Reviews: Interstellar

Long, contrived, melodramatic, and full of flat characters

If there is one rule of a work of fiction, it is that you must care about the characters, because if you don’t care about the characters, it is very unlikely that you are going to care about what happens to them.

And, alas, I have to admit, I wasn’t left caring about the characters by the end of this movie – the only characters I really ended up caring about were the faceless robots, who seemed to have more personality than the human cast did. And given that the movie itself was resolved with a deus ex machina, it is really hard to recommend.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The setup of this movie takes an inordinate amount of time, but ultimately the plot is that Earth is dying due to magical bacteria and humanity needs a new planet, and would-be-NASA Astronaut Joseph Cooper, who has turned to farming in the face of a global crop blight, is the man to do it.

Interstellar is ostensibly a sci-fi movie, but it is ultimately fantasy. The beginning of the movie has Cooper is lead to the secret NASA facility to become humanty’s savior by aliens from beyond space-time sending him the coordinates by writing in dust in his house and knocking books of the shelves of his daughter’s bookcase. A wormhole conveniently appeared next to Saturn to give humanity a way out of the solar system.

And while this is all okay as setup, the movie continues to make contrivances. The ultimately solution to humanity’s plight is a deus ex machina delivered by aliens from beyond space-time – or possibly future humans. Whatever the case, it is a solution that comes not from the characters in the movie, but from an external force, meaning that, ultimately, all of the characters struggles were resolved by magic as well.

If the characters had been interesting, this might have been okay. But they weren’t. The central conflict of the movie – Cooper having to choose between saving people who already exist, and providing for a potential future for the human species – was potentially interesting, but ultimately, the movie doesn’t really go anywhere with it. Cooper is upset, certainly, but in the end nothing Cooper did really ended up resolving that conflict – it was resolved in his favor by external forces, and there’s no actual human resolution to it. Without any other personality to speak of - just these two character traits - he's not really a very interesting character.

And this problem is endemic to the cast – most of them feel like they’re just kind of there, and have maybe two personality traits tops. A handful have some personality, but they aren't enough to carry the movie.

We’re left with a plodding 2 hour and 40 minute long film that doesn’t leave earth until 42 minutes in. My lack of concern for the characters meant that their success and failure didn’t touch me, and the constant contrivances and arbitrary plot meant I couldn't care about the story itself.

A Trippy Mismash

SPOILERS!!!

Intersteller is a hard science fiction film that relied on renown theoretical physicist Kip Thorne to make it as scientifically accurate as possible.

The first two hours are overall a pretty good film. The Blight, wormhole coincidence, and higher dimensional aliens are acceptable extreme fiction to work with a drama taking a more realistic look at humanity facing extinction and asking what it means to be truly live instead of just surviving. The science aspects felt more like background, but worked with the story because they were not as fantasy as other sci-fi shows like Doctor Who or Star Trek.

Then the weird stuff started happening. Theoretical physics relies on mathematical models to try to guess and explain how the universe works. None of it has yet been tested and you can sometimes have competing, but equally valid theories or it could all be wrong. Many of the ideas of theories come across as alien to most human reason that it is no different from magic. And sadly that is what happens here.

The sudden introduction of a tesseract, time travel, humanity's future decedents, and love somehow being quantifiable and a basic part of the universe is jarring and pulls you out of the narrative. If feels like it moves out of the genre of hard science fiction to Science Fantasy. The ending itself felt rushed as if the director realized how long the film was becoming and needed to wrap things up quickly.

It is a welcome chance from the Science Fantasy films that are often found nowadays and is a good exploration of human drama in this setting. However, it could have done without the last twenty minutes or so that get into too much of a mind trip that it takes the viewer out of one genre and into another. This is no way a bad film, but out of recent realistic science films I liked Gravity better.

7/10

Free Thinking

  • spoilers*

Interstellar is a hard science, weighty, and self-reliant film. If you come into it with any background of scientific research and discipline, it will be as many parts challenging as fulfilling. It is a film that will, perhaps, defy age, even in a post-modern, digital world.

Cooper, ace Spacecraft pilot, is in a race against time. A race that mankind has been losing for almost 50 years. Man has made attempts to leave, and failed. He is destined to carve out his place on Earth for him and his descendants, and wither in the sun. Or so it is thought. Thanks to his know-how and the help from "Them", Cooper finds NASA'S last, super secret, mega-base. A base with the centrifugal gravity in mind built around propelling mankind into a wormhole they did NOT create in an attempt to find a new home and save the human race. The harrows, trials, tribulations, and scientific discoveries that follow him on this journey define and re-define a genre, aiding us on this epic quest to see the beauty and love and necessity of space travel as a living species. It's a tapestry woven from science, story-telling, and love.

Interstellar is not for the hard-science fans. It's not even for past Nolan fans. It's heavy and weighty and self-absorbed, a complete work in itself with a masterful score, script, and performances, making it something beyond a blockbuster. It's a true Tour-De-Force.

I love the movie, so I romanticize it extensively, but it has many bleeding-edge scientific theories, great writing, and a way of warming your heart even in the face of impeccable odds. It's a parable meant to evoke not the spirit of science, but the human spirit. It's a beautifully crafted film, a must see for any science-fiction fan. It's a journey, beginning to end. Performances helmed by Matthew Mc Conaughey and Anne Hathaway help ground the film in a sense of believability, that catapults it into ideas and places and phases of human life that many can barely imagine. It's a non-stop thrill ride with incredibly complex and meaningful themes in play that make it feel like an infinite cycle of heartbreak and triumph that speaks to the audience profoundly and effectively. It may just be Nolan's best so far, which says a lot about what Nolan may do in the future. DO yourself a favor. See this movie.
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