Interstellar

At long last, the day had come. After years of anticipation, one of my favorite directors was releasing the science fiction epic, Interstellar. While Batman is one of my favorite characters/properties ever created, I’ve become much more excited to see what Christopher Nolan chooses to do when he’s not making a giant franchise film. Inception remains one of my favorite films of all time; and while I’ve known about Interstellar for some time, I’ve been on high-alert of the past year, avoiding the last two trailers, any TV spots, and nearly every tweet I could. I wanted to go in this movies with as few expectations as possible. I wanted to take it all in, surprises and all. 

Warning: The following is a spoiler-filled post about Interstellar. If you haven’t seen it yet, make it happen.

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I’m still processing.

I was successful in going in with little expectation. I’d forgotten or avoided the understanding that most of the actors other than Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, or Michael Caine were in the movie. I had no idea what Hans Zimmer’s score sounded like. I had only seen glances of the space travel and planets from another galaxy. I took it all in, but I’m still processing.

You see, I believe it will take time and multiple viewings to appreciate, or at least to come to a conclusion about Interstellar. I’m still growing in appreciation and understanding of films like 2001 and Blade Runner. These films had a strong influence on Nolan, and have also proven that they cannot be judged fairly hours after an initial viewing. I can see why people loved this movie, and I think can see what people didn’t care for. 

While the link bait and fanboy comments will lead you believe that Interstellar is a movie you either love or hate, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I imagine it may take a while to determine exactly where. I think the overall story, visuals, sounds, and ideas are excellent and highly entertaining. That said, as much as I wanted to leave this movie, it didn’t affect me the way that others have described it. Maybe I’ve seen a few too many movies, and anticipated a few too many plot twists (it was hard for me not to think that Cooper would become his daughters ghost). Maybe I was distracted and just couldn’t connect emotionally at a level that would lead me to be more forgiving. I just have some nagging critical thoughts that continue to bother me. 

Believe me, dear reader, I do not enjoy picking apart this movie. I think it’s gotten too much criticism already. I think moviegoers already hold Nolan to a higher standard than most. Even his worst offers are some of the best mainstream blockbusters of their year. Additionally, those focused on the science seems to be missing the forest from the trees. Interstellar contains such great ideas and concepts, and arguably should receive a bit more credit for having to take a few shortcuts for the sake of keeping the movie interesting. 

Before I got any further, please be aware that I like Interstellar, I just don’t know how much. This movie needs time to breath before assigning it a score or a rank in Nolan’s filmography. 

So now that that’s out of the way, lets cover a few aspects about the movie.

 

The sound mix

The sound mix may be the largest contributor to my need to see this movie again. I appreciate many of the sound choices made in Interstellar. Space seemed appropriately silent. Hans Zimmer’s score provided good support. However, I can’t fully appreciate everything because the sound seemed to be too loud in my theater. Word had spread about sound mix issues, particularly in IMAX showings, and I believe we had one of those issues. There we many times were the sound was too loud to hear certain dialog, or even hear the score. Hopefully, this changes in later viewings.

Due to sound issues, I found my self second-guessing some of my own opinions. Why does Cooper (McConaughey) not ask about BOTH of his kids when he is discovered. How does that tesseract work again? Was Anne Hathaway’s speech on love as incomprehensible as I remember?

I’m particularly curious to hear the sound mix on the Blu-Ray release. I would be a shame if one of 2014’s best movies to see int he theaters was hampered by a sound issues that didn’t match the director’s intention. I’ll expect the Blu-Ray to have the definitive version, and will judge then. Perhaps this is a side effect of releasing Interstellar in so many formats (film, digital, multiple IMAX variations). Then again, this isn’t the first time Christopher Nolan has received this type of criticism. There was that time Bane’s voice had to be changed from the initial previews because audiences couldn’t understanding. 

Edit: Christopher Nolan has since responded to the sound complaints, claiming that everything is intentional. I'm stiff baffled that what I heard was as intended. Even if it was mixed in a way that downplayed the dialog, it still seemed overly loud. 

 

What about Tom?

