Darkness of mere being – Interstellar Review

Interstellar IMAX poster

Interstellar will be a controversial film. It will be talked about for years to come. Running at 169 minutes, it is quite ambitious. It manages to say a lot across that extensive running time. The film grapples with questions concerning theoretical physics and philosophy.

Gravity brought discussions of VFX-dependent cinematography and its “auteur legitimacy” to the fore. Interstellar will do the same with various issues. We will see a resurgence of the old debates on NASA’s history and massive investment of public funds into space exploration during dire economic times. It will have its share of supporters and detractors from both the left and the right. People like Neil deGrasse Tyson are going to have their hands full.

In the first-act alone, the Nolan brothers give us a refreshing take on the post-apocalyptic status quo. Interstellar takes place in a near-future Earth that runs out of food. This creates a fundamental change in priorities across human societies thanks to the law of supply and demand. Instead of the trite world plunged into chaos, we see one that still has functioning governments and institutions. People still go about their daily lives despite impending doom. There is a distinct no-nonsense culture that is both practical and utilitarian as people are just focused on not starving to death. The past excesses of consumerism are a thing of the past. For this impressive world-building alone, the Nolan brothers deserve a lot of credit.

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The second act can be considered a successor to Solyaris, Andrei Tarkovsky’s magnum opus. The naiveté of the space explorers erodes and ennui sets in. Characters struggle with the futility of human existence and their mission’s relevance. This portion is peppered with instances of how our instincts, along with our pride and dependency on science, are both our greatest strength and weakness.

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The third act is where it all falls apart. From The Prestige to The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan had a narrative trick up his sleeve. He tries to do the same to audiences with this one.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up all that well. He falls prey to the traps of the three-act structure and the narrative demands of Hollywood executives. However, I believe there was no studio interference in this case. He is not only the director but co-writer and co-producer as well. This was definitely a Nolan sin.

On the other hand, his production collaborators did a fine job. Paul Franklin and the folks at Double Negative created such impressive visual effects. They even enlisted scientific consultant and executive producer Dr. Kip Thorne to ensure the scientific accuracy of the wormhole. Nathan Crowley’s production design on the Endurance and the robots was nothing short of inspired. Wally Pfister’s absence wasn’t a major loss as Hoyte van Hoytema mixed things up with his cinematographic style. My personal favorite was the grainy archive film stock style he used for the exterior shots of the ships in space. Hans Zimmer eschewed his typical sound for something more organ-heavy which complemented the film well. However, the sound mixing was lacking as important bits of dialogue that contained theoretical physics concepts was drowned out.

The cast was brilliant. Matthew McConaughey continues the mainstream portion of his renaissance as everyman Cooper. Anne Hathaway provided an interesting foil in Dr. Amelia Brand. You can’t really do wrong with supporting players like David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, and Michael Caine. However, in an ironic twist, the most human performance comes from that of Bill Irwin who voices the robot TARS.

The film asks a lot of questions regarding our place in the universe and how science interacts with human nature. Unfortunately, its director isn’t capable of handling all that weight. Perhaps a better one at the helm would have made this one a masterpiece.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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