Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Interstellar

Possible Spoilers

INTERSTELLAR is such an enormous, sprawling, ambitious motion picture that by its very scope it is likely to have considerable flaws.  Any film that attempts to tackle so much, to be so many things is likely to fall short in some regard.  Co-writer/director Christopher Nolan has extended a grasp that was perhaps doomed to only reach so far, to fail in part (though nobly) to fully elucidate the ideas of he and sibling Jonathan's screenplay, which was originally to be directed by Steven Spielberg (in some ways, the movie feels like one of his earlier efforts).  Some in the original audiences for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY may have had similar criticisms toward what would eventually be hailed as a masterpiece, but that film would never be accused of being too sentimental.  Unlike Spielberg's A.I., which was originally conceived by Kubrick.

To wit, there is in fact a lot of weeping in INTERSTELLAR.  Under the circumstances, not unwarranted. While floating in deep space, characters watch video transmissions of their loved ones back on Earth, wondering when/if they will return. Lead actor Matthew McConaughey has two intense crying scenes during such moments. He plays Cooper, a former NASA pilot who gets no less than a chance to save the world, as Earth has become a barren dustbowl. The movie does not explain (or maybe I missed it) why the American military is no longer necessary and there aren't enough farmers in this unspecified time frame of a future.  Cooper is a weary middle-aged widower father of two who's had to scuttle his dreams and talents as an engineer to toil on a farm with his father-in-law (John Lithgow, welcome as always) to support his family.  Through a series of events, Cooper and his spunky daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) discover the underground quarters of the last remnants of NASA.

Dr. Brand (Michael Caine, by now a Nolan regular) is there to explain that a wormhole leading to possibly inhabitable planets exists, and he wants Cooper to pilot the spaceship Endurance, flying a mission with his scientist daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and others (including two robots who have settings for "humor" and "honesty") to investigate these worlds named after the astronauts who discovered them. Each planet orbits the black hole called Gargantua, a significant detail of the plot as Cooper will eventually travel through it, making some huge discoveries that will answer questions posed earlier in the film.  That's as much as you're getting out of this reviewer, invisible audience.

Additionally, I won't reveal the identity of the Big Star (no, not that kind) who appears late in the film, though unfortunately I had to control a snicker when this individual appeared.  Even though the character is sobbing uncontrollably when first seen. I just couldn't help it. It also pains me to say that the plot development involving this character is unnecessary and clutters the movie with extra, contrived and predictable conflict that merely detracts from the larger story.

INTERSTELLAR spans several earth years, about eighty, I believe.  Due to the Endurance's proximity to the black hole at various points, a dilation of time due to gravitation pull will equate one hour on the ship to seven years back on Earth.  This is a perfect device to create familial poignancy, to detail the troubling relationships between (mainly) fathers and daughters.  I was taken aback at how readily the film embraced sentiment, largely absent from Nolan's previous work. The finale will probably have some viewers getting misty.  I wondered if the director realized that his film, loaded with complex explanations of physics, included more familiar, human elements to not only balance the tone, but address criticisms about the cold austerity of his earlier films.  Despite some moments that border on cornball, I think INTERSTELLAR maintains a successful tread between the academic and romantic.

But make no mistake, much of the romance in this film is of the possibilities beyond the Earth. The considerations of entire alternate galaxies.  Searching for planets beyond our own ravaged island is a frequent theme in science fiction lit and films (BLADE RUNNER, ELYSIUM). Ecological advocacy, if intended, is a bit muddy in INTERSTELLAR but the excitement for exploration and the urgency for self-preservation is very clear. 

The movie is an event.  Refreshing to experience real cinema (not digitized, and God bless Nolan in his fight) on a huge screen in this age where people watch 2001 on their smartphones. The visuals are astounding; I saw it in IMAX, highly recommended.  James Horner's score, often ear splitting, is just the right amount of majesty.  The cast is very good. Bubbling under numerous scientific explanations are hints of the theological, though you have to look no further than the film's tagline ("Mankind was born on Earth, it wasn't meant to die here") to discern such ideas. Or that the previous trips to other worlds were dubbed "Lazarus missions" ("You are risen from the dead, but you have to die first").

While INTERSTELLAR is not a cinematic debate on the existence of a higher power ala 1997's very underrated CONTACT (which also had physicist Kip Thorne as a consultant), the Nolans suggest that for all of the science that makes life possible and sustainable, that allows space travel, perhaps Something breathed it into us. That maybe we are conduits through which the supernaturally imbued knowledge can flow. But is the ultimate hope INTERSTELLAR provides in its conclusion within us intrinsically, merely because of science, or because of One who created us?

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