Interstellar: With and Without Spoilers

Interstellar_ALT_ArtowrkSpoiler-Free Section:

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…


Spoilers Ahead!


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?

4 thoughts on “Interstellar: With and Without Spoilers”

  1. I enjoyed the movie, but I had a few questions or gripes as well.

    1. What happened to Tom (Casey Affleck) and his family? Why spend so much time focusing on them towards the end, go back to save them from the dust, then never mention them again? Would it have been so difficult for one of the family members at Murph’s bedside at the end to be referred to as “Uncle Cooper” or something (the second grandkid that was named after Matthew McConaughey’s character)? Poor Tom – it’s obvious he wasn’t his dad’s favorite! I guess it was supposed to show how bad things were getting on Earth while doubling as a plot device to get Murph back to her old room to retrieve the watch. However, if you’re just going to abandon those characters afterwards, there were better ways of accomplishing both of those things.

    2. After waiting 3 hours/90 years for Cooper to be reunited with Murph, they literally spend 2 minutes together and then she’s like, “LOL, thanks for stopping by. You can leave now.” WTF?? I feel like I got robbed of the emotional catharsis I needed from their reunion. It could have been so much better.

    3. Let’s talk about Plan B for a moment. How is it even feasible? Did they create some kind of artificial womb for these embryos, or does poor Anne Hathaway have to gestate all of them herself? How is she supposed to take care of so many babies once they’re born?? Even if all 4 of the astronauts had survived, it still seems like you couldn’t have that many babies running around at once, since you’re still trying to recolonize a new planet and make it hospitable while raising newborns. However, I do have to appreciate the irony of calling it Plan B (referring to the pills used to prevent pregnancy).

    4. I agree that too much time was spent on the Dr. Mann plotline, but during most of that I was also thinking, “Holy shit, how did Matt Damon just show up in this movie?? Was not expecting him to be the one that popped up out of that cryo chamber!” They kept that a pretty good secret.

    5. Far and away though, my biggest gripe is that they did not do a play on the famous McConaughey line from Dazed and Confused. I mean, how hard would it have been for him to say, “Earth chicks, man. They keep getting older and I stay the same age.”
    I’m only halfway kidding… 🙂

    • Katie,

      These are some great questions. Let’s see…

      1. That’s a great point. A big deal was made about that, but the only important part was that the daughter went back to her room. Couldn’t she have done that without all that other stuff happening?

      2. Oh, totally! And based on relativity, there was literally no rush. Cooper could have spent a week with his daughter and her family, and less than a minute would have passed on Amelia’s planet.

      3. Yeah, I read up on this. I think it was going to be a staggered test tube baby repopulation.

      4. Ha ha, that was a nice surprise (though I would have preferred Olivia Munn). I like that they kept that a secret.

      5. That would have been awesome. Come on, Nolan!

  2. Hey Jamey, some interesting comments. Here are some alternative views on some of those points:

    – I really appreciated how the movie didn’t get bogged down in details that weren’t really relevant to moving the plot forward. In fact, it felt refreshing to be able to speculate on them, building out this fictional universe in my own mind, rather than being spoon-fed. Nolan is entrusting some things to his audience. Yes, there are questions regarding the state of earth and how it got there. But I don’t think those are questions that need to be answered. If the movie were about fighting against the disasters overtaking the planet, then we would need these questions answered. But it’s not. The movie is not about redeeming the planet, but leaving it. For me, the fact that the planet is beyond hope actually negates the need to truly know how it became so.

    – Dr. Mann was perhaps my favorite part of the film. And the waking of Mann is pretty pivotal. It sets the stage for us to glimpse a piece of the utter desolation of being alone, a facet of the film we also glimpse at the end as we see Brand alone on Edmunds’ planet. This desolation is so powerful that it transforms Dr. Mann’s selflessness (potentially sacrificing his life to gain humanity a slim chance of survival) into total selfishness (potentially sacrificing humanity’s ultimate survival to regain personal human contact). Without the waking of Mann and his subsequent betrayal we don’t get the necessary backdrop for the themes of selflessness vs selfishness, courage vs fear, love vs hatred. Without Mann to represent the conflicts within human nature, I’m not sure what this film would have been.

    – I certainly had some challenges with the film, and to enjoy the film is to let go of a need for utter logical consistency. One of my biggest gripes was that Coop returns to our solar system. I felt this was unnecessary and that it cheapened the emotional payload that already culminated during the tesseract sequence. The themes that the film was striving for were delivered on without the need for Coop to return. While it was important to get some resolution on humanity’s future, I feel like Coop’s return was simply a vehicle to bring him to the admittedly satisfying place of setting out to join Brand.

    – Overall, while certainly flawed, Interstellar may have just given me a new hope that there is somebody who has found a way out of the dusty and toxic wasteland named Hollywood.

    • Mark: Thanks for your comment. These are great insights, and I appreciate the other perspective.

      My first thought after I read your comment was that I need to be more grateful that a director/producer like Nolan exists. I can’t imagine what most studios would have done to butcher this movie if they got it in their hands. “Add aliens!” “Add a sex scene!” “Add a space battle!” I’m very glad Nolan makes films like this, movies that are both cerebral and entertaining.

      As for earth’s status…well, in spirit I agree. But how easy would it have been to tell us a little more? There must be a reason why they’re using 1990s-level technology instead of whatever technology existed when the world went to hell. I must know why! 🙂

      Very interesting that your favorite part of the movie was my least favorite (and, conversely, I had no problem with Coop returning to our solar system). I totally agree with the idea that Dr. Mann represented humanity (hence his name). But I also think that the whole movie is about humanity. Most of the characters have to make hard choices. Dr. Brand lies to them. The younger Brand is swayed by her love for Edmunds. Coop wants to get back to earth even if Plan B might offer humanity more hope.


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