I love a film that challenges me, makes me think outside the box and lets me enter into discussion about the meaning behind it. Interstellar challenges me in a different way. It challenges my ability to review.
I’m usually quite lucky, I don’t suffer writer’s block, when I watch a film or read a book a review angle naturally presents itself to me. The easiest angle of all is whether or not I enjoyed the film. That sets the tone for what follows. Do I like the film? If so I say what I like and vice versa if I dislike the movie. Interstellar left me numb because I had no angle to do a review. The only solution is to use this confusion as the angle. Why do I feel like this? As a self-confessed Chris Nolan fanboy I owe him to give it a shot and try to bring some order to this glorious mess.
The film begins without telling us what year it is set. All we know is that the world’s food supply is running out due to a combination of massive dust storms and blight on the produce. The only plentiful supply of food seems to be corn. Our protagonist family are corn farmers not by choice, but by necessity. So far so good. We are introduced to Matthew McConaughey’s character of Cooper, he is the reluctant farmer who seems to have been trained as an astronaut before man’s need for food outweighed the need to explore space. He is clearly not destined for this as we see signs of his adaptability and genius when he chases down a government drone to use its parts for farm machinery. A little nod perhaps to the drone situation in the world today. He has two children and a father-in-law, his daughter Murph is too clever for school while his son Tom is more suitable to the farming life.
The film follows a charming character building section where everything is in place until Murph begins noticing strange events in her bedroom. Books fall of the shelves in some kind of pattern that is initially thought to be Morse code but is later found to be binary. To humour is daughter and to break his own boredom Cooper decodes this and uses it to find a secret base in the desert which, is the current underground headquarters of NASA. It is around this point that my head began to question what was going on. The NASA section whips past in about 10 minutes and before long Cooper is on said Interstellar mission to save the human race because the corn is destined to run out as well. I had trouble with how quickly Cooper could leave his family. I understood he was never happy with the farming life, but he just leaves to go on a poorly explained mission with barely a moments thought.
The film then moves onto its most enjoyable phase. Nolan shows he is very adept at the sprawling space odyssey. The middle section of the film easily betters the recent Prometheus for scale and trumps Gravity for tension in places. Nolan loves using the vertical and on the first planet we see this, with huge waves which really should have been used in Noah.
The central theme of the film would appear to be time. The obtuse references to wormholes and the physics involved lead to an interesting and brilliant mechanic. For every hour they spend on the surface of the planet, ‘real’ time back in the orbiting ship moves much faster so as one mistake costs them decades as Anne Hathaway’s character Brand puts it. Needless to say when they return to the ship above their crew mate has been waiting a while. This constant pressure of time drives the film and we see how the world they left behind has changed via video communications from home. The usual story elements are here with children aging, grandparents dying and still no sign of an answer to the problems on Earth. This is acted well by the grown up Murph, Jessica Chastain but at fear of spoiling the story-line I cannot go any deeper into them at this point.
Being a Nolan film there is a reasonable story deviation towards the end. I hesitate in calling it a twist as it is not much of a shock, it is in keeping with the theme of the movie, a calculated judgement that can be reached by the viewer. Along with the quantum physics at play here, the director assumes a high level of intelligence of the us. It isn’t necessary to be a professor, but when the characters begin talking physics, it pays to listen or else the subsequent sections will be even more difficult than they already are. The final act in particular is a difficult watch. I found it out of sync with the rest of the film. Where the rest of the film is a cold, scientific space odyssey the final act descends into the realms of fantasy. While it tries to base itself in science some of the final scenes had me scratching my head. It comes as no shock that this week on the eve of the DVD and Blu-ray release that the film had a different ending originally. http://uk.ign.com/articles/2015/03/20/this-is-how-interstellar-originally-ended as this article shows. When the ending comes too many loose ends have been tied up.
Putting my thoughts on page hasn’t really helped me work out my opinion on this film. It has many of the themes and style which makes me love Chris Nolan’s films and direction. It also is about a subject which interests me greatly and is always something I click on when a news story about space travel comes up. What I can’t get though is the story-line from beginning to end. It just doesn’t get there, there is a strong beginning, a brilliant middle and an out-of-place ending. When these are put together the film is less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps the original ending would have appealed to me more. It is still a film which you should watch and make up your own mind on and at a later date when it’s not so fresh it would be perfect to revisit and discuss in more detail. For now though there is a massive wormhole in the middle of Interstellar from which a coherent story doesn’t emerge.