Movie Review: Interstellar
Posted November 12, 2014on:
Last Saturday we joined another couple to see Interstellar. I’ve made this review as non-spoilery as possible, but quick tl;dr is that I absolutely loved this movie.
Interstellar, Directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Matthew McConaughey, John Lithgow, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine , Davie Gyasi, and Jessica Chastian. Rated PG-13
The premise of Interstellar is that Earth is doomed. A blight is killing the crops, and no matter what you want to be when you grow up, you’re gonna be a farmer, because it is now everyone’s duty to get as much food out of the ground as possible. Cooper, an ex-test pilot, lives with his father-in-law Donald, his son Tom and his daughter Murphy. His daughter is convinced there is a ghost in her bedroom who keeps pushing books off the shelves, and he tries to explain to her that ghosts and poltergeists don’t exist, she’s got to go about understanding what’s in her room in a scientific way.
Cooper still dreams of flying, and his daughter has inherited his love of astronautics and physics. I won’t tell you how, but Cooper and Murphy come to the attention of a government agency who has a Plan A to save humanity, and a Plan B. Plan A involves the cinematographic beauty of the movie: flying a ship through a worm hole and into another galaxy, in the search for another planet for humanity to inhabit. Along with an old army robot, Cooper and a small crew of scientists take a small ship up to a mothballed space station to start their journey. Plan B is the twist, and well, that would be a spoiler. Which is too bad, because it’s the big idea of the whole thing.
Interstellar was a gorgeous movie to watch. The rings of Saturn, black holes up close and personal, a star frozen in an eternal moment of being on the event horizon of a black hole, the vistas of the planets the expedition lands on, all of the visualizations are stunning to behold. And this might be the best visual representation of we’ve ever come up with for what a black hole might look like.
From the drawings we’ve seen in astronomy textbooks, a black hole is a disk that sucks stuff in, looking almost like the drain in your bathtub, right? but as Romilly explains, thats a 2d representation of something that is 3d. Whats a 3d version of a circle? A sphere, of course. So the black holes are spheres, which at first blush, looked to me like a Herbertian no-ships. And just wait until you see the black hole that has a star dying in an endless moment on the event horizon! For more info on that, check out this spoiler free article on how they designed the black holes at Wired.
For the most part, Nolan gets the science of relativity right, or at least the discussions *sound* right. It’s a two year flight from Earth to the black hole on the edge of our solar system, so the crew sleeps most of the way instead of wasting food and oxygen for two years. That seems logical enough, but it soon starts to weigh on Cooper how much time is passing by, and *how* that time is passing. Time is relative. Because of their proximity to a black hole during an important moment in the story, time is passing much slower for him. Days and weeks for him are years on Earth, and for a few hours even more so. What a cool idea to play with: how does time pass differently when you are in the gravitational pull of a black hole? It’s fun to travel around the galaxy and stuff, but if they don’t work fast enough, will there be anything left on Earth to save? The characters have to balance what they want to do against what their resources allow them to do. They are fighting time and gravity.
With it’s somber subject matter, Interstellar manages to get some humor into the dialog, and does it in a surprising and unexpected way. The monolith-like robots have the personalities of army grunts, one is chatty and obnoxious, the other is quieter. It was fascinating to watch the characters interact with robots who don’t make any attempt to appear humanoid, but make every attempt to sound human, and completely succeed. With those snarky voices coming out of their speaker boxes, I did a double take a few times. The conversations regarding “humor settings” help lighten the mood of some very dark moments.
Interstellar has a lot of layers to it, and I’ve told you only the top few. As the plot progresses, the situation on Earth only gets worse, and the crew of the Endurance realize they are working with incomplete data. Time and gravity become forces the characters can not surmount.
Maybe they are looking at the barriers in the wrong way.
And that’s what the movie is about. It’s about redefining barriers.
A common comment that goes along with this movie is “reminds me of 2001: A Space Odessey”. There is a piano melody that shows up in the soundtrack, which although nothing like the iconic The Blue Danube waltz used in 2001, is reminiscent of what someone who dreamed The Blue Danube and had a hazy memory of their dream might sleepily play on a piano the next morning, desperate to remember their dream. Cooper also has what is undeniably a “Dave Bowman” moment. Fans of 2001: A Space Odessey will connect with the music and imagery, and thus will probably find it easier to forgive the plot holes. One more comment on the musical score, many scenes have a bare rumble of a base sound. Something that you feel more in your gut rather than hear with your brain. You know it’s there, but you can’t quite register it or figure out exactly where it’s coming from or what it’s going to become. A nice parallel to what Murphy is looking for in her bedroom.
I want to talk about the culmination of what’s going on without spoiling it. Let’s just say the end will be polarizing. You’re either gonna love it or hate it, and I am firmly in the “love” camp. I figured out pretty quickly where Cooper was and delighted to learn that my guess was correct. The visualization of what’s happening is simply superb, and I can’t think of a better way to show what they showed, and make it work in a way that would be instantly understandable. (see how I did that without spoiling anything?).
There’s no getting around the fact that there were some gaping plot holes. Most obvious to me being why didn’t we change our farming practices so our crops would be less susceptible to the blight? And why is Cooper’s son practically ignored for the first half of the movie? There have been complaints about McConaughey’s acting, and it’s a valid complaint, he’s never been known for having much acting range. You’re either going to forgive these issues, or you’re not. It depends on what you are watching a movie *for*. Interstellar gave me what I wanted: an incredible journey. And I forgave it for having the problems that are inherent when you’ve only got three hours to tell a story like this.
Even if you’re lukewarm on seeing Interstellar, it’s worth the price of a movie ticket just to see the visuals on the big screen. This movie did exactly what I needed it to do: It let me escape my mundane like for 3 hours. It let me go somewhere extraordinary. It surprised me, it made me gasp, it was a fragile thing of beauty. I’d see it again on the big screen in a heartbeat.