Interstellar: A Space Mediocrity
Christopher Nolan writes like a ten year old. His imagination is boundless, and his movies are paced out at a near-manic rate and a kind of ‘and then, and then, and then’ rhythm. But, also like a ten year old, Nolan feels the uninhibited need to explain every single aspect of the world and story he’s crafted in his head. This is something all his films suffer from to varying degrees. And once you notice Nolan’s regular tendency to stop his films to explain whatever’s going on to his viewer, it becomes a lot more difficult to appreciate his work. It feels almost as though he’d prefer it if he could play the role of that one high school teacher everyone had who would pause the DVD three times a lesson to explain what’s going on to the class.
The bottom line is that Nolan doesn’t trust his audience. And it’s a shame, because he's making what should be great films. He could be the genre-action filmmaker of this generation, if he’d just let the audience work his films out for themselves.
I think the reason Interstellar is so glaringly obvious in its expository sins compared to, say, Inception, is that it’s clearly trying to be something it isn’t. It’s trying to be a modern successor to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The goal is overt, and that would be okay if Nolan came close to pulling it off. But he doesn’t, and the trouble is that when you draw so heavily from a great film you make comparison inevitable.
And the fact is that 2001 was a minimalist film, and Kubrick was a master. There was little dialogue throughout Odyssey, and absolutely no verbal explanation of the final half hour. And you know what? The film did well for it. Audiences walked out mind-blown and baffled. Everyone has an opinion of Odyssey who’s seen it. Theories, ideas, their own personal suggestions for what should or shouldn’t have been cut. And Kubrick’s filmmaking inspired all that chatter because he left so much unsaid—his films earned discussion through earnest and groundbreaking filmmaking.
Conversely to this experience, anyone who emerges from Interstellar says one of two things: that they liked it, or that they didn’t. There are no theories, no conceptual arguments—there is nothing more to be found in the recesses of this film, because Nolan goes out of his way multiple times to kill any speculation we could have had. More than once, he has characters literally sit down in a circle to tell us what’s going on. But it’s not convincing to have two rocket scientists share information in the form of oversimplified oyster metaphors, or using folded paper cutouts. No one’s buying it. In fact, it’s laughable and weird.
And the film gets its weirdest when Anne Hathaway delivers a painful and out-of-place two minute monologue about how love is its own yet-to-be-observed dimension. Not only is the monologue weird, but if you read into the film it actually goes on to be in support of Hathaway’s hypothesis. So, is Interstellar a sci-fi film that at the base of it all is about how love conquers all? God, I hope not.
All this criticism is such a shame, because I really did enjoy this film. I saw it with a friend, and when I came out I was the one of us who first said I liked it. I didn’t comment on its monumental length, which I confess I didn’t notice because I was having such a good time throughout. See, I’m not afraid to call the film a good time despite all its flaws. I honestly did enjoy my time with Interstellar. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is as different as Nolan and co. promised prior to the film’s release, and the visualisations of space and time and the wholeness of the universe are stunning. The core of the action is super-cool, and the plot itself is actually pretty good. Nolan’s an excellent conceptualist, but god forbid he be allowed to write the screenplay.
See, Interstellar is stunning in many ways. The action keeps blasting along at a solid pace, and I never really found myself bored—I just found myself cringing. I found myself rolling my eyes. I found myself wanting to go into the first cast reading to encourage Anne Hathaway to demand Nolan cut her stupid monologue. But despite all this I was never bored. I never was having a bad time, though I knew throughout that for certain I was viewing Nolan’s weakest production to date.
But at the same time, it’s so technically stunning in places and manages to be so in a way that varies enough from last year’s Gravity that they can, for the most part, avoid direct comparison. With that said, both directors and their respective films do share one certain similarity: both Gravity and Interstellar lose an awful lot of credibility each and every time their characters are allowed to open their mouths.