Sunday, November 16, 2014


Stage 1: Backlash

Christopher Nolan is back with his ninth film, his greatest creation yet. A film that explores the ideas of time, gravity, relativity, and mankind's exploration into the unknown. It is not only Nolan's most ambitious effort, but in many ways, his most personal. With any film of ambition, critics, reviewers, and bloggers will normally be split into two camps. With degrees of other reviewers being either slightly toward the hate or slightly toward the love. So let me preface this with saying not only do I endorse the film as Nolan's masterpiece, I think it is one of the best films of this decade.

The Dark Knight, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises all have a singular thing in common as far as reviews go: They led people to fight about the director on their blogs. Anticipation, hype and speculation all contribute to expectations toward a film. Why is Heath Ledger being cast as The Joker? Will Dark Knight Rises be better than Dark Knight? Was the Ellen Page character necessary and if so why was she a fountain of exposition? How did I get here? This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife. And so on.

This brings us to Interstellar. Reading over all the reviews has been maddeningly frustrating. So here is what I gathered from the criticisms:

-You have the plot hole people. Most of which have all been refuted by either Nolan, physicist Kip Thorne, Neil DeGrasse Tyson or people who actually paid attention to the film.  Plot holes have been something critics use in just about every film dealing with science fiction. It's nothing new and it has gotten to the point where it borders down to lazy writing.

Imagination does not require a film to be abstract. All of science fiction is not like 2001. Nor do I want it to be. 2001 is 2001. It's genuinely frustrating that a scifi film, or any genre film for that matter cannot tackle ambitious concepts without being labeled as either "Too easy to follow" or "too complicated and abstract." Genre films are malleable to the ideas you present in them. If you have a filmmaker as smart as Nolan- who never once said "I am making Interstellar to be super smart"- working on a genre film like science fiction, then you get something interesting.

- "It's a flawed masterpiece"

The definition of a masterpiece is someone's greatest piece of work. So to have someone call this a flawed masterpiece is extremely contradictory. It's a term commonly thrown around that makes me scratch my head. Another word for it is magnum opus which is Latin for "great work" which refers to the most renowned achievement by an artist. This term in particular can be applicable with Nolan's later work because it is being done a large scale. What you are positing in saying a masterpiece is flawed is that there are obviously things wrong with it. You can't have your cake and eat it too. 

-"It was surpassed by Big Hero 6 at the box office so it obviously can't be that good."

Box office gross should not determine the quality of any film. If that were the case, Shrek 2 would be considered one of the greatest films of all time. The numbers game of how much did Movie X gross on opening day has been the media's way of sabotaging Hollywood. So it clearly should not be a factor into talking about the actual movie rather than a bunch of numbers. 

-The potshots at sentimentality. "It used too much emotion." 

Yes, sentimentality can sometimes hurt a movie. The Kick the Can segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie is a shining example. That doesn't eliminate it  from being applied to the template of a genre film. Especially when it works so well here. We live in age where shitting on a movie is looked as being much hipper than actually going out to see that movie. Maybe it comes from a certain age group in reviewers. But what I do know is that movies, at their best,  can be cathartic experiences for people dealing with their own personal struggles. Maybe there was a scene or a character they connected with. So to automatically chastise the movie for its sentimentality, is a big knee jerk reaction and feeds into the cynical, tragically hip mindset.

If it's being too sentimental, it also overstayed its welcome. Complaints of length or saying Nolan's reach exceeded his grasp could be lumped in with those that would label something pretentious.
Imagine people damning The Big Lebowski for being too funny. Or The Elephant Man for being too sad. People love a sure thing. They need to know what a film is trying to say. "It would be good if Nolan only focused on one thing." Reviews have gone so far to say that fans of the movie are not honest if they don't say they are conflicted. When you have people writing those things in a review, it's a sign to tune out to what the rest of the reviewer has to say. You don't insult the audience you want to read your review.

-Then there's the people like Andrew O'Hehihr at Salon who never really puts anything subjective into his review. He just finds it cool to make fun of the movie while never giving something to chew on.

I've read several of the Interstellar pieces on Salon and on other sites. They all seem to have one thing in common: some sort of vendetta against Nolan. Going so far as to asking why wasn't there more sound when the wheels on the bottom of TARS scraped the surface. You know, last-ditch-effort things a reviewer makes up in order to fill a word count that his editor gave him for the article.

