To ridicule Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar as preposterous is perhaps just being plain unfair. To direct opprobrium to those who dare and try to unlock the secrets of our cosmos, and that includes filmmakers and scientists alike, is equivalent to committing an act of existential embarrassment. I’m not saying Nolan is a man of science (although the project has renowned astrophysicist Kip Thorne onboard as executive producer), but for a commercial filmmaker who actually takes a good stab at the mysteries of our unfathomably vast universe isn’t only bold but also admirable – compared to the rest of us who elect to rather drag our buttcracks down to the local cinemas and bemoan certain things like this sequence doesn’t make sense or oh, how utterly dumb this is. Not everything in the universe makes sense. And more specifically, in this genre. That’s why it’s called sci-fi. Science. Fiction. This is cinema that speculates beyond science.[divider]+[/divider]
If I’m cornered with a choice, I’d rather pine for Insterstellar at a heartbeat than any superhero gangbang blockbuster that waste money and pixels on superficial, weightless fantasies that don’t do mankind any favour in terms of advancement of our species.[divider]+[/divider]
To seek 100-percent realism in Interstellar isn’t only delusional, but being a plain dickhead. Go watch a Dardennes or something, if you’re looking for vérité. Our human knowledge is limited. There is still so much to explore, ruminate, calculate and fathom beyond the empirical evidence of our being. Which is exactly what Interstellar tries to do. It attempts to make sense of the seemingly grandiose and inexplicable, of the things that would make your head spin faster than an all-night bender down the pub. Most of all, it attempts to find an emotional truth (no matter how sentimental that sounds) from cosmic principles like time and gravity and space. If I’m cornered with a choice, I’d rather pine for Insterstellar at a heartbeat than any superhero gangbang blockbuster that waste money and pixels on superficial, weightless fantasies that don’t do mankind any favour in terms of advancement of our species. And if you view Interstellar from this perspective, chances are, you’ll love Nolan’s work, flaws, warts and all.
I don’t love Interstellar, mind – but I admire the hell out of it. Nolan demonstrates technical virtuosity unmatched by any Hollywood filmmaker working today, opting for practical effects and the jaw-dropping 70mm format that captures the space frontier with a certain nostalgic retro-futurist aesthetic by way of Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky. Here, surfaces etiolate rather than gleam, swapping the digital sheen of the new age with an achromatic, analog design reminiscent of the 1960’s sci-fi epics. 2001: A Space Odyssey is an obvious launchpad – the progenitor of Interstellar‘s DNA. As soon as Nolan takes it to space – a lone spacecraft gliding through the rings of Saturn, a space station balletically rotating in zero gravity, an astronaut cerebrally traversing dimensions – Kubrick’s signature mark is all over the film’s visual and thematic print. But to accuse Nolan of mimicry is to accuse a thousand sci-fi movies of thievery. This is a post-2001 age we all live in, where every space opera is indebted to Kubrick, one way or another. Elsewhere, what Nolan achieves to his own credit – and to all those involved behind the physics of this film – is depicting the physical laws of wormholes and blackholes with breathtaking cosmic detail, rarely interpreted in our cinematic canvas (forget about Stark Trek, that’s cartoonish). These sequences alone put back the awe in space travel, and Hoyte Van Hoytema immersive cinematography of distant worlds – may they be planets made out of colossal oceanic waves or vast frozen mountains – renders Interstellar the kind of monumental spectacle it deserves.
Setting vision aside, when Nolan the Storyteller emerges, Interstellar stumbles into a less-than-cohesive territory. As with any of the director’s work, his predilection for knotty, brain-bending material is often his Midas touch, that when put to practise, it can either turn his film into pure narrative gold or end up just being plain surreal. Interstellar has its own gaping blackholes big and prominent enough for anyone with half a brain to snark at. The arrival of Matthew McConaughey’s pilot-cum-engineer-turned-farmer-dad Cooper at the covert, underground NASA operation, for instance, smacks of contrivance. No matter how strongly Michael Caine’s Professor Brand claims that Cooper’s the right man to pilot the craft, it remains a mystery why they waited for him to conveniently stumble into their HQ rather than contact him in the first place. And what’s even more glaring is how the film’s central plot remains cruelly identical to Michael Bay’s doomsday flick Armageddon – both are films about the End of Days, with white American fathers launching to space, leaving their daughters earthbound for the Greater Moral Good of saving the entire human race.
But none of the above could ever compare to the mawkishness of Anne Hathaway’s drippy speech about Love – the one scene in Interstellar that immediately teleported my attention through a wormhole, ending up at the black, cynical vortex at the back of my skull where my eyeballs have rolled into. “Love transcends time and space,” Hathaway’s Amelia Brand tells us, before she launches into a lecture, spelling out the obvious. Yes, love is the one universal, infinite, immeasurable element that makes our species human – such that in Nolan’s often over-sentimental execution, portraying it isn’t enough – he has to spell it out in big, brash statements, just in case the great harebrained majority of his audience won’t comprehend what Interstellar is really about. In fact, he comes ever so perilously close to suggesting to forget gravity, time, physics, space and all the laws of nature – all you need is LOVE!
Which leads us to the film’s Charlier Kaufman-esque finale – a multi-dimensional mind-trip that defies description. Love as a force of nature is simulated through a wild symphony of space-time continuum, narrative bewilderment and Hans Zimmer orchestrating the loudest, ear-busting operatic score imaginable. How terribly effective the climax depends on what type of acid you’re on, but it’s certainly what your mother would call “unconventional”. That Interstellar‘s confounding climax has become a court exhibit of Nolan’s refusal to play anything in linear fashion, operating in his own system of logic just because he can. Conflicted and overwrought as the climax may be, it’s not without sincerity. Nolan does not beg to differ from the existentialist sci-fis of our time. For every shameless pandering scene, there are moments that remind us how small, insignificant we are as a species in the Grand Scheme of the Cosmos. And for all of Interstellar‘s explicit sentimentality, Nolan is somehow better in conveying profound pathos with minimal strokes (particularly where McConaughey, affecting and utterly believable, realises the consequence of gravity on space-time). Which means 70% of Interstellar is convoluted, hysterical Hollywood sci-fi, and the other 30% conveys the heartbreaking truth that Earth may not be our home for long. Nolan’s film may be deeply flawed, yes, but his message can’t be more loud and clear – that we, as a human race, spend more time, resources and energy depleting our own, waging wars and militarising conflict, instead of looking up to the stars, exploring and finding the next best place for our survival. And for that, Interstellar certainly has my respect.