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Nov 25, 2014

Review: INTERSTELLAR (2014)

            Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Bill Irwin (voice), Josh Stewart (voice), Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Timothée Chalamet, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, Leah Cairns, Topher Grace, David Oyelowo, William Devane, Elyes Gabel and Collette Wolfe

                    Christopher Nolan


"Murphy's law doesn't mean that something bad will happen. It means that whatever can happen, will happen."

                   Christopher Nolan's yet another high concept film stormed the theaters around the world and baffled the minds of many. A filmmaker who has always been either too loved by his supreme following or derided completely by those who have more problems with his following than his work. Cynics have issues with the fact that Nolan takes deft concepts and makes super-intelligent films which confuses them. Rather than trying to look beyond the surface of his work and maybe take a step back to realize their own shortcomings, his haters always attack him for making things that go completely over their head. "He thinks he is above us", "What does he think of himself?" etc are the coming phrases used by most. How is that fair? Why should we intensely scrutinize a filmmaker's work? I don't see many film goers spending so much of their time and energy over filmmakers like Tarkovsky or Godard. Complaining that a filmmaker is making so much money that he is popular and unfairly treating his work over that, who is the bigger hack here? Christopher Nolan has made such wonderful films, providing great film going experiences to the mainstream crowd. His projects are big, extensively thought and are backed by strong ideas. His approach towards filmmaking is meticulous and uses new technologies to make the experience greater and the filmmaking process itself, more audacious. So what if his films are sci-fi or action? At least his focus isn't on using cheap tactics that many filmmakers and producers do these days to manipulate audience and earn lots of money. Nolan's most flawed work so far has been the last film in his Batman trilogy, "The Dark Knight Rises". Yet that action blockbuster was unlike any film of its kind. You can't ignore ten good things just because you happened to find two wrong aspects about something. We will see when Nolan makes a truly horrible film. But so far, his work has been stellar. Cynics will use arguments, like 'plot holes' (ever heard of subjectivity?) and cliché plot turns and dialogues to completely deride his work. That is a limited and bad thing on their part, not Nolan's.

Is Interstellar the greatest film ever made? No! Is it one of the greatest attempts by any filmmakers? Yes! Does it fail completely? No!

                   Nolan went where no mainstream filmmaker has dared to go yet. His attempt was a success but maybe his final product couldn't truly match what he was going for. Interstellar is still one of a kind experience, something that takes us so far to offer a grand and enthralling movie going experience. One thing that stands out as far as this film goes is that Nolan blends the most intimate details of humanity with the infinite possibilities that lies above us in the epic vastness of universe. An ambitious project backed by ambitious ideas that also serves to ask us audience the questions that the characters in the film has at the back of their mind. Where would we go if this planet gives up on us? Would we give up too? What about the years and years of advancements, discoveries and explorations that our kind has done? We are and we always will be pioneers. Human beings as meager and as small as we are in this never-ending universe, we have always defied our own expectations. We keep on going, keep on discovering new grounds. The key to fully realizing or understanding what Interstellar is, you have to look deep within. How much do you as a human being feel about humanity in general? We protect our families in various ways every single day. Why we do what we do here? For our loved ones. The idea of love transcending time and space feels corny to some people. I believe in that very basic idea. People can disagree with it but we are human beings and not mechanical robots. We need to be loved, touched and cared for. If challenged or threatened, a person can go and do the impossible for his family. We are bound by these relationships and feelings, without them, we are nothing.

                   Interstellar is a science fiction film directed by Christopher Nolan and written by both Nolan and his brother, Jonathan Nolan. Producer Lynda Obst and physicist Kip Thorne were behind the basic premise of this film. A film was to be directed by Steven Spielberg on this and Jonathan Nolan was to write a proper screenplay. The project fell apart but later, Jonathan persuaded his brother to join the project. Christopher Nolan had his own ideas, he met with Throne and decided to make Interstellar with his brother. Theoretical physicist Kip Thorne was consulted to ensure accurate depictions of wormholes and other scientific aspects like relativity. Thorne's own work was the inspiration but they went far beyond, extensively researching and analysing, calculating and theorizing. What Throne came up with during that time is going to be sent as proper scientific papers to astrophysics community as well as computer graphics community. This level of dedication that Nolan and his team usually show to make films that would also challenge and amplify the experiences is truly admirable. He doesn't rely on merchandises, familiar characters and stars to 'entertain', that is an easy way out and not proper filmmaking. This is why I have so much respect for a filmmaker like him who is probably the best mainstream action director right now. People call him self-serious, that his films usually have no humor. The very people who have no such issue when it comes to Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky or Robert Bresson. Nolan's films have humor, sometimes it feels out of place even, so I have no idea why people complain about that. The problem with us is that we care too much for what we want from a filmmaker rather than focusing on what he or she has put up for us. His latest film is a flawed masterpiece as some have called it but does that make this a horrible film?