Reviewers who just poke fun at something without pointing out what they particularly don't like about come off as people who think they are smarter than the film and/or the filmmaker. Nothing quite reeks of arrogance like someone who takes a shit on a movie in which years of hard work was put into. So throw that one out.

Two of my favorite movies, 2001 and Magnolia, received mixed reviews at the time of their release. The similarity between those two movies and Interstellar is that all three tackle bold and ambitious themes and story. They go for the fences where so many movies these days don't even attempt at trying. Nolan is constantly targeted because he is an ambitious director. And he doesn't cheapen the experience by saying that his film Interstellar is going to be an intellectual labyrinth that only the highest of intelligence will understand. He wanted to take the audience to a place they haven't been before and use scientific thinking in doing so.

Anytime you do something weird or surreal you will get compared to Lynch. Likewise, anytime you do something ambitious, Kubrick is thrown around. Therefore, expectations that an ambitious work has to be as good as a Kubrick work start seeping in. Take the films for what they are. Not what you want them to be.

STAGE 2: In order to know where you are going, you have to know where you came from 

Interstellar, like Contact in the 90s, and The Right Stuff in the 80s, relishes in the ideas of space exploration. What is out there? Nolan cites in several interviews going into the release and after its release, just how big an influence The Right Stuff had on Interstellar's first act. For the tone or look of the film, Nolan usually screens a film for his crew to tell them that's the kind of feel he wants to achieve. For Batman Begins, he screened Blade Runner for the crew. For The Dark Knight, he screened Heat. For Interstellar, he screened The Right Stuff. Matthew McCoughnahey's character of Cooper even feels like an estranged son of Chuck Yeager. It goes to show that mankind's greatest endeavors is great material for rich, human storytelling.

The passage of time is another theme that colors many of my favorite films. Which was the main plot of Boyhood and something that film pulled off magnificently. In an interview, Nolan mentioned that the main antagonist of the film is time. Addressing it from a story standpoint rather than a subject. The subjectivity and fungeibility of time is nothing new to Nolan. Memento's Leonard Shelby and the dream extraction team from Inception can tell you this. Here, he masters the use of it. My heart rose into my throat from being hit with wave after wave of emotion in a handful of scenes where time is a central idea.

In intertwining these two major themes, Nolan has crafted a film that has hit me on a personal level. You know those films where you think they were written for you? The ones where you feel alone in the audience and your ass lifts out the chair the moment the score comes in? This is one of those movies. 


The technical gravitas Nolan has here doesn't just extent towards the vastness of space. We see it at an elemental level: earth, air, water. All of this is used within the narrative to achieve a type of grandness. A strong proponent of 35mm film stock, Nolan uses the format along with IMAX and 70mm to allow the viewer to see  his uncompromising vision unfold. Cinematographer Hoyte Von Hoytema's talents extend to the natural lighting of the exteriors of a house to the vastness of space to the look of the planets that are visited. The camera mounts on the space suits prove that the IMAX camera, big as it is, can be used like a handheld camera. The presentation is something to behold.

Hans Zimmer's score conjures up the magic of Philip Glass, a man who has written minimalist scores for movies (the Qatsi trilogy) that explore the syncopation of time and place. Zimmer adds lush orchestration around this that compliments the scenes wonderfully. It's a score that will be on repeat in my car for days.

The acting of the film is excellent across the board. Matthew McCoughnahey gives a performance that ranks with Rust Cohle and Killer Joe Cooper. Anne Hathaway continues to show versatility by playing a character whose arc allows another human component to the proceedings through a speech regarding love. Jessica Chastain gives some of her emotionally strongest work here and realistically makes the growth of Murph her own character. 

The realism of the film is something that stands out. In employing an astronaut on the set as well as having physicist Kip Thorne as a consultant, Nolan creates a scientifically accurate universe and allows us to believe in its realism and plausibility. Eschewing computer generated graphics, Nolan uses real sets that makes the audience feel like they are there. 

This is a film that will sustain the test of time. My honesty level is at 100% when I say this is a film that has moved me to tears. It has moved me tremendously in basking in the idea of man as pioneers and explorers who seek answers to questions that have existed for hundreds of years. Its films like Interstellar that allow us to look at our place in the universe from a very emotional, heartbreakingly human standpoint.

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