Nothing can reduce me to nerd tears quite like a Christopher Nolan original.
If I had to describe Interstellar in a single word, it’d have to be AMBITIOUS. Like the noble space explorers in his film who look to the stars for solutions, Nolan searches beyond the conventions of storytelling and reel world-building to create a fresh cinematic experience.
Interstellar is mind-bending, which is to be expected considering Nolan’s repertoire, but it’s a different kind of genius from Inception (2010) and its dense puzzle of a plot, which in turn varies from Memento (2000) and its perplexing but brilliant use of the reverse narrative format.
The story is in fact simple and far from original – the influences from Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) are so palpable, it even seeps into Hans Zimmer’s soaring score. There are bits of Contact (1997) with its father-daughter-cosmology drama. It’s evident that Nolan also borrowed heavily from another iconic sci-fi film – the fourth act is basically the plot from La Jetée (1962).
And if only because I recognised the references, I kinda saw it coming or rather I thought about a number of possible outcomes, and this happened to be one of them. Not bringing this up to gloat (ok, maybe a little) but to point out that the great reveal here isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff.
But Interstellar is still very much a staggering piece of cinema because it bravely incorporates cosmic ideas and theories about astrophysics, space travel and *gulp* quantum physics and relativity, and use them as tools for its emotionally-driven narrative.
According to an exclusive WIRED interview with Nolan and Kip Thorne, a renowned theoretical physicist who was extensively consulted during the making of the film, actual mathematical calculations by Thorne were used in the special FX rendering of the black hole Gargantua.
So what you’re seeing on screen is actually the most accurate simulation ever of what a black hole looks like and how it would theoretically behave. How mind-blowing is that?!
Thorne also revealed that the new data discovered while making this film is enough to fill up a few science journals. Even respected pop-astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has weighed in, and while he didn’t think the science is 100 per cent accurate – it is a movie, after all – he approved many elements such as the mountain-high ocean waves on Miller’s planet and the depiction of time dilation.
So clearly, some patience and stamina are necessary investments when watching Interstellar. It may be theory-heavy but this is hard science with soul! Both the cosmos and the human condition are just as important and are explored in equal measure.
But because the film attempts to wield all these huge concepts and juggle them with the intimate human drama, it is inevitably clumsy at times and I found a few situations a tad too convenient or unconvincing.
For instance, the alarmingly tardy (non-existent really) measures to protect the astronauts against alien life and diseases when they landed on the unexplored planets. And how TARDIS and CASE are pretty much your 21st Century deus ex machina (literally!).
So Interstellar has its flaws and I wouldn’t go as far as to call it the definitive Nolan film. It certainly isn’t as tight as his previous works. But it’s got a curious mind, a dream team cast of Hollywood’s best A-listers that performed superbly, and it is a gripping, poignant film. Also, the space vistas are stunning, especially on an IMAX screen!
I find it tiresome when naysayers attack the cerebral nature of Nolan’s films just because they are popularly regarded as smart storytelling. For one, being counter-culture for the sake of it doesn’t make you cool and more importantly, a point is missed here.
I don’t see it as Nolan being snobbish or showing off that he possesses some greater intellect. He comes up with plots that are more dense and ambivalent than the average blockbuster, because he has confidence in the modern moviegoer and sets out to make films that won’t insult your intelligence.
From what critics and moviegoers are saying, Interstellar is perhaps Nolan’s most divisive film to date – you’ll either love it or hate it and opinions rarely fall in between.
That it isn’t a surefire hit like his other movies doesn’t bother me one bit. This is what scientists, explorers and true artists do: they try out new things, they push the envelope and they lose sight of the shore to discover new oceans (thank you, Mr André Gide!).
It may very well have fallen short of its big ambition. Nolan may not quite have made cinema’s discovery of the decade, but by George I think he’s onto something and I can’t wait to see what he does next!