Space, wormholes, blackholes, time travel, love, loss, childhood, parenthood, brotherhood, death, afterlife, purgatory, the end of mankind and rebirth. There are an overwhelming number of themes in Chris Nolan’s Interstellar. Nolan’s ambition is unrivaled. He’s one of the few filmmakers in the world whom you’d stand in queue for on the first day. And the themes in this movie are exactly what a Nolan fan craves for. So with such humongous expectations, is it even possible for Nolan to deliver something satisfactory?
a) If you’re looking for sweeping, epic science fiction along the lines of 2001 A Space Odyssey, you’ll be disappointed. And you’d also be a fool to expect something of that sort – because nothing will ever be 2001 A Space Odyssey.
b) If you’re looking for a moderately smart, and a ‘differently executed’ movie in the commercial Hollywood space, you’ll dig this movie.
Interstellar is two different movies trying to be one. The first film features the space stuff, where the protagonist Cooper (McConaughey) is on a mission to save the human race. It’s thrilling, it’s imaginative, it’s gorgeous and it always keeps you on the edge of your seat. The second movie features the protagonist’s children on Earth, hamming, stuck in a cringe inducing story full of mawkish clichés, doing things no sane adult would do. This movie showcases both the best and the worst of Nolan.
It’s clear than Nolan is trying to emulate 2001 here. A robot in the movie named TARS is basically two walking Monoliths. Some of the music is a direct homage to the film. One wishes the filmmaker tried to make his own film instead of paying homage. If you look at Nolan’s filmography, you either get straight up action blockbusters with simple stories, or seriously great, complex stories laced in drama. Nothing in between. Interstellar is none of those. It’s got a very simple story, without much action, laced with drama. A tad too much drama. And even a Nolan fan would accept that he’s not very good at drama, let alone melodrama. Of all the films that he’s done in the past, this has the most number of problems. Luckily, it has a ton of goodies too.
The imagery of the wormhole, called The Gargantuan is stunning. As is all the deep space exploration and the treks on other planets. It takes forever for the movie to take off, but when it does, it just doesn’t let go of you. Whether it’s tidal waves on a deserted planet, or heroically docking a space ship on a rapidly spinning port, the space stuff is great.
Nolan also manages to give simple Wikipedia lessons on relativity, string theory and singularity without all of it sounding too pretentious. There is also a small sermon on love shoehorned in to debate the merits of human emotion over scientific data – and it sort of works quite well despite its potential to be silly. The plot vehicle of relativity ageing people on Earth faster than those in space is implemented very well. Matthew McConaughey’s performance itself is enough to recommend this movie. Even in the most implausibly hammy scenarios he manages to bring in a tone of quiet dignity and reliability to the role. It seems there is no stopping the McConnaisance. The most interesting aspect of the film features a big name actor you won’t see coming.
There are story and plot elements lifted from Back to the Future, Sunshine and Event Horizon (one whole scene about the explanation of a wormhole is lifted from the latter). It’s entertaining for sure, but you wish it weren’t so derivative, coming from Nolan.
The most frustrating thing in the film is the rehash of the intercutting style from Inception, where we see two different dramatic things going on at the same time. In that movie all of the scenarios were relevant to the plot – here we cut from a truly thrilling action beat in deep space to a truly boring domestic drama in a farm back on Earth. And it happens constantly, during every dramatic plot point in the space story. Nolan cuts out the froth of establishing shots of the space stuff, he really should have kept that and instead removed the unnecessary story back on Earth.
Regardless of its faults Interstellar offers enough big screen thrills and even asks a few interesting questions to ponder over. Is it humane to abandon everyone on this planet to continue life on another? How morally sound are you to sermonize about not abandoning people, but are perfectly ok with abandoning a humanoid to save your own self? And how much would you pay to keep the magic and market of 2D IMAX alive?
(First published in MiD Day)