I’m truly puzzled by the treatment of Cooper’s son, Tom. I likely missed a point of dialog or two, but he feels like a loose thread that I’m not meant to pull. Much of the story focus on the relationship between Cooper and Murph. When Cooper leaves, Tom is 15. He’s entrusted to take over the farm. He doesn’t object. He likes farming, and we seems ready to grow up a bit. He seems to be in a good place, but we haven’t seen Cooper spend much time with him. Tom accepts his fathers decision, and carries the torch while he is away. However, his faith eventually fades, and he “gives up” his father over the two decades Cooper spends on the water planet. As an adult, we see what has become of Tom. He’s obstinant and bitter. In the end, I have two nagging questions that I can’t shake. 

The first question, the one I am meant to forget, is what happened after Murph discovered the morse code in the watch? Tom should be furious, yet an expected violent confrontation never comes. Did his family stay in the home, or leave it? This isn’t important to the plot, and I can let it slide. I’m just curious about the fate of the older son.

My second question has a much bigger implication. When Cooper awoke in Cooper station, did he even ask about Tom? For me, this shapes my perception of the entire story. For this entire journey, we’ve focused on the relationship between a father and his daughter.  I can forgive the little interaction we see between Cooper and his daughter, we don’t need to dwell on their reunion. What I cannot understand is a father having no interest in both of his children. Considering Murph’s age and the health of Tom’s family, he has likely past away by this point. But how do we know that? How does Cooper know that? This colors my interpretation of all of Cooper’s choices, from his reason for leaving, to his decision to return home. 

 

Motivation

Matt Damon’s character, Dr. Mann, was an interesting addition to the movie. I think most viewers were surprised to see him. I believe his reputation as a rather likable fellow caused most members of the audience to ignore any signs that he could turn bad. It was a smart casting choice. 

Perhaps more interesting than Damon’s presence are the questions his character raises. He shines a light on the motivations of our characters, and is obsessed with survival. We see what used to be perceived as altruistic mission change into a cover story. Professor Brand (Michael Caine) believed that nobody would accept the mission if they knew they would’t be able to save their families. That may be right, but its a tough concept to agree to. His daughter (Anne Hathaway) is secretly motivated to visit the man she loves on the third planet. Cooper has mixed motivations, saying he is trying to save the world, or his kids, but this mission is also allowing him to live his dream of being a pilot and explorer. Matt Damon’s character ultimately gives us a pessimistic view of selfless motivation, as the lone scientist. “The best of us”, ultimately jeopardizes the fate of the human race in order to save himself from death in isolation. Murph may be the only major character who primarily motivated to help others (although she is also trying to unravel the mystery of her father's disappearance). 

 

Closing

Perhaps the issue with Interstellar is expectations. With Christopher Nolan at the helm, I expect to be able to dig into the characters and the story. Unfortunately, issues seem to appear as you pick at it. I don’t want to pick away at this film, but I have trouble otherwise determining how I feel about it. 

The scale of Interstellar is massive. We watch the fate of humanity over the course of generations. While this movie does’t contain a single jump cut that moves us ahead as quickly as 2001; it contains a number of comparatively smaller cuts that take us across galaxies and decades. While we have adequate time to get to know a number of characters, its not always easy to feel the connection.  Then again, we aren’t asked to care much about charters other than Cooper or Murph.

I love many things about this movie. I was wowed by the visuals of space, the ideas and the science behind story elements (such as the passage of time), and moments of excitement (that docking scene!). For all of the criticism and nit-picking pieces written about this movie, let’s remember they exist because people are curious and want to read movie about it. This is a big sci-fi movie that can be talked about for a long-time. 

There was so much to love, but when I walked out of the theater, I felt conflicted and unsure. Was the sound mix bad in my theater, or was it just bad? Is Cooper really that good of a father? Will the story, dialog, and details wear thin upon further viewing? Many elements of this movie made me think, I just get varied results.

 

PSA: Like Inception. One of the later trailers for Interstellar features some great music that isn’t part of the final score. I’ll be spending more time with Zimmer’s score, but feel free to check out Final Frontier from Thomas Bergersen. I know I spent some time trying to find Time Heist, when it wasn’t a part of the Inception score.