Monday, November 16, 2015


     Interstellar could have been the most compelling and highest quality reality-based sci-fi movie of the decade. Outer space as a setting has featured in every movie genre, from comedy to thriller, yet it has been a while since space featured in a hardcore drama. Interstellar has some intense moments and sci-fi peril, but it's not an adventure flick or an action movie. It has some lofty concepts in terms of relativity and black holes, but it's not fantasy. Every now and then the movie floats towards one of these genres and touches them briefly, and then bounces gently away back into what I would classify as survivor drama. In many ways, Interstellar is a classic man vs. nature movie, except that nature is the vast and unknowable universe; dangerous, beautiful, haunting, and seemingly infinite. 

     Despite the breath-taking special effects, unorthodox Zimmer score, and solid acting from the cast, what really stands out from the positive side of things, is the emotional heaviness that Interstellar portrays from it's earth-based beginning, to its semi-hopeful end. Cooper's painful parting from his family is magnified when a few hours on his mission equates a few decades for his family back on earth. One of the most powerful scenes portrays Cooper watching all the messages that his son has sent over the years, with Cooper unable to celebrate the birth of his own grandson, unable to comfort his family at the passing of his own father, unable to grieve over the death of his grandson, unable to tell his son not to give up, and unable to reach back and tell him that he's still out there. In a few emotionally charged and masterfully directed scenes, Coop's son tells twenty three years worth of story. One message from Coop's daughter Murph that bitterly states "I'm now the same age you were when you left," gives the hard reality that time is passing, and Coop is outside of it.

     Elsewhere, Interstellar offers a bleak look at the cruel unhinging power of solitude, and the ethical grey areas that men are willing to tread in the name of the greater good. At one affecting moment in the movie when Coop and Brand return to the ship a few hours after they left, their crew mate Romily solemnly states "I've been waiting for twenty three years." During this time, he didn't dare go into cryosleep for too long, for fear of missing important transmissions. He simply stayed awake, alone for all that time. Romily has greyed and aged visibly, is clearly somber, but otherwise stable. Dr. Mann however, a scientist who has been alone on a frigid planet for 35 years (many of which have been in cryosleep), has not fared so well. While still lucid and as intelligent as ever, the years of solitude have skewed Mann's ethical boundaries, and he is now willing to do anything at all to rescue himself and get off the planet that has been his prison. Yet it becomes clear that it doesn't take decades of solitude to skew ethics when Dr. Brand Sr. admits to a serious deception that he allowed his own daughter to invest her life in, all for the greater good.

     For a movie that truly excels in its special effects, dramatic tension, ambitious musical score, and fairly solid acting throughout, Interstellar's final moments hit a brick wall at maximum speed. Throughout Interstellar, I kept thinking of the 1997 movie Contact, and the similarities between the two movies. Contact copped out at the end with the character returning, but no one believing her. Interstellar goes a few steps further, in the complete wrong direction, by turning love into a scientific force and creating a circular concept of time that raises more questions than it answers. Then the story steps back into its place, and tries to conclude satisfactorily. This attempt is not entirely unsuccessful, but feels somewhat empty due to the strange events leading up to it. Ultimately there is at least conclusion and a spark of hope, even if it does seem a bit cold. While the human race will go on, the final images of the movie deliver one last crushed hope to reinforce the cost of survival.

     Interstellar has exceptionally strong things going for it, but when you start introducing an existential construction that allows the manipulation of time as concurrent rather than chronological events, there are going to be great big plot holes harpooned in the story. The would-be satisfying ending felt somehow cheapened and hijacked by the preceding ten minutes. Unfortunately, those few minutes are the most enduring memory of what would have been one of the best sci-fi dramas of the decade.

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