This is going to be a tricky needle to thread. My relationship with Christopher Nolan’s movies has been had its ups and downs, but it has taught me one lesson more than anything else I can think of – The value of expectations. So let’s go back to his last work.
In the lead-up to Inception’s release, I was wildly excited. Memento is one of my favourite movies, and I had baited breath for Nolan to do another one-off mind bending thriller. I went into the theatre to watch Inception more prepared for a movie than I ever have been. I was going to carefully follow everything, make sure to note every detail. As a result, I hated it. I thought Inception was an bland caper movie with paper thin characters wrapped in the cloak of a “Wow, wouldn’t this be cool” idea, an idea that Nolan spends the first 45 minutes of the movie telling us all about – particularly how cool it is. I had paid super close attention, and knowing from Memento that timelines would be good to track, didn’t have issues following what was happening, so it didn’t really “blow my mind”, either.
Inception was a massively popular movie, almost universally loved in spite of its many problems, and I’m convinced this was entirely due to my unreasonably huge expectations walking into the movie. I am sure that most fans of Inception went in with large expectations, but I would SUSPECT that most of those came from the Batman movies, not Nolan’s more complicated plots like The Prestige, Insomnia, or Memento.
Even at the time, but especially now, I can handily admit that Inception is an incredibly crafted film. Nobody can deny this. To execute a plot of that complication is no small feat, and the film making at hand – editing, practical effects – is just second to none. But that wasn’t enough for me. And so I left Inception with an incredibly deflated opinion of the Nolan brothers as writers. In the meantime, the people who loved Inception could not wait for Nolan’s next mind-bending masterpeice. And so, when Interstellar hit theatres, I went in with mild expectations for the movie overall and large expectations from a filmmaking standpoint.
General audiences, based on the feedback the movie has received, had much grander expectations. Reading reviews of Interstellar feels very familiar to me, as I feel that I have been here before. But I have already had the spectre of what I thought a Christopher Nolan movie should be clash with the reality of it, while I think this is that experience for others. Lucky for me, since I was blown away by this film.
When I saw Gravity in IMAX, I thought it was about the best theatre experience I’d ever have. Interstellar outpaces it by some margin. The film-making in this is just sublime. The practical effects (TARS and CASE weren’t CGI, you guys) are astounding. Space looks incredibly beautiful. The bending of light, the black hole effects, all amazing.
Hans Zimmer defies his usual criticism yet again, and produced an essentially unique soundtrack once more. What’s the over under on films in 2015 that will feature soundtracks loaded with Organs? Doesn’t matter, I’ll take the over. Zimmer did a great job with this OST. It’s incredible. There may be some truth to the sound-mixing controversy, but the point was to overwhelm you, and boy was I overwhelmed. Musically, it is fantastic, but to use SOUND as an emotional tool in this manner requires volume.
Most surprising for me, however, were the sometimes masterful pull-at-your-hearstrings types of moments. I’m not an emotional movie watcher by an stretch, but the countdown sequence is just fucking incredible, and brought me closer to tears than anything has in years. Nobody has talked about it, but Casey Affleck does this fucking incredible job with a subtle subplot of his own (about the only subtle thing in the movie, mind you).
Most of the cast does a great job too. As much as you might want to dislike McConaughey, he nails it. And as Red Letter Media said, there’s a short list of actors who can pull off the line about Love being the only thing that transcends space and time and Anne Hathaway is on that list.
The movie’s two worlds are also both masterfully crafted. A lot of thought went into making the Spaceships feel authentic (cameras mounted on the craft itself is how we experience NASA flights), and it pays off in spades. The surprise, for me, was the incredible dust bowl Americana back on earth. It leaves you with a lot of questions about how all of this went down, and why there are no cars built after 2014, but you quickly forget all of that. It’s fantastic.
Now, to get into where the movie fails.
HERE BE SPOILERS.
A lot of the dialogue produced by the Nolan brothers is just, you know, awful. “You literally raised me from the dead” “…Lazarus.” It fell just short of Nolan walking on screen with a whiteboard to explain what was happening on a thematic level.
Poetry isn’t poetic on its own, repeating the same line of poetry about 5 times is just obnoxious. Micheal Caine plays the exact same character he did in Inception, and serves basically only to provide exposition. A lot of the TARS-Cooper dialogue within the singularity is not great either.
They really just skim over some stuff. For example, when Murphy figures out the morse code with the watch and she runs out, Foreman and Casey Affleck are standing there, presumably about to fight to the death, and she runs over and hugs her brother and says “It’s the watch! Our dad saved us all!” and then we smash cut to her at a seperate location? No, I’m sorry, Foreman was holding a tire iron ready to take Casey’s family from him. That tension was built, very deliberately and very effectively for most of the third act. You can’t just jump cut away from it. Give us Casey breaking down and falling to his knees or something!
I’m not going to dive into some of the logical problems because, as Nolan himself said, he is held to a much higher – and I think unreasonable – standard with this sort of stuff. They’re there, but I don’t mind. It’s a space travel movie (always fraught with logical errors) involving betrayal (definitely always leaves “why didn’t character X do action Y?” question) and black holes (Yeah…).
But having said all of that, I thought a lot of this worked perfectly. This is a beautiful, exhilarating thriller that, perhaps ham-handedly, touches on some deeper themes. It demands to be seen in IMAX, so spend the $20 and go while you have the opportunity. You will enjoy the visual and aural experience and get some bonus quality stuff as well.