Interstellar (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Interstellar (2014)

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Cooper is a man born 40 years too late as he is an engineer and top-level pilot in a world that only has need for farmers now.  But when he deciphers a series of cryptic clues hidden in the gravity of Earth a secret government project recruits him on a plan to save the earth.  Waiting in space are potentially habitable worlds and it's up to Cooper to find out which one can sustain the human race.  Christopher Nolan directs Interstellar with star Matthew McConaughey.

One more unto the breach dear friendsChristopher Nolan's Interstellar is a mess of haphazardly connecting scientific ideas about outer space to a melodramatic plot about one man's quest to reconnect with his estranged daughter.  Nolan's dialogue drones on about various possibilities of the universe, over-explaining scientific ideas, and reducing characterization to the small bits of information they release in dialogue.  His editing is just as chaotic as ever, cutting to unrelated shots of dust and debris throughout different points of the universe before dropping us back to an ice planet.  I'm sure if I were to sit down and write out a list of everything that's technically wrong with Interstellar I would have quite the article on my hands.

But I have a heart that sometimes overrides the analytic parts of my perception and it wants images that make me feel something.  So when Nolan shows that tiny spacecraft, "The Endurance", against that nauseating and warped wormhole that teases multiple universes within its boundaries I felt awe and fear well up inside of me.  As the ship enters the wormhole a dimensional rip inside the ship forms and Amelia (Anne Hathaway) unhesitatingly reaches into the unknown.  She is near tears, and chokes out a realization that she shook someone's hand.

No matter the technical wizardry involved in Interstellar this moment Nolan's personal vision is clear.  We have an uncertain and deadly fate awaiting us unless we take a course of action and step as a species into the unknown.  Why do we go to movies if not to glimpse the impossible and despite the odds find human warmth on the other side?  Interstellar is Nolan's most human film to-date and all of its seeming faults become strengths in light of its undeniably optimistic vision of the universe.  Raging against the dying light does not need to be violent but a brave first step into the unknown and Interstellar wants to take us there.

The oppressive nothing of space is mirrored in our limited existence on Earth in Interstellar.

The oppressive nothing of space mirrors our limited existence on Earth in Interstellar.

Interstellar is such a repository of beautiful and haunting images that other big budget studios should be taking careful notes.  I don't expect that making a large line of credit available for every auteur with an idea would lead to consistent greatness, but the multiplex would be a much less boring place to drive to every week if that they made the attempt.  Even in Nolan's case most of his images come from careful study of some of the great science fiction and experimental films of the past but his visual quotations are put to bold and optimistic use.  Another important and entirely unexpected source of inspiration aside from science fiction also comes from David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia.  Lean wondered what it would be like to see a spec of dust on the horizon eventually become a human.  Nolan wonders what it would be like to willingly face our insignificance in the universe by becoming that speck and multiply in spite of that opposition.

To become that speck we face desolation.  Nolan reaches into American history and invokes the Dust Bowl of the '30s.  We watch bits of dying plants and soil pile against humanities technologies and attempts at progress, forming an environment that can only be withstood and never reshaped.  Facing this desolation on the ground Nolan's hope in the stars is more darkness and silence as our engineering ability creates vessels that cannot make a single mistake lest they become another insignificant bit of debris against the universe.  Nolan makes this clear when we first see the completed "Endurance" against Saturn.  One misstep, and those years of deep thinking and careful construction are all for nothing and the ship becomes just another frozen piece among the stars.

The tension surrounding this mission manifests itself in these broad pieces but also in subtle signs from cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema.  Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his crew are only fully visible within the confines of their ship.  On earth and, when they arrive, on alien planets their frames rarely exceed the horizon.  Their vision is literally as far as their bodies and no further, leaving them wedged against the ground with emptiness waiting beyond.  Our heroes are always threatened to become part of the dirt Cooper respects, be it in the form of a cloud slowly cloaking their bodies in the background or a gigantic wave that could crush their bodies into dust.  The visuals are constructed in such a way that the vastness of space is just another wall waiting to fall on our heroes, and existence is a claustrophobic nightmare from the moment we're born until we die.

Even as dour as Interstellar can be, at its core is the fantasy of an optimistic adolescent who dreams about the stars.

Even as dour as Interstellar can be, it is the fantasy of an optimistic adolescent who dreams about going to the stars.

So why, in the midst of all this bleakness, is Interstellar ultimately an optimistic film?  Because at its core Interstellar is the stuff of a dreaming teenager's fantasy come fantastically true.  Even with the fate of the world in the balance our hero is a person who trained to master a very specific kind of toy and never got to play with it.  He has to decipher cryptic hints to find this toy at the center of a massive government conspiracy that's literally pounding away behind a single wall in a quiet meeting room.  Then he blasts off into space as the only person in the universe who can save the human race and has a pair of sarcastic and monolithic robots backing him up.  It's 2001 funneled through a hopeful adolescent's imagination with no one cutting up the resulting images.

It also doesn't hurt that Nolan went insane in crafting the ending.  This is one of those topics that will never be up for debate with me as the final act of Interstellar is the most ridiculous and completely necessary moments of cinema in 2014.  Nolan's full-on embrace of 2001 climaxes and fuses with the experimental and emotional artistry of Stan Brakhage (Rage Net, specifically) to try to produce something entirely new.

This goes beyond "A for effort" territory.  It's a fool's errand, and one that still works in spite of Nolan and his brother Jonathan's tendency to add exposition that explains everything.  While the climax is, on a storytelling and visual level, astonishing the dialogue accompanying it takes great pains to illustrate what is going on as much as the words can.  This doesn't drag down that particular moment of brilliance but it hurts lesser moments that feel like dead air.  We listen as Cooper gets an explanation on wormholes as he is literally about to pilot into one, or when Cooper's father (a great but little-seen John Lithgow) pines on about what kind of food should be consumed at a baseball game.  It's unusual that Nolan would tell instead of show so directly, and adds little to the experience of Interstellar.

Mackenzie Foy, who plays Cooper's daughter, shows potential to become one of the great actresses of the next generation.

Mackenzie Foy, who plays Cooper's daughter, shows potential to become one of the great actresses of the next generation.

But what does not suffer at all from the dialogue, no matter how heavy, is the relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murph.  This is where McConaughey's resurgence into drama in recent years pays off exponentially as he gives a heavily emotional performance rooted in insecurity and excitement.  Somehow, despite how good his performance is, Mackenzie Foy does an even better job as the younger Murph.  She plays a maelstrom of hormones, fear, love, devotion, and bitter respect sometimes all in the same sentence against the more rigid McConaughey.  Jessica Chastain, no slouch herself, is great in the later scenes because of the firm characterization that Foy brings to the younger Murph.

Their relationship is what anchors Interstellar.  Nolan's mission to portray the impossible never abandons the core of two people separated by time and space who just want to see each other one more time before they go into the next great unknown.  So when the insanity starts and atheist Jesus resurrects the dead before shaping a black hole with the power of love we're conditioned that it's just that kind of movie - one where the impossible merges with the simple, and we fade out thinking about the extraordinary possibility of film.

Interstellar is the work of a Christopher Nolan gone absolutely mad but still could not stop taking detailed notes along the way. It's a stunning and ambitious work of science fiction that pours straight from Nolan's heart onto a desolate screen he wants to fill with images of the impossible. If I go to movies for any reason at all, it's for this.  Interstellar is a miracle.

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Tail - InterstellarInterstellar (2014)

Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Screenplay written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan.
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Mackenzie Foy.

Posted by Andrew

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