Sunday, November 23, 2014

Not Really Off-Topic: A Review of the film INTERSTELLAR

So on Friday I went and saw the film INTERSTELLAR. It is Christopher Nolan's attempt to make a hyper-realistic science fiction film that yet still rises to the level of true myth-making. Nolan is one of my favorite directors, and I've been impressed by pretty much everything he's done. I know some who are big detractors of DARK KNIGHT RISES but I think despite its flaws it is a film that works and says something substantive. I was very excited about seeing this movie, and it did not disappoint.

First of all, the aesthetics. The film was mind-blowing. The visual effects were like nothing I've ever seen, and matched all my expectations. Nolan accomplishes a realistic edge by making the film primarily about human relationships, but this can make for some slow moving parts and detract from the film being a true cinematic experience. He avoids this problem by representing in the starkest way possible the grandeur of the universe.

The film is about a dystopian future where the world is assaulted by this terrible disease which is exterminating all plant life and leaving the world with no oxygen or food. A small group of explorers exploits a newly discovered wormhole to look for new habitable worlds beyond our solar system. The visuals exploit the complexity of space travel, the beauty of the cosmos, and the possibilities of strange, alien worlds to make the film captivating even as the storyline itself drags sometimes. The end result is a film that is truly about people while still being able to give us a true film in the purest sense of that term.

Thematically, the film is everywhere I want to be. As these people explore their relationships with their families, and with one another, they are placed within this cosmic context of mystery and opportunity. The whole film has this strong feel of an encounter with Something Great, and in the end Nolan explores the possibility that the universe is not, ultimately, indifferent to humanity. While this is couched in as humanistic terms as possible, Nolan does not shy away from the mystical, as one theme in the film is the true nature and power of human love, which may or may not correspond to some cosmic force behind the universe. The film makes a definitive answer to the question 'is the universe a friendly place'. I'll not ruin it by telling you which way it goes.

On some levels, this film reminded me of TREE OF LIFE, though I still think that film is in some ways superior. It attempts to place the drama of everyday human life in a cosmic context, using relationship as a revelatory experience. You get the sense that you are seeing things happen from an almost god's eye view of things, even as the details have a strict sense of realism, at least up to a point.

Mathew McCounaughey is the lead actor in the film, and while I know he won best actor last year, I can't help but think it is time for a rare two-peat. He is fantastic in the film as are the actors who play his character's daughter Murphy (both the child and the adult are unbelievable). It is the relationship between the father and daughter which defines the film and sets the focus for the discussion of the larger questions.

The other actors do a really good job, but many are out-shined when they are in the same seen with McCounaughey (the exceptions being John Lithgow and the actresses who play his daughter over time). Anne Hathaway does a mostly good job, except when she is giving the speech about the nature of love. She says these incredible words that form the basis for the film's ultimately meaning but she delivers them in such a flat, unengaging way. I wonder if she was directed to do this, as in the end her speech at the time falls on deaf ears. Maybe it is a storytelling device, having her speech fall so flat. But in the end it reflected badly upon the actress.

There were also some problems with some characters'  motivations. There is one true antagonist in the film, and some of what he does makes no sense, at all. This character kind of pulled you out of the illusion of hyper-realism and ruins some of the overall effect, I think.

But these are small concerns in an overall excellent film. I loved the message, I loved the way it wrestled with grand questions, and I loved the visual and storytelling effect, overall. It was a true cinematic experience. It must be noted that the whole thing was a giant homage to 2001 and 2010 and was practically a remake of those films together. In my humble opinion, and most people would think I'm speaking blasphemy here, I think it exceeded those films.

One last side note, there is one very exotic scene that involved McCounaughey, the aliens and the robot that seemed very familiar to me. The 'library scene' (only those who have seen the film will know what I'm talking about) was very similar to an experience I had the first time meditated in a Lucid Dream. It caused me to have flashbacks to that experience. It was strange how similar they were.

Well, that's all I got for now.

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