Interstellar (2014)

(no real spoilers until I tell you so)

Interstellar is certainly something like an event, a movie that is highly entertaining and engaging, but somewhat hollow at its core. The movie wants a lot but ultimately fails to reach its own ambitions. The production values are excellent, the images are stunning, the music is epic, the visual and sound effects are flawless. The editing shows some of the movie’s problems, because it uses hard cuts for effects but overuses them, showing that the movie really wants to be special. This also goes for the parallel montages that are interesting but ultimately don’t lead to much. You find the same problem in many of the movie’s aspects, especially the last twenty minutes, where the movie really tries to be clever but simply isn’t. It’s more show than tell, unfortunately. The acting is very good but some dialogue doesn’t do the talent of the actors justice. My impressions are still fresh, but I’m not sure where the movie lands in my perception. I loved it’s ideas about time and there’s one very emotional scene that I found really effective. It’s worth watching it, I think, but it’s one of those movies that seems more problematic in its ideas the longer I think about it.

The movie deals with the fate of humanity, something I wrote about here many times. The movie makes it’s clear we’re doomed and that only someone from outside can save us. Ultimately I guess it says only we can save ourselves, but the problem with the ending is that it gives us this premise while leaving away the details. Anyway, in the movie’s near future the problem seems to be a shortage of food, which is not so plausible, but at the same time there’s talk about repopulating the earth which doesn’t fit together. The movie tries hard to detail this future but because the exposition is clumsy, it often doesn’t feel real.

There is a scene where a teacher says students don’t need to learn about space travel and moon landings because it’s time to learn about our world now. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and the movie disagree and repeatedly tell us: “No, we are explorers, that’s what we do, so we will find our solution out there.” It portrays this criticism of space programs as ignorant and narrow-minded, although the idea of spending billions on an impractical and illusionary concept that only serves to escape our problems instead of solving them, is anything but ignorant. It seems realistic and almost logical. But the movie makes the teacher look like an idiot, as if she insisted that the world is flat. Cooper’s argument is that humans always looked at the stars for answers, not at the dirt as they have to now, but that is exactly the problem. We try to find answers from some unknown, alien place because we believe it cannot be found right here. But following that ideology is pointless. That is what we have been doing for thousands of years and it hasn’t helped us. This dim-witted teacher is right that teaching kids about some space travel fantasies does more harm than good.

And despite all the struggles and sacrifices the movie shows, especially at the end it wants to prove its point that this is worth it, that the answer does lie in the stars. I don’t think the movie is able to support that claim and think that’s its ideology is really screwed up.

(spoilers start here)

The movie also has a problematic father-daughter-relationship. Murph (Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain) is portrayed as really clever, but her father always upstages her and the movie lets him get away with it. She helps him find the coordinates but he wants to leave her home. She really wants him to stay and not fly into space, but he can’t help his excitement and leaves. He is not trying to explain it to her, he just breaks her heart. He is so unemotional in that scene but in the next moment (after he tells his son to be a man and take care, of course, why would he say that to his daughter, right?) we see him crying, but we don’t know where these tears come from. Later, we are supposed to believe that he regrets this, but I don’t think the movie really thinks that. It also wants to tell us that Murph becomes something like a savior in the end, but again the movie does everything to make clear it was Cooper who did everything. She supposedly is so smart but even she herself denies that and has to cry “My dad saved us!” She remains a puppet of her father who never did anything but follow his own desires, ignoring hers. Eventually, she achieves nothing on her own and is pushed by her father until the very end. That is why the Tesseract scene was so disappointing to me. It just served to make him look like a hero without real regret or realization. Sure, he cries to his past self to stay, but at this point we know that would have been a bad idea, plot-wise, taking away any credibility for this supposedly emotional scene. The whole plot twist of the movie is hokey this way, a joke to the audience and unsatisfactory for not having trust in woman power.

The only other real woman, Brand (Anne Hathaway), might be the savior in the end, but we have learned to see her as unreasonable and too emotional. She makes one mistake and Cooper and the movie judges her for it. Cooper is reckless all the time, making the same mistake basically, but he gets away with it, no judgment at all. She gets this monologue about love, which is somewhat intriguing, but the movie doesn’t even take time to think about it because it’s clear that the other two men decide against Brand and her silly ideas about feelings. Later, it’s again Cooper who makes the “sacrifice” and takes away her decision by letting her fly to the last planet alone. Why the ending makes it look like Cooper does something heroic by trying to pick her up and why no one else seems to care about her is a mystery. I guess the mystery is that the movie doesn’t really care about women but tells us otherwise.

I haven’t read anything about the movie yet, so finally, some questions that boggle me and might be answered by reading some of the hundreds of articles this movie has generated already: How exactly do the robots move? Why is the black guy the only one who is scared? How lame is it of Nolan to copy one of the coolest elements of Inception? Why is the exposition so bad? How big is the coincidence of him stumbling over the NASA base? Were they waiting for him? How did they finance all of this for 30 years without having any support? For all the excitement he has about flying into space, why is the first space flight so underwhelming? Did we really need to hear that poem so damn often? I have an answer for that last one: no, we really didn’t. That’s just another sign of the movie wanting too much, just as it does with the overdone plot twist and the ending that is too ambiguous for a movie that tries to explain everything all the time in terms no one understands or cares about.