“One day, tens of millions of years from now, someone will find me rusted into the mud of a world they have never seen, and when they crumble me between their fingers, it will be you they find.” from The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson.
Interstellar was an amazing movie — there is really no way else to underscore how beautifully filmed, how compellingly acted, how hauntingly scored and how movingly scripted it was.
To set a bit of context, an immediate comparison would be with Christopher Nolan’s other original screenplay, Inception. Both were films that explored new worlds — Inception plumbed into the depths of the human mind, while Interstellar reached into outer space. Both had a strong emotional core founded on familial love. On the other hand, I found Inception to be the more original movie with the more inventive concept of traversing the human mind. It was also a snappier movie, structured and paced similarly to the Ocean’s Eleven series. Interstellar started slower, was more lovingly paced, and in many ways was both a bigger and smaller movie compared to Inception.
[Possible Spoiler Alert]
Acting. The outstanding strength of Interstellar to me, was how compelling the acting was — one of the best works by Matthew McConaughey who has already been delivering stellar performances in recent works such as ‘Mud’ and ‘Dallas Buyers’ Club’ (the latter won him an Academy award). I was completely drawn in by his acting, and basically laughed when he did, cried when he did, and felt each nuance of his emotions when he did. One particular scene after an action sequence really caught me and had me literally sobbing in my seat. The rest of the cast delivered strong performances as well, with Jessica Chastain deserving a special mention for bringing a lot of emotional complexity into her character with limited screen time. That said, I think the acting were stymied in some cases for the want of stronger characterization and a deeper plot.
Characterization. For me, it was no wonder that McConaughey and Chastain gave the best performances, because their characters were also better fleshed out and we are given a fuller and more nuanced glimpse of their relationship at the beginning of the movie. I also felt that the treatment of the rest of the Cooper family was sufficient for us to understand the family dynamics. What was a pity to me though, was how Matt Damon and Michael Caine’s characters were not sufficiently developed in the limited screen time given to them. Both their characters had motivations which were tied to bigger themes that Nolan probably tried to explore — but because the treatment felt superficial and rushed, the exploration of the themes felt cursory and the actions of both characters (and the big reveals associated with them), felt more like plot devices to move the story along rather than to add real depth to the movie.
Plot. To begin, I must say that I found Interstellar to be a very engaging and enjoyable movie. The pace felt right to me — some may find the initial set-up to be a bit drawn out, but I thought the time devoted to characterizing the main characters and establishing the family dynamics was important. Accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s score, the plot drew the right emotions at the right point — grief, joy, regret, determination, redemption. But I mentioned earlier that the plot was less original than Inception, and that is mainly because some of the key plot points underpinning the story were concepts that any science fiction fan would be familiar with. That said, there is still something to be said for how Nolan weaved the different parts of the plot together to still retain sufficient originality in the movie. Ultimately, I enjoyed the movie, and never found myself bored nor incredulous and that makes it a great movie for me.
Themes. Interstellar is a big movie, as one would expect for any movie that involves traversing space and time. But at the heart of it, it is about very small things. Hope. Love. Family. It was these intimate themes that were best explored, supported by the strong performances of the cast. However, Nolan was also ambitious about bringing in larger themes, of survival, of false hope and illusions, and I found these themes to have fallen somewhat flat, and felt almost artificial where introduced and discussed. It was probably for the lack of screen time, since Interstellar already ran long at three hours, so perhaps Nolan could have done away with these.
Cinematography. As we have come to expect from Christopher Nolan, the cinematography was breathtaking. There’s been a number of movies exploring other worlds, whether they are dystopian futures on Earth, or somewhere within space in recent years (Prometheus, Elysium, Oblivion among others) so the bar is set high on how these worlds can be imagined and brought to life on screen. I found Nolan’s treatment of the space travel, the different planets, and the last bit to be both plausible and authentic, yet visually awe-inspiring. It was a beautiful film that really was a pleasure to watch.
[Definite Spoiler Alert]
Of course, here I am being an armchair critic but there are two things I would have liked to see in the film.
- The relationship between Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway. The father and daughter pair in the film were definitely close, and Hathaway did follow in her father’s footsteps. But Caine also chose to lie about a very important thing to Hathaway and it was not apparently or immediately understandable why. There was limited screen time, to be fair, but I also felt that greater care could have been given to the times when both did appear onscreen together and interacted to give a fuller picture of what their relationship was like. McConaughey’s first interactions with the NASA team was probably the best opportunity to flesh out Caine and Hathaway’s characters and relationships (also of Damon’s) more.
- Matt Damon’s character. He was lauded as the best of us (us humans, that is) but while this was often repeated, it was a lot of “telling” and no real showing. Later on when his character “fell”, it was not clear how that happened and in turn, the accompanying theme on human survival instincts felt superficial and abrupt. Again, some subtle clues and facts could have been weaved in when the NASA team was first introduced to make Damon’s character more authentic.
Just as a closing thought, apart from the typical review above, the film really resonated with me. One of the first things that struck me was how it reminded me of Jeanette Winterson’s ‘The Stone Gods’, still one of my favorite books. The actual themes were quite different, but both used the exploration of vastness, of different worlds, to unravel the intricacies of very intimate feelings.
But more than that, I am a parent now and McConaughey’s drive to protect and save his family, his simultaneous reluctance to leave coupled with his desire to be his authentic self, and his eventual yearning to return to them, these were feelings I could identify with. I was brought to tears at so many points in the movie because those moments struck deep chords.
And most most most of all, I left with such a profound sense of passion and purpose. I can hardly call myself a writer, but I write, and this is what we — filmmakers, poets, authors, musicians, artists — do. We imagine, and bring to life the worlds were only in our minds. We feel, and make these feelings real and tangible through our words and colours and sounds and pictures. Each work is a creation of an experience transcending the mundane, into terrains of rough, difficult beauty. This is what I want to never stop doing.
I never want to strop writing.