                   Lets finally talk about the film. The basic premise of Interstellar is as the title might suggest, something to do with universe or maybe beyond it. A team of space travelers travel through a wormhole in search of a new habitable planet. Interstellar shows a very worrisome future of the Earth for us. Scarce natural resources, dust-covered environment, diseases. Basically humans are heading towards extinction, societies on the verge of collapse. Very few people left and they rely mostly on corn (as corny as that may sound). The film's focus is one family. Cooper (McConaughey) is a former NASA test pilot and engineer, now a farmer because they have no use for them anymore. People are battling with hunger and farming is the only option. Cooper lives with his father-in-law and two children. He has a son named Tom (Chalamet) and a scientifically curious daughter named Murphy (Foy). During the first half where Interstellar is trying to set up its characters and themes, that is where the problems lie. It isn't a very strong start, specially for a film like this which would later rely on emotions and characters as much as science. The script is flawed, sometimes tedious and dull but it never stalls and break the entire thing thankfully. You go on to develop some strong emotional bonding with the characters but during those patches, the film relies on familiar tropes. For a while, I felt like the film isn't even trying to be what it appeared from the trailers. My anticipation for this spectacular looking and sounding film would all go in vain I thought, for once Nolan's haters would win the fight. But then the film lifted off, literally. The shakier aspect of Interstellar is that it gives too much time with not much heft and strokes to things that the audience wouldn't really care for in the hindsight. Not only the family scenes (although you get a nice moment where they drive through the crop fields) but also the convenient discovery that NASA still exists secretly, impacts during the initial parts of the film. Professor Brand (Caine) is leading a secret NASA installation. He reveals their mission to Cooper, astronauts have sent signals indicating potentially habitable planets. That happened because of a wormhole which was apparently created by an alien intelligence for humans. Cooper is selected to pilot the spacecraft called Endurance to recover the data by those astronauts and once a planet is determined habitable, people will have another place to live and survive in. Cooper is joined by Brand's daughter, Amelia (Hathaway) who is a biologist as well as physicist Romilly (Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Bentley) and two artificially intelligent robots, TARS and CASE. Cooper has to go and leave his family behind, his daughter isn't happy about this potentially life-threatening mission. They depart on bad terms. It is an emotional moment where we get to see a helpless father do what he thinks is right not only for his family but others like his even though he has to leave his daughter in a state of heartbreak.

"We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt."

                   I wouldn't go into specifics of the plot from there on as important as they are. But basically, the plot involves the team putting up with dangerous situations to make sure that they complete their mission in hopes for a habitable planet. They have to enter through a wormhole, at the end of which lies an entirely new galaxy. One of those planets proves extremely dangerous for the team, it is too close to a black hole which causes severe time dilation. A plot twist which I wouldn't get into, further puts their lives and the future in jeopardy. The time dilation aspect of the story felt the most emotionally effective thing for me. The back and forth of messaging, the characters being so far away from each other, it proves a real gut-punch. The visual effects in Interstellar are surprisingly minimal. They didn't use the green screen, mostly relying on real locations and then adding further effects rather than creating a whole new world on CGI. The robots, spacecrafts, interiors and exteriors, everything built and transported to the locations. Still, the film shines visually. The space photography is stunning. Stepping in here is Hoyte van Hoytema instead of Nolan's regular, Wally Pfister. The cinematography really works in the context of what this film is trying to be. The visuals are sublime, this isn't The Dark Knight or Inception, this is Interstellar. The spacecraft travelling freely in space, subjective view of its spinning all the way to objectively putting the craft in front of a planet, just beautiful. The planets that they discover each have their distinct features. One is completely covered by a shallow ocean that is constantly hit by enormous tidal waves. The other one has a rocky, ice-covered landscape with frozen clouds. Interstellar is a bumpy but spectacular ride. Even in the latter half, there are small moments which one finds troublesome. There is a sequence involving a fight between two characters on the icy planet that becomes so close to being a standard bad guy plotting in an otherwise unconventional sci-fi film of strong ideas. Some wobblier aspects from the first half follows us all the way into the grandly dense second act, without hurting too much. Murphy is old then (played by stunning Jessica Chastain), she becomes a scientist and follows Brand's work. Her resentment and that grudge she holds for her father's decision doesn't work entirely for this film. Maybe it was going to be inevitable, the plot needs to be 'rushed' hence some emotional aspects and sides of the characters doesn't grow very subtly on us or on paper. Some parts are very underdeveloped as well. Like Cooper's son Tom or one of Murphy's fellow scientists (played by Topher Grace in a dull thankless role).

