Tuesday November 18, 2014
Movie Review: Interstellar (2014)
Here, in no order of importance, are some of the big questions we ponder while watching Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”:
- Will our heroes find a sustainable planet in time to save the human race?
- Will Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) make it back to Earth in time to see his daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy)?
- Why is Brand (Anne Hathaway) such a bitch?
- Who’s the “they” that are leaving mysterious messages for us, as well as opening up wormholes?
- Did anyone in the audience trust Dr. Mann (Matt Damon)?
- What’s causing the dust storms that are making Earth uninhabitable in the first place?
Here are your answers: 1) Yes; 2) Yes, but she won’t be Mackenzie Foy; 3) Bad writing?; 4) Us; 5) No; 6) Global warming, one assumes, but Nolan never says.
“Interstellar” is an epic ride but a bloated disappointment. McConaughey is good but the others aren’t, particularly. I figured out way too early who the ghost was, and that Mann wasn’t trustworthy. The science and cosmology went way over my head while the plot points were way too telegraphed. I knew where the movie was going but not the reasons for our getting there.
Then that ending. “I don’t care much for this pretending we’re back where we started,” Cooper says, sitting on his porch with a beer. “I want to know where we’re going.” That’s why I think the daughter storyline was a mistake. It was the lifeline back to Earth we didn’t need. We just needed to go.
Plan A is to TOS as Plan B is to DS9
“Contact” did this, too, didn’t it? Jodie Foster traveled across the universe just to find Daddy again. Here, Cooper goes into space, through a wormhole into another galaxy, down onto several inhospitable planets, and into the heart of a black hole, only to find ... his daughter. Or himself. He’s the thing that sent him on the mission. He’s the ghost in Murphy’s bedroom. It’s like everyone in Hollywood has read too much e.e. cummings:
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
The movie opens with the Earth in a dustbowl, crops dying (there goes okra), and Major League Baseball surviving by barnstorming (I like the “World Famous” in front of “New York Yankees”). During a parent-teacher conference, Cooper finds out Murph has gotten into fights for insisting that, per her daddy’s book, not to mention her daddy, we actually did land on the moon in the 20th century; it wasn’t a hoax as the official Texas textbooks insist. (Another favorite moment. Cf., this.)
Murphy, a sensitive child, is also teased for insisting there’s a ghost in her bedroom behind the bookcase. Her father, a man of science, insists that there’s not, but encourages her to accumulate the data. Later he says this: “Once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost of your children’s future.” Immediately you pick up on “ghost.” Shortly thereafter, the other shoe drops: “If he’s the ghost as a parent, then is he the ghost in the ... Right.”
A message left in the dust in binary code leads Cooper to coordinates which turn out to be the remnants of NASA, the outfit he worked for before it all went bad. Guess what? They’ve been sending scientists into space on the sly. Its mission?To seek out new planets for new civilizations; to quietly go where no man has gone before! And now they want to send Cooper. He’s perfect for the role—the last great astronaut. Although one wonders if he was so perfect, why they didn’t seek him out on their own. He was just down the road.
That’s Plan A, by the way: seeking out new planets for new civilizations (TOS’s storyline, basically). Plan B is a space station (DS9’s storyline). Except, well, the man who’s running the whole program, Prof. Brand (Michael Caine), later admits, on his deathbed, that he lied his way through the whole thing. He doesn’t have the data to make Plan B work. And Plan A? They’re never coming back. Combine Brand with Dr. Mann, the cowardly, sweaty schemer, and scientists don’t come off looking too good in this thing, do they?
Anyway, amid many tears, many promises to return, and many version of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gently Into that Good Night,” the team—Cooper, Brand, Romilly (David Giassi), and Doyle (Wes Bentley from “American Beauty”)—go into space in a 1960s-style Apollo rocketship, dock with the spaceship Endurance, and spin their way into the wormhole on the other side of Saturn. And the grand adventure begins.
That’s the part I liked best—when I was reminded of a slower, grittier, less fantastic version of “Star Trek,” the original series, season one. That sense of going down to a planet and not know what you’d find. On this planet, time speeds up—an hour is seven years—and that mountain in the distance? That’s a wave. (Probably the coolest moment in the movie.) On that one, our great man, Dr. Mann, awaits in stasis. But is his data trustworthy? Is he? (Cue: creepy TOS music. Then cue battling TOS music.)
I probably wasn’t truly bored until Brand, female version, started talking about love love love. She’s been battling with Cooper from the get-go, she just caused the death of Doyle by moving too slowly in the face of a mountain-wave (not to mention the loss of an extra 15 years, Earth time), and with two planets left to check out, she insists on going to the one with Edmonds, who is her lover, rather than the one with Mann, the most respected of the scientists, who has sent back positive reports about his planet. “Love is not something we invented,” she says. “Love transcends dimensions of time and space.” Blah. Thankfully, she loses the argument, they go to Mann’s planet, but of course Mann (a symbolic name?) makes it all go bad.
So apparently we should follow our hearts. Or something.
To be honest, the daughter was such an unforgiving character, and Brand such an awful character, that I began to backdate Nolan movies. Does he have a problem with women? Are his female characters either haunting presences forever out of reach (“Memento,” “Inception”), or are they in-your-face and in love with someone else (Rachel Dawes)? Here, Murphy is the ghostly, disappointed presence, Brand the shrill one.
And what was the point of all that drama back in Texas? The fight between Murphy and her older brother (Casey Affleck)? That plot leads nowhere.
The movie begins to spin out of control about the time the Endurance does—into a black hole—and Cooper winds up floating in some vague physical representation of time, on the other side of his daughter’s bookcase, trying to get his message across. After that, he wakes up in Cooper Station, revolving around the late, great planet Earth. Plan B has worked, thanks to the data he sent his daughter via wristwatch, and outside the hospital they’re playing baseball again. He sees his daughter on her deathbed (cameo: Ellen Burstyn), and sees his home as museum piece. Then he has his moment with the beer on the porch. So off he goes to find Brand. But hopefully not to set up a sequel.
I had hopes for this one, but too bad. The lesson, one last time, Hollywood:
For wherever we go (into the blackness of space)
Let’s find something more than our own stupid face