Christopher Nolan is up to his usual tricks in his latest – Interstellar. It’s not dreams this time but something closer home – and the concept of home – like outer space, stars and black holes. The meditation on the concept of home was also indulged in by Alfonso Cuarón in Gravity. But Nolan’s usual tricks involve his unique perceptions of reality (right from Memento to The Prestige to Inception), his characters’ dwelling into philosophy, his principal character and the missing wife and so on. Nolan’s problems too show up here. His never ending penchant for exposition, the complicated science concepts and the open ended forum servers crashing endings.

Mathew McConaughey is Cooper, a former astronaut turned farmer living in a world with crops affected by blight and frequently ravaged by dust storms. It is established right from the outset that he is a man of science (and also doubles up as a man of philosophy; this is risen from the ashes McConaughey in a Nolan film we are talking about) teaching his daughter Murph to investigate things rationally and to move away from bad science. These exposition issues first crop up when he meets with Murph’s teachers in her school. The conversation centers around the age old conspiracy theory about moon landing but when he spews on MRI, it is disappointing to realize that this was all more about establishing the loss of the loved one and not as a primer to the lectures of science that we are in for with the rest of the film.

Yet, the film is gripping for the whole 170 odd minutes of its runtime. It’s an insane joyride similar to the multidimensional travel depicted in the film. It’s film that even supersedes Inception in many areas. It’s a fantastic piece of work both in form and function and a typical Nolan venture that will mostly only reward you on multiple viewings. This is the kind of stuff that made watching films fascinating. A bona fide big screen experience. But the higher art it aims for doesn’t always hit the mark. It’s lost amongst all the self-winking science (“That’s relativity for you!” *wink*). It is not only in the writing but literally enacted at one point. Professor Brand (Michael Caine) takes Cooper through the vehicle they are building and asks him to notice the peculiarities of it. They strut around it with the Professor and his daughter Dr. Amelia (Anne Hathaway) offering quizzing looks at Cooper as he tries to take it all in. Sometimes the film feels this way, as if the Nolan brothers are taking you around it and looking at you for your reaction, waiting for you to marvel at what a great thing they’ve built. They are a little too self-aware for us to be comfortable around them unlike the robots TARS and CASE in the film.

The dystopia (and it sort of is one) in Interstellar is also Nolan signature. It can be a little too painfully perfect. It is the most well behaved, ordered dystopia you’d have ever seen on film. There is a lot of Kubrick’s 2001 in this film but TARS and CASE are no HAL. Never in this film, set quite far into the future, do you get the feeling that the machines could turn. That’s why the events that transpire in the icy planet discovered by Dr. Mann hit you harder than any HAL-like manipulation. Nolan may have set his science light years ahead of any other film but he makes sure the age old cynicism is intact. It’s one of Nolan’s few humanizing touches in the film and used as an excellent plot device. Moments like these and the one where Cooper offers Romilly (David Gyasi) his earphones to ease up not only stand out but also reveal what this film needed more of. Romilly listens – as he is traveling to Saturn – to the sound of rain, swaying of trees. That heart, that visceral aspect is what Interstellar needed more of in place of some of its all round well distributed intellect.

Nolan as an auteur is well established. He may have worked on only one legitimate superhero series but all his protagonists have been superheroes in some form or the other. They overcome grave flaws and internal struggles – not to mention the missing wife or partner – to accomplish things heroic or equally magical. Right from Memento to The Prestige to the Batman films to Inception. Cooper is one such superhero on a mission to save mankind. And this brings out the Nolan who is absolutely fantastic with set pieces. The travel through the wormhole, the escape from Miller’s planet, that showpiece scene of him locking back into Endurance alone warrants multiple viewings. A lot of this film has to be seen to be believed and that’s of the good variety.

