director Christopher Nolan
Did Christopher Nolan just make his first M. Night Shyamalan film?
Actually, this thought crossed my mind in the first 1/2 hour of nearly 3 hour epic about mankind’s exploration into interstellar space travel. And, no, Nolan has not made his first M. Night Syamalan picture, but I would suggest that he’s flirting with cinematic and narrative conceits, plot twists meant to be head-trippy, and a depth that is intensely striven for but barely scratched. He may not have made his first Shyamalan, but he’s easily made his weakest film to date.
It’s still pretty good, though.
Nolan is at the top of his game, the top Hollywood writer/director, whose films rake in the blockbuster bucks, is obsessed about by fans, overanalyzed and pored over, and truly does have an excellent track record of really very good films. And it’s exciting when he’s working on new material. His Dark Knight films might be what have given him commercial credence, but it’s his other movies like Memento (2000), The Prestige (2006), and Inception (2010) that have been intriguing and original. And yeah, even after this less satisfying feature, I’m still on board for what he has up his sleeve next.
Interstellar takes place in a near future where crop diseases have wiped out food supplies on Earth, and with this and other resultant catastrophes, the planet is soon to be uninhabitable. Matthew McConaughey (no matter how many times he shows up I have to check the spelling of his name!) plays an astronaut-turned-farmer. You see, he’s a farmer because the greatest minds in the world have had to turn to farming to try to save the planet’s food supply. McConaughey may be a lot of things, but a convincing genius?
This bit of dialogue I found well-nigh hilarious:
Principal: “You’re a well-educated man, Coop, and a trained pilot.”
Cooper: “And an engineer”
The story is that McConaughey meets up with NASA as a result of some strange goings-on at the family farm, and has to abandon his family, most specifically his daughter Murphy, to pilot a last-shot spacecraft into a wormhole in hopes of finding a habitable planet on which humankind can move to or repopulate.
Only this is the main plot up through the first hour. The rest of the film unfolds in a space adventure wriggling around black holes, the fifth and sixth dimensions, time travel, and relativity, adhering its science as much as it can to posited principles (theoretical physicist Kip Thorne acted as involved scientific consultant). What this ultimately opens up is one of Nolan’s favorite infinitely loop of logic endings, mirrors inside mirrors, opening questions and debates about what really happened, desired re-seeing of movies, to figure out the ornate complexities within.
I won’t begin to debate the science (though many already have and will continue to) nor will I debate plot holes or logic issues (already popular topics). I will just say that the whole thing is pretty damn long and actually quite plodding and slow through much of the film.
On the positive side, the robot TARS (voiced and acted? by Bill Irwin) is probably the film’s most successful and compelling creation. And some of the film is quite thrilling when it digs into it, like the landing on the first water-covered planet (maybe the film’s best sequence). And the scene of McConaughey in the black hole visualization of myriad dimensions. That has some interesting aesthetics, for sure.
The biggest upshot is that the film tries to trade on Americana, family, and in particular this father-daughter emotional relationship as the crux of its heart and soul. And believe me, it swings for the fences as a tear-jerker…but flies out near the warning track…if you will. It’s a big, thoughtful, impressive but unmoving piece of filmmaking. And it verges on the boring and tedious as well.
It will be interesting to hear people rip it to shreds over the science and logic and then the people who will doubtlessly love it come and defend and debate the movie. It’s certainly going for a classical place in science fiction debate with its key comparison point being Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (which note to self, I really need to get around to seeing again). But oddly, the movie that came to mind for me so much more was Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013). Though nowhere as head-trippy, the film’s title is a key figure in Interstellar, and while the films are drastically different in a multitude of ways, strangely Interstellar made me think of how much I appreciated Gravity‘s simple elegance all the more.
Hey, what do you want? These are my opinions. Not facts.