Thursday, November 13, 2014

Further Thoughts on Interstellar



Now to the SPOILERS:

I suppose I could approach Interstellar from a number of directions but the thing that stuck with me checking in on the reactions to the story is how incomprehensible the negative reviews of this movie are. The one that +Ludovic CELLE  shared with me from over at i09 really crystallizes the problem for me. Interstellar is not just being held to a different standard, it’s being held to a ridiculously unfair standard. 



Basically, the article by Annalee Newitz boils down the criticism of Interstellar to one of using "new-age platitudes" like the universality of love to muck up hard science fiction. I think this reaction stems from one of the weaker conversations depicted in the movie, the one where Brandt (Ann Hathaway at her most à les miserables) emotes all over the screen about the power of love to inform decision making. I do think this is a troubling moment in the movie, not so much for the sentiment it shares, as who does the sharing. Of course the female astronaut would be the one that allows emotions to cloud her normally analytic reasoning, one that the male characters are able to overcome through an healthy application of man-logic. I like to think that Nolan was savvy enough to realize this in suggesting that Hathaway’s position is ultimately the more or less correct one. However, the dialogue is clumsy and warrants a certain amount of derision.

Fine.

But that’s not where the i09 article winds up. Instead, the article conflates Brandt’s speech with the final scenes of Cooper entering the Tesseract. The movie, to the best of my memory, never says that it is love that powers the Tesseract or that allows him to transcend time and space. Rather, the movie posits that love comes from meaningful connections between people and that within the infinite continuum of fifth dimensional space, it would be that connection that allows a being to find a specific time and place. This doesn’t exactly privilege love over another emotion. I suppose that fear could have also allowed Cooper’s character to sift through the Tesseract to find a specific moment and place. But to fit the larger themes of the story, the Nolan brothers seized upon love. Within the fiction of this movie, this choice doesn’t seem arbitrary or even particularly sentimental. It seems human. 

I actually rather enjoy a strain of recent movies that contrasts the cold, merciless facts of the unfeeling universe with the fragile hope that comes from being a single, confused human being doing the best with what is given.

I thought Gravity did this very well, and I think something similar happens in Interstellar. Let’s face reality, folks. Interstellar is a massively expensive cinematic endeavor that needs, at some point, to make money for its backers. A cold, completely objective look at space exploration may be a movie I’d like to watch, but I suspect I’m a minority of opinion in that regard. A big movie needs big emotions to sell tickets. And honestly, there are worse ways to go about this.

Take Sunshine for one example. Up until Gravity, this was the one example of hard sci fi in recent cinema. And if you haven’t seen it, it is well worth a watch. It also brings a certain stark realism to space travel, dramatizing the struggle of fragile life in a vast, indifferent universe. The movie also has its moment of beauty and Newtonian physics; the terrifying ballet of transferring between two spaceships under a hellish solar inferno is worth watching on its own. Then we get to the last act and all of the careful world-building and speculation of the first two thirds of the movie go out the window.  We're left watching one long gruesome chase scene, and some preposterous special effects.

My point here is not that Sunshine is a terrible movie for including that element. When you make a film for a wide audience you have to give people something to feel as well as think. To its credit, Interstellar goes for an internally consistent emotional approach. This is a movie about the conflict a father feels between caring for his family versus doing the right thing as a member of the human race. You might not like that particular theme but at least credit Nolan for finding a way to bring emotional resonance to very science-heavy story.

Finally, I’m going to dust off my heart, pin it to my sleeve, and ask: what’s so wrong with love anyway? Love does, to my limited perspective, pervade most aspects of life in one form or another. It brings people together, provides meaning, and allows for continued existence. It also creates conflict, pries people apart, and impairs decision-making. That seems like a fairly complicated and potent force.


Perhaps Nolan could have handled this topic more deftly but to denigrate this one emotion as somehow ‘new-age’ seems a rather blinkered view of the world.

Update: Finally fixed the annoying font style problem. (1/2/14)



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