                   Where Interstellar stands tall and firm is its ideas which are quite something. It is a boldly realized film, a high risk that has been taken. It is a film where space-time travel is put at the very center, theories and concepts about relativity and other such aspects of physics which we may have read as theory are audaciously realized and dealt with here. To see how these things literally impact and effect the characters is like witnessing an entirely new form of filmmaking. Part of that has to do with the narrative and conceptual stakes being so damn high. The characters may not be excellently developed but they are put under such ridiculously impactful situations. It is very moving in that regards, jaw-dropping when one witnesses a literal impact of time dilation on a daughter that is now a grown woman as opposed to the young heartbroken girl that was left behind. Or towards the end during the final meeting which made me scream due to the bubbling emotions that my heart could no longer take. Shaking and rattled, I had to cover my face. This is probably the first film by Nolan that has shattered my heart and made me cry. His most emotionally honest and deeply effective film. Yes, I am talking about the same flawed film here. One must take everything into account not just flaws. Interstellar is an intense experience for the most part. An adventurous and emotional ride that takes you into the farthest corners of this universe and the universe within us all. It puts its characters and audiences into complex visceral and emotional dilemmas. The mission here is uncompromising, rattling with life and death situations, both a personal fight and an epic battle of humanity. The thematic complexities are bold, they are explored with precision and a deft hand. The nearly 3 hours running time is filled with scientific expositions involving gravity and the unlimited possibilities of interstellar travelling. Of survival beyond the world we know, of not ever stopping and exploring the unexplored. Of always questioning, thinking and trying to decipher our place in this universe. When you stop questioning, you stop trying. When you stop trying, you just exist for nothing.

                   Matthew McConaughey really holds this film as the main character, his performance is as strong as you would hope for an actor like him in a film like this. It was a good choice to have him do this part, he looks like your every man, a father. Not his most strongest work but certainly good. Jessica Chastain shines with her angelic face and deep expressions as Cooper's grown up daughter. It is a supporting role which she really gets the most out of. Probably the most effective performance. Another actress that really does a fine job is Mackenzie Foy. As young Murphy, Foy surprises with such clarity and visibly passionate performance. Anne Hathaway is okay in a major part that needed more. Interstellar has an ensemble of such fine actors but alas, many of them are wasted. Hans Zimmer's music has been used with a great touch of understanding the basic theme and textures of narrative. The music sometimes blends and at others, amplifies the impact of a particular moment. It is one of his best works, a score so near-ethereal and features a sentimental quality that isn't usually viewed in such films. Way to use the Organs.

                   Interstellar is sci-fi at its philosophically and dramatically fascinating form. The film is dense, an epic, metaphysical and exciting. The questions that it raises or the themes that it explores are somewhere in the same vein as one of Nolan's favorite films, "2001: A Space Odyssey". That doesn't imply a comparison with the film directly but somewhere in its many interpretations lies one that talks about our existence in the universe. Nolan pointed that out because sci-fi always owes to that masterpiece (I mean come on, the greatest film ever made). The adventurous aspect of this film is an inspiration taken from our life. How missions are often sent to have us go where nobody has gone and maybe discover new things about life. Stepping on the surface of moon is ancient, our spacecrafts are now landing on meteors. This is the curiosity that pulsates throughout the film. And it works despite some of the infamous flaws that it has. This is a passionate film, its ideas worth spending so much time with, the ride worth taking and the emotions so very real.

Grade: B+