place. Be warned, there are several spoilers ahead.
Although I try to keep myself from opinions of any movie I intend on watching seriously, I found it a little harder this time. I mean, it is Interstellar, it is a Nolan film. So the complaint that I gathered from most viewers was that the movie lost them with the overly complex science and theories that seem so complicated to the point of disbelief, and acceptance that Nolan and his team made up the whole thing. I myself did not find a single moment where the science itself lost me, everything was nicely clear, but there were a few rather gaping holes as to the why of the science. I might just have missed out the part where they explain this, but the moment they started talking about Gargantua’s role and the black-hole equation being the solution to Plan A, I saw myself drawing a blank as it wasn’t made clear why Gargantua is the solution. This is a call-out to anyone who can solve this for me; maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention when they clarified this part. I’m sure Nolan’s team would have a perfect scientifically backed answer to my query, but its absence in the movie itself left me disturbed for the rest of the movie, and not in a good way. When you’re planning to take your audience across space and time, on a reality-bending odyssey, it is not always the best idea to leave them with something wrong tugging at the back of their minds. I do definitely plan to watch this film more than once again, and if I am able to find the answer to this, I retract my comment and apologize.
I think it’s high time in this review I got to citing the positives of the film, rather than nagging at certain problems which may not be problematic for the universal audience. And believe me, there are quite a few praise-worthy elements in this one. (In a Nolan movie? Really? How surprising.) Off the bat, the acting talent that went into this movie, while not all great, did have a few stellar performances. I would of course be referring to McConnaughey’s Cooper, Jessica Chastain’s Murphy, and of course, Michael Caine’s Dr. Brand. (Not to be confused with Hathaway’s Dr. Brand, who is quite questionable) Matthew McConnaughey plays the role he has been winning in since his resurrection from a Hell populated by ghosts of certain female-romantic-friend’s pasts, and he absolutely owns it. But I would still not say this is the best one he has dished out, Rust Cohle from True Detective still taking my proverbial cake. The surprise talent that surfaced me in the movie was perhaps, that of young Murphy, as played by McKenzie Foy. I would be talking about an entirely different kind of movie here if the glue – the relationship between Cooper and his daughter – hadn’t held together. So I am very glad that throughout the course of the movie, Nolan was able to let them pull at your heart-strings to keep the journey to salvation one of hope. But unfortunately, I do have a few cribs with the father-daughter relationship as explored on planet Earth. As I saw the spaceship’s thrusts flare and take off into well, space, all I could think of was where all the human emotions and relationships disappeared. I felt betrayed as the bond between Cooper and Murphy was just being explored and getting interesting, and then BAM – just like most of the scene shifts in the film, coincidentally – we’re now diving headfirst into an ocean of science.
The one thing I believe Nolan perfected in this film is the treatment of science and the mind-bending fiction revolving the same. But ‘mind-bending’ is not something I need to specifically mention as that is sort of assured as we sit down for a Nolan film. From Memento to Inception, Nolan has always had purring fun at entangling our mind-threads into a ball and then letting it lose, and we inexplicably come back wanting more. While that is a good thing, the technicalities of the odyssey and the scientific discussions that very well engaged the audience (especially the scene where David Gyasi explains a wormhole) seem to overshadow the emotion we are meant to feel, that of the startling distance between Cooper and Murphy. I felt the time spent on Earth could have been utilized in order to enhance the pain we feel for the characters to a much higher degree. The same theme of abrupt switching from emotion to marvel is prevalent throughout the film, where the music and the intensity that had been built up for a while, thus baiting the audience’s attention, were replaced with silence in a most raw manner. This was a wrong technical decision, as it takes away from both the emotion and the scientific banter, which alone I found enriching. The film reached the pinnacle of its emotional gravity once the damning effects of relativity are thrown out, dwarfing the viewers in their seats and minds. The sheer intensity of the thought of one hour on the first planet translating to 7 years Earth-time when imaged in the aging of Romilly and the Cooper kids takes you aback. But otherwise, I felt the emotions were always indignantly begging for tears through slightly cheesy dialogue and Cooper’s many faces of despair.
