Interstellar ★★★★

Hey Letterboxd!

Long time no see. Hope you didn't miss me too much, but I had been spending the last few months studying for the LSAT. Now that it's over with, it's time for me to catch up on the countless films I've watched in the meantime. Glad to be back!

Doubtlessly apparent in every Christopher Nolan flick is the full embrace of big ideas. Like the gravitational pull of a black hole, the desire for bold thinking is so strong that it will indiscriminately remove from orbit any casualties caught in its trajectory. Venturing out into space for his first time, the 2014 film Interstellar is Nolan’s turn to follow in Kubrick’s footprints and create his own 2001: A Space Odyssey. Beginning in the vein of a PBS Frontline Documentary that uses people’s recollections as tools to craft a larger narrative, Interstellar is a grand philosophical journey of humanity taking the leap past Earth, yet the bold suggestions for human’s trajectory are difficult enough to explain; toss in concepts of gravitational spacetime and time dilation and the account becomes fuzzy, like a solar corona, so much so that the very targets of this audacious message--humankind--are themselves whittled down to not much more than two-dimensional plot movers and expendable characters. In this extraterrestrial exploration through time and space, when the camera is zoomed out so far as to capture the outer fringes of a gargantuan celestial body, the inner mechanisms of human connection feel insignificant to the nth-degree.

Much like 2001, Interstellar is divided into different acts, each one moving farther away from their terrestrial home. Unlike its predecessor, however, Nolan tries to give his vision a heart of character at the center that, much like the singularity at the center of a black hole, is impossibly bound away from its surroundings. Characters aren’t living, breathing beings in this story, rather cold mechanisms that serve a purpose in the larger system. Take McConaughey as the hero, one who has a preachy response for everything to pretty much explain all the lessons for this tale. As for his companions, these scientists exist merely for the purpose of giving explanation to the cosmos and tossing in some extra jargon for the drama. These characters enter and leave the film with the exact engineering precision of the opening doors in the NASA conference room and are seemingly more expendable than disposable rocket engines. For a film that claims humans need to leave Earth because they’ve evolved past it, these characters sure are primitive.

No, each leg of this journey is instead a show of inadequacy for both effortless optimism and fatalistic pessimism. It’s a call to action, one that argues that terrestrial adventure, with the wonders and beauty of the land, is not enough. Even on an Earth free of the troubles of today--where zero carbon emissions leave man desperately seeking solar panels--people are stuck in terrestrial thinking, a mindset lacking in survivability. Eventually, a problem will arise that humans cannot solve by buckling down to their homeworld; every shot of windmills is a reminder that inevitably we need to leave earth. Yet some disagree, doubling down on terrene traditions by recruiting more farmers and by going so far as to discredit any outer space solution and their faked Apollo 11 mission. Humans were never meant to leave Earth, they contend, creating a new political divide that, like our time, sparks physical violence. This future has world peace, but it is no earthly paradise.

Away from the arguments from the world below, the silence of space speaks wonders. Changing aspect ratios and editing shortcuts bring these explorers off-world, and in the vast expanse of emptiness around them, man proves all the more infinitesimal. It is only in the contrast between far away shots of space and extreme closeups of the astronauts' faces that a reminder emerges of the sheer awe from experiencing marvels exponentially greater than anything on Earth. The way Nolan captures the ship sailing past Saturn, whose magnificence in size and color supplants any absence in the continuum orbiting it, generates its own absorbed infinity, an image that seems to extend beyond time and space. It’s here that the influence of 2001 becomes most clear, wondering what exactly is there for man beyond the wormhole, how individual failure affects the fate of humankind, and the what possibilities await for man beyond time and space.

Once again, Nolan has a technical team of masters, each with storytelling capabilities of their own. Though each setting is alien to modern Earthlings, they embody familiar feelings: the cold ice planet exhales every time the warmth of the sun-drenched Earth inhales. The time-stretching inherent to straddling a black hole is not just explained but felt as dilated ticks click in a fusion of score and sound design. The music is the ripple of emotion connecting every moment, from soft father-daughter departure, to the absent-minded drifting of a station through empty space, to the danger of two spaceships twirling around each other in a dance of death hurtling toward their doom. A daring rescue attempt becomes all the more hypnotizing as the camera joins the frame of reference of the pilots, spinning until both rotations are synced and suddenly appear calm. Impressive scenes on their own, but the whole edges on becoming lesser than these sums when forced into a triple climax that Nolan always insists on. At least the villain monologue quickly becomes extinguished.

A pale shadow of 2001, Interstellar is an incredible thrill ride, but overall it lacks in its full spiritualness. Its strict adherence to the Kubrick formula actually hinders it for a non-linear story that could have helped the dragging pace and better immerse itself into the elasticity of time. Unlike 2001, however, this ending has the hero continuing his never-ending adventure that never really explains the stakes and is more of a lingering notion of man’s call to adventure. One of the many inexplicables in Interstellar, this moment and others like it always become washed up in the feelings of Interstellar, its aesthetic from the Zimmer organ to the all-encompassing wide shots of the unexplored universe. More following than leading, more motivated than motivator, Interstellar directly connects to its 2001 predecessor that may not add much to the conversation but in spectacle alone is as attractive as the black hole in the center of our galaxy.