I saw Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar tonight. As is the case with all of his movies, it’s extremely ambitious, and it’s beautiful to watch. Should you watch it? I’ll say this: If you enjoyed Gravity, another well-directed film with a “realistic” space theme, I think you’ll enjoy Interstellar.
I think that’s about all I can say without giving away spoilers, so…
Okay, I’ll admit it: I walked out of Interstellar thoroughly confused. I think that’s a good and a bad thing.
The reason it’s good is that it shows the movie’s ambition. It’s a big movie about small ideas like love, human nature, and adventure, which is great. The movie made me think about things.
The reason it’s bad, though, is that some parts of the movie are so dang confusing that they get in the way of all the ambition. For example, a huge part of the movie is the fact that the world is dying and humans need to move elsewhere. Michael Caine talks us through this a little bit, but they don’t explain why technology has gone so far backwards. Why are the vehicles and TVs from the 1990s? I can see that technology could have stalled out at some point, but why would it regress? Why haven’t people built giant greenhouses to protect crops? How is there a food shortage when the fields are so abundant? Where are all the animals? The thing is, I bet Nolan has really good answers to all these questions, so why not make them really, really clear to the audience? Instead I’m sitting there confused and missing important details, like how Plan A is supposed to work. Does Caine every say, “We’re building a massive space station, and we’re trying to figure out how to get it into orbit”?
My favorite section of the movie (it’s about 5-10 minutes) is the stretch where they land on the water planet knowing that every hour they spend there is 7 years on earth. It’s a devastating, powerful segment–both on the planet and when they get back to the ship to watch messages from their loved ones–that really illustrates the power of relativity. When they get back (and you, the viewer, with them) to the ship to find the scientist has spent 23 years waiting for them…wow. That’s a powerful moment.
My least favorite section of the movie is everything involving Dr. Mann. I suspect that it’s in there as an allegory about human nature–there are only 4 people on the entire planet, and two of them are fighting. But the whole segment just felt contrived. Here’s how I think they should have done it: They should have arrived at the planet to find Dr. Mann alive in cryosleep, but they don’t have room to take him back with them. TARS warns them that if they remove him from the cryosleep chamber, they may not be able to re-immerse him, meaning that they might wake up up only to tell him that he’s stuck there from then on. So they have to decide not to even wake him up, and they feel bad about it blah blah blah human nature, move on to the next part of the movie without wasting 30 minutes of my time.
Speaking of TARS, that robot is awesome. I think it was near perfection–the interactions, the utility of it, the humanity of it, and the moment when it saves Anne Hathaway on the ocean planet. That was awesome.
One minor quibble that’s actually kind of a big deal: There was a huge fatal flaw in NASA’s plan that’s illustrated perfectly on the ocean planet. So, 10 years ago (earth time), a scientist landed on the ocean planet and was almost immediately killed by a wave, but not before either she or her communication device relayed an all-okay message back to anyone listening. A few minutes later on ocean-planet time, the new team of astronauts arrives because of that all-okay message. Isn’t that a terrible plan? Because clearly all was not okay. Why not have a plan where the first scientist has to manually send at least three “all-okay” messages 2o minutes apart (for a total of 7 years earth time) for anyone else to choose to land there?
Before I get to my final conclusion, I should say that I like the overall message of the film, which we’re told rather directly several times: Do not go gentle into that good night. That is, live life to the fullest, seek out adventures, and don’t settle for mediocre circumstances. That’s a message I can get behind.
Interstellar, while big and beautiful, left me grasping at thin air. I wanted more clarity in places where it would have been easy to add clarity, and I wanted less of other things, like Dr. Mann. Most of all, though, I found myself really doubting Christopher Nolan for the first time. For a while now I’ve considered his movies a no-brainer to see in the theater. I mean, look at his pedigree: Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception.
I think he started to lose my trust at the end of Inception. Inception is a fantastic movie, but there is no reason the audience needs to be left guessing at the end. No reason. If he had made it clear that DiCaprio is in the real world, we get to be happy for him. If it’s clear that he’s still asleep, we get a huge dose of dramatic irony. Either of those would make for a great ending, but instead we’re left wondering what really happened. In a movie. A movie’s job is to show us what happens!
Then came The Dark Knight Rises. Is it fair to say now that it’s a mess of a movie? It was so hyped that I think we had a hard time admitting when it came out that it really wasn’t very good. Large chunks of the movie don’t make sense (wait, every policeman in the entire city decides to go underground at the same time? What?), and Nolan makes such an odd decision to have Batman be broken and rehabilitated not once, but twice! I’ll watch The Dark Knight a dozen times again before I watch The Dark Knight Rises.
And then Interstellar. Eh. My greatest sense of loss about it is that I’m no longer super excited about whatever Nolan’s next film will be. Maybe he’ll recapture the magic. I sure hope so.
What did you think of it? Am I being too harsh?