Interstellar (2014) Movie Review: Love, Love Me Do, Maybe More.

The review contains SPOILERS

Language : English | Running Time : 169 Minutes | Director : Christopher Nolan

As usual, a Christopher Nolan film has generated enough polarizing views. How can it not? We are talking about a filmmaker whom a legion considers their God.  This set of audience has gone on to claim that “Interstellar” is a work of so many great things in it that it is not only comparable to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” but also better than it. There’s another set of audience who didn’t understand the vision or the packaging of Nolan’s tale that they’ve dismissed it as silly, with some people going s far as bringing their dusty old physics text books out to argue about the wormholes and space-time continuum. These are the people the film isn’t aimed for. Then there are people like me who were bowled over by Christopher Nolan’s ability to churn yet another blockbuster, a studio film packaged to convince us that there’s more meat than bones and fell in love with much of the richness in offer but also have to differ in placing both the filmmaker and the movie on a pedestal.

Interstellar Poster 2“Interstellar” is set somewhere in the Mid-Western America in the future where the marines are replaced by robots who are later decommissioned too. The world doesn’t need an army to protect it for which army can protect its people from hunger, respiratory illness and droughts. The earth has been ravaged by the people first and now with blight affecting them, they lost potatoes in Ireland, which is now a dust bowl, wheat seven years ago, okra this year and have only corn as staple food. Earth is no longer a suitable home for humans. The best part about this slow scale degradation is that the Nolan brothers, Christopher and Jonathan, don’t write about how it came to be. The telling details of the mistakes are not mentioned. It might happen if we continue living like this as far as the Nolans are considered and that is exactly why the impending doom plays on our head even after we finish watching the movie.

We see the world through the eyes of one family, headed by Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA pilot who now grows corn and hates it. His family consists of a son, Tom(Timothée Chalamet as Young Tom and Casey Affleck as the older one), a daughter Murphy, played by Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain and Ellen Burstyn at various ages, and Donald(John Lithgow). The family is divided in its beliefs in duality(the Nolans love binary – plots, mirrored scenes and a general love for pairs). The daughter follows her dad around, interested in how things work, the science behind them. The son is content looking after what he has, resigned to his fate much like his grandfather. He is the kind of man who does what he is told, no hint of a rebellion in him whereas the daughter, much like her father wouldn’t mind breaking a rule or two if it means achieving a practical objective. They are the searchers, the seekers and their quest is more akin to the quest of men who built dreams and reached for the stars. An incredible scene that sets out the difference between Cooper + Murph and the rest of the society along with their aspirations is the parent-teacher conference. Murph has been showing her friends a book about lunar landings, which the teacher thinks is inappropriate. She believes that the Apollo mission was faked to bankrupt the Soviets. Both Murph and Cooper dream of building things, reaching for the stars whereas the society is more concerned about putting food on the table. They are agrarians, uncomfortable with technological ambitions because technology doesn’t bring the food, farmers do. Christopher Nolan establishes this in a wonderful 45 minutes of filmmaking, a period I am inclined to call as his best work.

The period has scenes of incredible tenderness. One in particular that stands out for me is where an Indian Air Force drone is brought down by Cooper and he rubs his hand on the surface of the metal like he is running his hand on the neck of a dying horse and calming it. The calmness that comes before the death, an acute form of sentimentality that Nolan reminds us of. It is an affecting scene. Nolan has always been fond of referencing scenes to remind of a previous scene in his film. Here, a stand-out scene is when Cooper is leaving home. He removes the orange blanket looking for his daughter, who in an earlier scene hid under that blanket. When scenes of such affection come through as well as they did, it makes for some compelling admiration. Both the times I watched the film, this extraordinary instalment from the time we are introduced to the world to the time Cooper leaves home on his mission  stood out . I wished the film would end there, even though it would have been abrupt, because until then Nolan had something perfect for us.

