Interstellar (2014) revisited

Interstellar

I saw this movie only once, in IMAX 3D, and like many I was blown away by the visuals and sound. Almost three hours went by in a haze and I laughed and cried (I did). As I walked out, I had no idea whether this movie would stand the test of time, whether it would be seen as a classic in the future. All I knew was that to make a movie like this, you had to have balls and vision, and I respected that a lot.

Now, more than a year later, I feel like this movie had punched me in the gut and flew away again, and I had not properly digested it yet. I’d like to take a closer look whether this movie will indeed stand the test of time. I’ve heard a lot of criticism. After its release, it was put on a pedestal as a monumental achievement, and then others violently pulled it down in reaction to that idolization.

Anne’s monologue on love.

A lot of people stumble over the scene of Anne Hathaway talking about love as a power we do not understand. And it’s understandable that people sneer at it, because the monologue is shoehorned into the movie and it sounds really out of place and too sentimental. Hathaway in this scene plays no character but a vehicle for the director to bluntly over-explain the meaning behind the movie. To make matters worse, Nolan communicates his “idea” in a scene that shows a woman being overly-emotional and endangering their mission. All of this is hard to digest and I think the monologue should have been left out, and the movie should have been left to do its own explaining.

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The thing is, the connection between Cooper and Murph and the acting of McConaughey, Foy (Murph 10 y) and Chastain is strong enough to do its own explaining.

Of course, the monologue in that scene is not just a thing in itself but an explanation about the whole story of the movie, and when we look at the whole movie, I think I see what Nolan was getting at. I think most of us know the feeling that if you lose or get separated from someone you love, then distance in space and time slowly allows you to move on with your life, but that metaphysical connection between two people will always be part of you, in a little space set aside in your heart. In the film, this is of course exemplified by the connection between Cooper and Murph. Their love stayed strong all the way through the grind mill of space-time, and that they come together again is very touching and a bit of a kick in the stomach for viewers who still feel separated from their own love.

What I like about all this is that in the cold and dangerous universe that Nolan presents us, the role of love is seen as a human strength, a quintessential human thing that is ours. Us against the cold dark universe, so Nolan better show that we humans are warm, like a little candle in the darkness.

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The lumbering script

This is very cheesy though, and what the movie needed was a director who recognized that it is cheesy, so that it shouldn’t be explained so thickly on top of everything else. Like that poem about the dying of the light that gets repeated again and again until you can’t stop groaning whenever Michael Caine starts the first line of it again. Yes, we get it. You’re making it awkward. They should have shown that poem at the start of the film and just leave it at that. Cut out that sugary overly sentimental crap, because you’re hitting us over the head with it.

And his story is too full and too long. He makes it so long that it feels like a couple of movies stuffed together inside a space-time turkey. I don’t mean this too negatively, though. But as a consequence, it is all jumbled up thematically and Nolan needs his characters to explain things all the time to get the audience on the same page. At the beginning, this is relatively elegantly done with the mock interviews giving everything an aura of realism, but as the plot gets more complicated, the actors stop acting and start explaining. It is like everyone is giving grand statements about the state of the universe all the time. They start mumbling about love and time and 5th dimensions, while most of the screentime would have been better used in more natural dialogue.

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The whole setup of the story with a hidden NASA underground and Cooper’s one-two-three journey from farmer to astronaut all sounds too far removed from how the world works. The root of the problem with how this story develops is the same problem as with the characterization: it is rushed and ham-fisted. Just like real people don’t talk like these do, the real world doesn’t really work like this one does. It is all forced into a story that looks realistic and epic, but deep down there is something unnatural about it all.

The acting itself is a mixed bag. McConaughey is very good. He is easy to empathize with because of his open expressions. His connection with Murph is believable and heartfelt. The rest of the cast is not on the same level, but it has to do with the characterization in the script, such as that monologue of Anne Hathaway. There is simply not much room for good characterization because of the heavy-handed script. Scenes like Matt Damon’s monologues (he never shuts up) and Michael Caine’s conflicted feelings don’t really land well. They talk like lecturers, disconnected from their motivations. They just leave me slightly puzzled.

TARS is the best though. But even he changes into Nolan’s voice when Cooper is in the infinite library.

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Great cinematography

Interstellar is absolutely amazing when it comes to the technical details. The editing and the camera movements pull you inside the movie. The music by Hans Zimmer is stunningly effective from start to finish. It has these high lingering tones that give a sense of mystery and foreboding. Piano rhythms similar to Philip Glass feel like mounting tension. Lonely notes personify the tiny ship in the great emptiness. It is really good too how the cold dark universe is also shown as awe inspiring. Great visuals that mimic current space explorations with the fixed cameras on the ships. Together with the music they create this epic feeling of going into the unknown, with grave dangers and pounding tension.

The film really shines when it comes to the space scenes. I guess the aim was to show what a dangerous journey it is to venture into space, and by extension how praiseworthy the astronauts are for doing this for the sake of humanity. All the weight of human existence, that little flame in the darkness, rests on Cooper attaching his spaceship to space stations. I don’t think this could have been filmed better. It’s very impressive.

After shitting on this movie for a large part of the review, I still think that this is one of the best films of the past 5 years, simply because of the epic weight and the unique immersive visuals of it, and the tense moments of gigantic forces in space and the raw emotional power of more than a handful of scenes. This movie is risk taking on not just a story level, but also a high financial level, and that is something that only accomplished directors can do who carry the faith of production companies on their shoulders. Without Nolan risk taking we also would not get something stunning. I take the bad with the good.

9/10. Despite all its flaws, it will stand the test of time.

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8 Responses to Interstellar (2014) revisited

  1. kabrown4 says:

    I absolutely loved this film, and I agree it is certainly one of the very best made in recent years. One of the reasons I love it is because it is an original screenplay.
    There is one point of your review though that I do disagree with though, and that is to do with the use of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do no go gentle into that good night’. The use of that particular poem had a more powerful impact on the story when you know the history behind it.
    Thomas wrote the poem on while his father was dying. It is about the loss of a father, which Jessica Chastain’s character has to endure, but also Anne Hathaway’s character does as well, especially when she learns of her father’s death and the betrayal she feels when she learns the awful truth that her father always knew that there was no way to save the people of Earth.
    However, what really kicks me in the gut about the use of that poem, is that the film ends with Matthew McConaughhey’s character being at the bedside of his daughter as she lies on her deathbed. The reversal of that symbolism for me makes the sentimentality of the poem completely worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thanks for your comment. it’s very interesting what you say about the symbolism of the poem. I didn’t really catch that in the movie. I just thought that it was about dying humanity venturing into space. But I am not sure I understand it completely now. When Michael Caine lays dying, he repeats the poem again to Jessica Chastain. Was that his way of saying don’t give up on hope that Cooper might return?

      The review perhaps sounds more negative than I actually feel about the movie.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Remco says:

    I wanted to love this movie so badly, but that second half with Hathaway’s speech and the relatively happy ending just doesn’t feel right to me. I still like it, but I just can’t love it.

    Liked by 1 person

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