Dr. Mann, who is being played by Matt Damon, (personally impressed at the team for a well-kept secret) while eerily reminding me of Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrence in The Shining, was the villain that the film could have done without. He was seemingly the unavoidable obstacle that is waiting to happen, just when everything seemed to conveniently align themselves. There are already several scientific risks and emotional despair, including hard choices that the travellers will have to make following the discovery of a perfect planet. There is ascertainably little need to insert another block in their path, which was when, I felt, the film slid back into traditional clichés. Now, something I was completely not expecting came in the steel Tetris-like package of TARS, a cheerful, turning take on the HAL-9000. If there was one element that had been missing upto this point in Nolan’s portfolio, it was that of humour. But the introduction of TARS was a beacon of restrained laughter in the otherwise silent dreading expanse of the Universe that the odyssey takes place in.
Without much ado, allow me to talk about the climactic sequence of Interstellar. If you asked me this question in an entirely personal capacity, I would have to say I hated the ending of this otherwise excellent movie. It absolutely destroyed what I was expecting with baited breath throughout the entirety of 2.5 hours, the promise of a satisfactory close. I had started groaning and palming my face about 15 minutes prior to roll-credits. This is what I find problematic and devastating about the turn the film decided to take: there were three possible points at which this film could have ended, and it chose the worst. The first one, one I personally would love and allow me to enlist this among my favourite films of all time, is the climax of desperation and everlasting dread of Cooper being stuck in the space between spaces, within Gargantua, beyond the reach of the four dimensions. No one to hear him, the curtains would fall on the nerve-wracking sight of Cooper having to watch his daughter’s life as if scenes from a movie that kills him with the thought of never attaining her again, yet not being able to take his eyes off of it for a moment. (Not that a moment has any value once you’ve transcended the dimension of time) This would have made for a fitting horrifying conclusion where Cooper’s thirst for discovery and science for which he rejected the boring life of the farmer, having lost him his life, his rest and an afterlife. It would also, I think, have then justified the rushed up initial emotions on Earth, which he would now regret for having gone by so fast. But that is the end I visualize for my dreams, but not necessarily one that would appeal universally. This ending would arrive a short 10 minutes after this, where Cooper manages to communicate with Murphy and send his race-salvaging message across, leading to the solution for humankind and the ‘Eureka’. This time the curtains would fall to a hopeful future for man, all owing to the ultimate sacrifice of one man, which no one would believe, except for his daughter. Quite poetic, and resonating of the ending sequences of The Dark Knight. A final image of mankind rejoicing an end to their starvation, heightened by Zimmer’s brilliant hopeful score, transposed with the eerie image of Cooper trapped in the fifth dimension, watching for all time his daughter through the ages of her life, and descending into madness seems beautiful.
But what did they end up choosing? An ending that overstayed its welcome, bringing Cooper back to Earth, and actually putting on screen the future of mankind. Add to this an emotional reunion for father and daughter and a new voyage for Cooper in search of his lost love, and you’ve got there a truly disappointing and convenient end that makes me want to throw up a little. Such a show of hope where every character makes it to safety and promise of a future laid before them is not befitting of every movie. Sometimes the most satisfying endings are the ones that makes their audiences feel the impact and meaning of the journey that took them this far. Audiences can handle such climaxes, and have, in the past. This is where I think Nolan’s fantastical ideas of hope riding above all shadow his vision and restrains his genius. The same I felt happened in the climax to The Dark Knight Rises. But that’s a discussion for another day. I understand that Christopher Nolan has tried very hard to include a huge menu of elements in the film, which is his most ambitious outing yet. And I feel compelled to praise Nolan for his vision and how close he came to creating a true masterpiece, for if not for a few like him, the future of cinema seems rather uninviting.