Interstellar Still 1The next two hours are filled with the expansion of the vision, the subjugation to the demands of a Hollywood blockbuster. The journey to space has a team that consists of Romilly(David Gyasi), a physicist, Doyle(Wes Bentley), a geographer, Cooper as pilot and Amelia(Anne Hathaway), someone who seems to have specialised in quite a few subjects, and TARS(Bill Irwin), a decommissioned military bot. Christopher Nolan has sprayed his movie with a good dose of humor(surprising yes!) and the light-heartedness helped me like the characters. Somehow, the humor also takes away any tension that the space travel scenes might have otherwise had. I never felt an urgency take over till about the time they do those cartwheels over Saturn. The movie runs along in a determined undertone that is actually quite captivating.

The Nolans love duality in their movies. Here, they have two parallel father-daughter storylines, one involving Cooper and Murph and the other involving Professor Brand(Michael Caine) and Amelia Brand. While Cooper and Amelia travel in space and remain youthful, Professor Brand and Murphy slog in earth, growing older and wiser, with science their respite. The other time in this movie when this space of duality works extremely well for the Nolans is towards the climax as they mirror the occurrences of the past with current events. I am particularly fond of the way the climax is staged and the mirrored events bring a sweet emotional core that I didn’t think Nolan could manage.

A journey to space to save mankind is something that offers an opportunity to caress our senses and an influx of both awe and fear. It offers Nolan an opportunity to show us how great a director he is when it comes to action sequences but strangely Interstellar isn’t filled with such montages. A movie like “Gravity”, which is half the movie Interstellar is when it comes to vision in terms of plot has more gripping tension and better executed action sequences. The two big action events here are on Dr.Miller’s planet where the waves come down crashing and one where Dr.Mann(Matt Damon) tries to dock his ranger to the space ship, Endurance. Both of them are quite straightforward and do not really push any boundaries, neither in emotion or energy. It is beautifully shot by Hoyte Von Hoytema(the Saturn rings and scenes on Mann’s planet) and Hans Zimmer’s music, by far the best thing about the movie, gives the perfect amount of portentous to the proceedings. Both are brilliant but there is no adrenaline rush or an urgency as the action unravels. It is stoic.

I have always harboured resentment towards Nolan for his treatment of love, tenderness and a general lack of empathy in his characters but here he has me thinking otherwise. Where he usually does brilliantly in the action sequences and subverts his plot to the point we forget which movie we are watching, Interstellar is strangely more complete, more intriguing despite what some people say. I believe that the science of wormholes and space-time continuum though not entirely accurate as some scientists have come to say, it is actually more than sufficient and quite well explained. It doesn’t put holes into its own theory, atleast not very apparently and that should be more than enough in a movie, I believe we have to understand that a blockbuster film or any film for that matter should be about the characters that inhabit the screen than the science of what they do. We do not go watch “Fast and Furious” to learn how a car drifts or how the NOx works. We go for the thrills. Just because it is Christopher Nolan directing a film, we needn’t go berserk over the minute details of science. More than anything else, Interstellar is a tale about love, a man and a woman’s, father and daughter’s.

Interstellar Poster 3Though this movie feels more like a tale about love and how it transcends everything else in life, the way that the dialogues are laid out to convey them speak of either a pretentious profoundness or a downright inexplicable childishness. I liked the monologue that Amelia Brand delivers about love. For believers in this strange concoction that’s become the major life source for art, this monologue works but for sceptics it is inadvertently silly.  The scene where Cooper tells “Love TARS, it’s love” is a place where I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. The monologue works but everything else where people talk about love doesn’t and the reason I call it extremely pretentious is the repeated retelling of Dylan Thomas‘ extraordinary poem – “Do Not Go Gentle In That Good Night”. It’s repeated so often in the film, one could almost call it a character. It is like the wall hangings at homes intended to motivate young kids and we don’t need to be told “rage against the dying of the light” every other time Michael Caine comes on screen. Michael Caine, though good here, feels like an extension of Alfred the Butler and someone we could have done without. It is an overdose of the same thing and it doesn’t help that we are thrown back to the frantic brilliance of “The Dark Knight” as we see him perform a similar role because Interstellar looks a lesser film when you see it as a science-fiction film alone.

