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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: INTERSTELLAR Proves That We Still Don't Have the Answers (And That's Okay)

With all the rampant think pieces questioning the probability of every science fiction film that comes out, it's comforting to across a movie that doesn't really claim to have any of the answers. In INTERSTELLAR, theories of mankind are neither proven nor debunked. Rather, the film's beauty lies in the fact that it questions everything and ultimately ends with no concrete solutions. It floats beyond ever evolving scientific thought to discover that the most illogical constant of all is love.

But this shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone who's seen a Christopher Nolan film before. His films have almost always explored the human journey toward truth to only find that it is relative to the person who searches for it. INTERSTELLAR is no different. Though its characters are scientific geeks encapsulated in their own world filled with technical jargon and equations incomprehensible to the average viewer, it humanizes their story to reflect how the rest of us fit into it, in the one language we all speak.

It takes a while to get to that romantic core, though. Nolan (who also co-write the film with his brother, Jonathan) opens the story at the home of former test pilot and engineer, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), and his two kids, Murphy (named after Murphy's Law, of course) and Tom. Nestled deep in the middle of America's Dust Bowl, the family has learned to rely on each other and their love of curiosity as the earth slowly deteriorates around them. In fact, we meet them just as the earth's regression has been accepted, and all previously determined scientific law has become null and void -- even the schoolteachers have thrown out the principles from textbooks and lectures. Which is unfortunate for Cooper, whose entire life's work and personal passion is about these now extinct ideas. So in a way, Cooper simply no longer fits into the world in which he lives. And his daughter, a chip off the ole block, is similarly as displaced.

So what do you do when the world is no longer big enough for your imagination? According to this film, find a new one to venture off to. Once Cooper literally stumbles upon a hidden NASA station, led by the mysterious Professor Brand (Michael Caine), he accepts an offer he feels he can't refuse -- the chance to go beyond where mankind has trekked before to find out whether there is in fact life on other planets.

The immediate question becomes how can he leave his children for a chance journey -- a family who's already faced the loss of their mother years prior? Though Nolan sets out to prove in this film that love transcends all time and travels beyond galaxies. it's difficult to believe that a man like Cooper would leave his family for a dangerous mission as his youngest child's heart breaks in a heart-wrenching scene. But this is science fiction and one of the genres most constant themes is that science is above most everything else.

Or is it? INTERSTELLAR is actually one of the most anti sci-fi sci-fi films I've seen in a while in that it bypasses scientific theory in favor of the human emotions. Something that is continuously stated throughout the film is that this mission isn't about leaving anyone behind but about saving them from a world that's been rotting since the day we inherited it. If there's an alternative, why not try to find it, right? But throughout this mission, joined by Brand's own daughter Amelia (another not so unintentional name) played by Anne Hathaway, Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi) and their two robot comrades, it is often reiterated that while they are supposedly fighting to save the people of earth from perishing on a destructible planet, using tried and true scientific calculations, the only one fact they continue to fall back on is that only love is transferable. You can't save the human race without possibly sacrificing it first. But if so much time is spent traveling to far away galaxies through wormholes in which time is a fraction of what it is on earth, where does the love go once the realization that your loved ones may no longer be there to witness your great discoveries? Nowhere.

Meanwhile, back on earth Nolan struggles to make sense of the world back home -- the dust storms, the crop depletion, sickness. But whatever he is trying to say with that (it seems to run afoul at times), he is at his best with the connection he creates between Cooper and a now adult Murphy (Jessica Chastain in an astonishingly tender performance). At one point in the film Cooper and the rest of the crew can only receive messages from back on earth and not actually send any. So, we often see Cooper watching these video messages of his family growing up. While Tom (played as an adult by Casey Affleck -- in a truly thankless role), the constant farmer, keeps regular contact with his dad (however one-sided), Murphy barely signs on. Instead, she chooses to keep the love between she and her father alive through her own fight to finish the scientific journey her father started back at home. Together, the two come to a rather neat non-conclusion conclusion that will satisfy even the biggest skeptic.

While INTERSTELLAR is by no means a perfectly executed excursion (some of its theories and counter-theories beyond the idea of love collide almost to a point of exhaustion, using clips from Ken Burns's documentary never quite works, and Matt Damon plays a character that ends up being merely obligatory for added drama), there is something about its romantic ideals that make the film quite stellar in many areas. It's endearing when you least expect it to be. Of course, Hoyte van Hoytema's lush cinematography and the marvelous acting from the cast boosts the experience of watching this all unfold.

Rating: B- (*** out of *****)

INTERSTELLAR is in theaters and IMAX Friday November 7th.


Daniel said...

Excellent review of a solid film. Not the ground breaker I was hoping for but still solid.

Emmanuel Lopez - Motivatorman said...

I like what you wrote "one of the most anti sci-fi sci-fi films"! I just saw Interstellar for 2nd time! Must see on the big screen.

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