People suspect the science behind Gravity. But it is a film that makes you forget that for a bit and completely believe in the travails of an astronaut lost in space and searching for home. Ryan Stone’s inadvertent communication with a fisherman in Greenland has more impact than Cooper communicating with his daughter who’s aged by more than 20 years that were mere hours for him. TARS at one point tells Cooper something to the effect of how absolute honesty is not advisable in diplomatic and emotional relationships. Nolan follows that a little too diligently in keeping his science real. Gravity is another film that references Kubrick’s masterpiece. The third act of Interstellar is all 2001: A Space Odyssey. One can actually go out on a limb and call it the same thing. While Kubrick, for that era, chose a muted treatment, Nolan being Nolan and a plot and denouement hanging over him goes for all out gimmicks. That’s not to say it doesn’t work. Make no mistake, this film is all about the oohs and aahs inside a movie theatre. On that note, Interstellar delivers more than you could ever imagine. And yet, there is a sneaky feeling that Alfonso Cuarón did it better.


9 thoughts on “Interstellar

  1. I thought TARS and CASE were Nolan;s doff of the hat to Kubrick’s black monoliths which do nothing except stand and beep or shreik where as with Nolan;s updated monoliths – they not only walk and talk but they can also serve as a crane or a wheelbarrow when required. The one thing they can’t do is walk and chew gum.

    Excellent review by the way –


  2. Hi Adi,

    I’d have loved to simply see a an objective review of the movie rather than setting up the premise of the post as a comparison with Gravity. The way I see it, they are two completely different movies. Expect for the fact that they are both set in space, and the lead actors yearn to make it home, and the female leads having terrible haircuts, I can’t see the comparison. Cuarón is more focussed in clearly setting the boundaries within which he wants to operate. Nolan, as usual ,has a grander scheme, and it is what makes his movies what they are. Couldn’t disagree with your review. Even with the science aside, the movie is disappointing. Of course, people can enjoy the experience, and I too loved it in IMAX.

    The moral science lessons in his movies are getting too old. The other problem I see with Nolan is the scale at which he sets up his movies. Because of his huge mainstream success, he feels the need to outdo his previous movie just in terms of sheer scale and audacity of the plot. When you set out to achieve that, you’re going to start leaving gaping holes in your work.


    1. Fair enough about the comparison bit but I mention that only in one last paragraph. But even without it, I have pretty much similar issues with the film. One of the reasons I mentioned was because people had issues with science in Gravity. With Interstellar keeping up with actual science and all that, there is a tendency to conclude – pardon the meme logic – so much science, such wow! And therefore what a great film it is. I was just trying to point out that those things may not necessarily make a good movie, let alone a great one. Personally, I really don’t care if science was accurate or was a load of bull shit.


  3. I think one of the differences between Gravity and Interstellar is that the former is set more in the present, thereby not requiring Cuaron to delve too deep into science and stick to ‘space odyssey gone bad let’s rescue’ plot. Nolan’s movie is futuristic. Space travel into other galaxies (still a pipe dream) through wormholes etc. are accepted and established (as evident from some dozen ppl already sent and significant amount of data collected from them). Thus, the whole digging deep into science/physics made the movie more relevant. Also, from a narration/story telling point, there is about a 30-35 minute stretch right after they settle inside the spaceship where there is absolute silence. Just 3 people in an aircraft. no background music, no fancy stuff (‘normal science’, usual visuals of earth from outer space) etc. Just 3 people talking and the fact that that is able to keep us totally engrossed…for THIRTY FIVE mins (or so) speaks volumes of Nolan’s abilities :) Also, presenting time as a ‘physical’, tangible dimension is quite hard to grasp for a first viewing. As you’ve pointed out rightly, there are several masterstrokes in this movie that one would be able to appreciate a lot more only if one sees the movie a couple of times.
    Nice review :)


  4. However, the whole “saving mankind’ angle put me off slightly. the folks (astronauts) shown in the movie are highly driven individuals so I feel they’d have done this even if they didn’t have to save the mankind. That angle sets well for Murph to push her mental faculties to ‘get’ the morse code stuff towards the end but I think that saving mankind stuff could have been done better. And some of the science (Cooper is SO confident of the slingshot around Gargantua like he’s done it 100s of times before!) is a bit far fetched , but then again, it is more about stretching your imagination and challenging your mind, I suppose.


  5. The first time I saw TARS, my initial reaction was: Android KitKat. Having said that, it’s one of the few things I can give an unqualified thumbs-up to, IMO. The ending left me particularly disappointed: it felt like a cop-out to me.

    Nice review, by the way!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s