Nolan’s not a filmmaker satisfied with telling one story. He could have made a film about love and love alone and made us all gush about it but he is the man who has this superb command over the box office and as always he packages 3 or more films in the name of one. It is the selling point of his films but also what really makes me stop comparing him with Tarkovsky or Kubrick. Here, he does away with Doyle and Romilly to reach to the Adam & Eve depiction from the Bible in his new world. He discards them like one does with used pen refills. There’s no attachment or emotional importance. This isn’t the only biblical reference that he comes up with. The very mission that the 12 astronauts(12 Apostles) take is called Lazarus. There is also something to do with Judas which I’d rather not reveal here. For something already filled with spoilers, this would be taking it way too far. This isn’t grasping at straws here. Nolan really digs this and to reach the Judas and Adam & Eve reference, Nolan disposes people and ideas easily, like they don’t matter. For a film about love I find the passages quite unbecoming.

One of the most troubling ideas that Nolan puts out is that in the near future there might come a time when we would have to ask for forgiveness and there is no deity offering it to us but we ourselves from the future would be both jury and executioner. It is a strange feeling to realise that we could advance so far as to play God and it is also extremely humbling that we would need to be forgiven.

I abhor lists but if I did make one, Interstellar wouldn’t make my top 3 Nolan films and certainly not my top 3 space travel films, films of the year or existential films. Yet, both the times I watched the film, I enjoyed what Interstellar depicted and the vision that Christopher Nolan came to make the film by. It is about love, it is about the people who yearn for it and for the first time, Nolan’s got characters that I could feel something that could be termed love. It is not a perfect film and certainly doesn’t draw comparison with Solaris or 2001: A Space Odyssey but it is an epic, let’s not make any mistake about that.

5 Comments

  1. Sethumadhavan says:

    This is as balanced a review as it can be for a movie of this nature. Very well done Hithesh, I concur with you mostly here. IMO I feel too many people are dissing the film as just another attempt by Nolan to complicate a simple plot & that’s something I definitely don’t agree. Yes the film may not have too many visually stunning scenes like in a Gravity or other space films,but again probably that was deliberate as Nolan did not want us probably to view it as another space adventure film mainly.

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  2. One of the best reviews of interstellar I have read. No unnecessary ripping or patronising. BTW since there is already an opening disclaimer, no harm in mentioning the Judas reference.

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    1. Thanks Abhishek.

      As for the Judas reference, the only reason I am keeping it away is because I feel it is a very important plot point for Nolan and I’d like people to experience it as he intended it.

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  3. Kelpha says:

    You are the only one who mentioned the Judas, Bible, Adam Eve, Lazarus and 12 apostles reference

    It is a very balanced piece of writing.

    i myself could watch till Matthew enters the black hole and comes out stuck in the 5th dimension. Then my mind just could not take more. It interfered with my logical thinking that

    1) Time is linear and cannot run differently at different planets. I accepted that in Inception, because dreams are not real

    2) Gravity cannot be used for communication

    Plus there are a whole lot like what happens when he comes out of black hole. How does he get stuck. How does he morse code the “stay” part. What communication he uses? How does he time travel back and then forth.

    But yes, for the sake of thrills, all this can be forgiven.

    Why do you think that to allow for a story to move forward or to provide a reference, doing away of people and ideas is unbecoming. Isnt that one of the important parts of storytelling?

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    1. The reason I say it is unbecoming here is because Doyle has hardly added anything to the movie and before you even register such a character as a necessity, he is done away with. And the only reason Romilly is killed is to reach the Adam & Eve conclusion. Was it really necessary? Even though his character has relatively longer screen time compared to Doyle and there is a good dose of humor involving him, what did he really add to the movie, in terms of emotion? The scene where he grows old? I find it rather too easy and convenient and laborious, like love is.

      It is unbecoming because for a movie about love, the two characters don’t strike any empathy or mourning on their death.

      I rewatched the movie and the first 45 minutes is something I absolutely love.

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