Saturday, November 8, 2014

"Interstellar": Fantastic Until It Isn't

Now In Theaters
Interstellar is a pretty good science fiction film… until it isn’t.  Director Christopher Nolan has attempted here to create a science fiction movie that grounds itself as much as possible in real physical and spatial phenomena and how humanity might experience it… until he decides not to.  This is one of those bizarre cases where the film is much better if you do not judge it as a sum of its parts, but look at each of its major setpieces in isolation and judge them independently of one another.  When the film succeeds, it really succeeds, exhibiting Nolan’s talents for creating tangible tension with an exquisite eye for detail and emphasizing the huge stakes of a given situation.  However, Nolan also attempts to tell a story about the human condition, and that’s where the film goes off the rails.

In a near-distant future where a blight has gradually destroyed most remaining crops on Earth, Coop is a struggling farmer who pines for the days when he was a pilot and engineer for NASA.  The current political climate has shut down NASA in favor of focusing on agrarian sustenance, seemingly grounding the potential astronaut for good.  However, through some circumstances that the film winkingly refers to as “supernatural,” Coop ends up discovering the last underground remnants of NASA just as they are about to launch their final mission into space in hopes of finding a new home for humanity.  Coop is recruited, and he and his crew of scientists launch off to explore three planets in a far-off galaxy.

Once the crew enters space, the film ends up playing out like something that Arthur C. Clarke could have written, relying on hard science (or at least a layperson’s understanding of it) to create setpieces of spatial phenomena such as wormholes, planets circling a collapsed star, and relativistic time slippages.  The former two inspire the type of visual awe that really make the film worthwhile, and the latter adds a unique twist to the time constraints necessary to make the relocation of humanity a success.  As the film moves from setpiece to setpiece, it does try to throw a few dramatic twists at you that were so obviously telegraphed that I was able to predict them, but the plot ends up taking a backseat to the spectacle for the majority of the runtime, so any narrative weakness can be forgiven in favor of the film’s dedication to scientific reality as cinematic adventure.

That is, until the film’s third act and final vignette, where that dedication is unceremoniously thrown out the window in favor of an exceedingly contrived and stupid twist ending.  It relies on suspension of disbelief so much beyond what the film has conditioned its audience to accept up until that point, relying on science that even I as a non-physicist know is completely bullshit.  It even goes so far as to claim that love is a physical force in the universe in the same vein as gravity, which just feels bizarre and out of place in a film that had until then relied on realism to drive its plot rather than sentiment.  It requires such leaps of faith, logic, and basic understandings of the physical laws of the universe that it breaks the emotional payoff the narrative is supposed to provide.

That said, though, Interstellar is a film worth seeing for the parts when it really does work.  At three hours long, I am tempted to suggest that the film would have been better if cut down for time, but any parts that were narratively unnecessary were the most entertaining, and the worst parts were the most critical to the resolution of the main narrative arc.  Christopher Nolan has pushed out of his depth here, trying to create an experience as awe-inspiring as Inception, and only succeeding in so far as creating a work of visual wonderment, leaving the story elements a thematically disjointed mess.  To see the spectacle on the big screen is alone worth the price of admission; just don’t be surprised when the final act betrays that sense of wonder.

Favorite Nolan flick.  (Not The Dark Knight Rises.) Comments.  Go!


  1. I don't have a favorite Nolan flick for basically the reason I disliked this movie. I saw the first trailer and thought, "Why is this movie called Interstellar? It's a family drama about losing the farm. It looks like it doesn't have a plot and I don't want to see it." And then I saw the second trailer and thought, "OK, the title makes sense now, this is some kind of sci-fi action thing, but I would rather watch something with bright colors and also there is still not really a plot hook."

    Turns out I have a husband who likes way more pretentiousness in movies than I do. This movie really is a family drama about losing the farm, except the farm is Earth. People make stupid decisions for realistic reasons, and the father's stress plays out on other planets instead of in a bar fight, and the government is shady. And then... there's a happy ending for some reason. I will give it "better than the 'happy' ending of Snowpiercer" and leave it there.

  2. Oh! And what I meant to say was, I'm really, REALLY glad I read this review first, as it kept me from snapping and yelling at the screen in the theater when love was a physical force.