Jump to content
Nick Olson

Interstellar (2014)

Recommended Posts

LARB: Books in Space

 

Interstellar is bookish to a fault. More than one critic has railed against its wooden, at times excruciating dialogue (lines such as the by now notorious “Love is the one thing that transcends dimensions of time and space,” spoken by Anne Hathaway playing Amelia Brand, daughter of Professor Brand; or “Pray you never learn just how good it can be to see another face,” spoken by Dr. Mann when he is roused from his deep sleep on the forbidding planet where he has been stranded). That is one form of bookishness: the characters here are simply the conduits for the printed words that must have been in the heads of the two screenwriters, Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan; treatises on mysticism and psychology that they seem bent on injecting into the film, on the same footing as the mathematical equations, which are also very much in evidence.

Those very equations, however, point to another sense in which Interstellar might be said to be bookish. These are actual, astrophysical equations, but as seen on screen, line after line, covering the entire blackboard, they actually look like an exotic script, an alien language hardly anyone can read. This is what math is to 99.99 percent of moviegoers: mysterious and never to be understood. Data from the black hole might indeed be the thing needed to unify relativity and quantum mechanics, and allow humans to exit the earth’s gravitational field, but we wouldn’t know just by looking at those arcane squiggles. Math is akin to magic in this sense: it is a universe unto itself, embedded in the quotidian one we know but not accessible to most of us. It is also a lot weirder, with a lot more room for otherwise inexplicable phenomena. What is unthinkable elsewhere is entirely thinkable here.

[snip]


There’s a reason why that toy space shuttle is sitting on a bookshelf. Mathematics might be the movie’s operating system, but what powers it is a poetic license of a fairly old-fashioned kind, often running a parallel program of allegory, perhaps to match the director’s equally old-fashioned commitment to shooting on 35 mm and 70 mm film. The film “is about human nature, what it means to be human,” Nolan says. And so the villain is named Dr. Mann, while one of the legible titles on the bookshelf is Ted Morgan’s biography of Somerset Maugham, best known for his best-selling, human-nature-probing novel Of Human Bondage. The other books are not so clearly allegorical; still, their plots tell us something — Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, Isabel Wolff’s Out of the Blue, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow, Curtis Oberhansly and Dianne Oberhansly’s Downwinders — all back-trekking narratives with a past that is malleable, visitable, and changeable. And presiding over them all is Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, that circular, multigenerational, and counterintuitive novel that gives magical realism its classic definition.
Edited by NBooth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Nerdist: Jonathan Nolan's Ending to Interstellar Made A Lot More Sense

 

 
I have my own (probably incorrect) theory of what the heck happened, but I was eager to hear it directly from the script’s original writer.
 
Jonathan Nolan’s much more straight-forward ending “had the Einstien-Rosen bridge [colloquially, a wormhole] collapse when Cooper tries to send the data back.”
Edited by NBooth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In Interstellar, we passed through a wormhole that our descendants created and sent back in time so that we could pass through the wormhole and create our descendants... or something like that. There's no ironic "Wow" moment there, it's just a solipsistic "Huh".

 

I was okay with the causal loop here, as the wormhole allowed Cooper to collect the data needed to save humanity so that the species could continue and achieve the kind of technical know how to build wormholes and stuff. The pathos of the narrative mechanic here derives from the father/daughter relationship that I did not find very gratifying or interesting until the time loop payoff happens - at which point it blew my stack, made me all teary, etc... 

 

At this point, this is one of the few 2014 films I will keep coming back to. I think it best read through the lens of a certain era of sci fi literature (Simak, Bradbury, Farmer, Harrison, some Heinlein, etc...) that used pulpy sci fi concepts and images to evoke highly literate forms of parental or filial emotions. It even captures the jokey mood and Enlightenment fixation on human progress a lot of these authors espoused.

 

Earlier in the thread, SDG described the film as a "noble failure." I think it is just flat out noble.

Edited by M. Leary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In Interstellar, we passed through a wormhole that our descendants created and sent back in time so that we could pass through the wormhole and create our descendants... or something like that. There's no ironic "Wow" moment there, it's just a solipsistic "Huh".

I was okay with the causal loop here, as the wormhole allowed Cooper to collect the data needed to save humanity so that the species could continue and achieve the kind of technical know how to build wormholes and stuff. The pathos of the narrative mechanic here derives from the father/daughter relationship that I did not find very gratifying or interesting until the time loop payoff happens - at which point it blew my stack, made me all teary, etc...

At this point, this is one of the few 2014 films I will keep coming back to. I think it best read through the lens of a certain era of sci fi literature (Simak, Bradbury, Farmer, Harrison, some Heinlein, etc...) that used pulpy sci fi concepts and images to evoke highly literate forms of parental or filial emotions. It even captures the jokey mood and Enlightenment fixation on human progress a lot of these authors espoused.

Earlier in the thread, SDG described the film as a "noble failure." I think it is just flat out noble.

I'm with you on this all the way, Mike.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nolan has now done two, maybe three, movies in a row that have very deliberate happy endings which defy expectations and some levels of story logic.  I think this is intentional.  Several of his early movies end with the protagonist's death or some sort of negation (Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige), leaving them very fatalistic in the vein of classic film noir.  With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan rejected the more obvious and easy "Batman sacrifices his life for the city" narrative in order to give Bruce Wayne a happy ending.  It's an ending that goes against common tropes of noble death, but also against the ending of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, where Batman fakes his own death so he can continue his war against crime in secret with a small vigilante army.  Nolan's mission was to find some way for Batman to win, some way for Bruce Wayne to survive in a way that was genuinely freeing and non-obsessive or insane, because that was part of the character drama from the beginning, and, I think, because he didn't want to play into the "dark superhero" tropes.  He wanted to affirm heroism and the ability of good to triumph over evil, so he found a way for Batman to complete his mission without killing Bruce off.

 

In Interstellar, I think he has similarly made a deliberate choice to save Cooper, to give the film a happy ending, when that is not what the original script gave him or what seemed possible.  He wanted to create a story that does genuinely affirm hope in the future, and affirm the value of life.  He seems to be working against the vision of his movies as dark and apocalyptic by pushing to find ways past the apocalypse.  Cooper's happy ending is a little ridiculous, a little awkward, and it doesn't seem to fit that well with what went before.  But I like to think that it's the result of the author stepping into his story and deliberately writing a happy ending--a very po-mo/meta conceit that's left just this side of explicit in the text--and both Interstellar and TDKR are comments on the nature of stories and the types of story that Nolan wants to tell and thinks the world needs. He thinks we need hope.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Shout-out to Ken in this piece on Interstellar, Gravity, science fiction, outer space and the question of God.

 

Improbably traveling to two different space stations, Stone encounters a Russian Orthodox icon of Saint Christopher carrying the child Jesus in a Russian spacecraft and a smiling Buddha statue in a Chinese spacecraft. (Strikingly, the only analogous object on the American space shuttle is a statue of Marvin the Martian — an ironic comment, perhaps, on religiously deracinated Western secularism?)

 
“Interstellar” shows no similar interest in religious themes or iconography — nor, as my friend Kenneth R. Morefield pointed out, in most other facets of human culture and history. It is biodiversity, not music, literature, or art (even popular art, such as Marvin the Martian), let alone religion, that “Interstellar” is concerned with taking into space.
 
The two film’s differing attitudes toward human religion may not be unrelated to their contrasting attitudes toward the Earth itself.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Shout-out to Ken in this piece on Interstellar, Gravity, science fiction, outer space and the question of God.

 

Improbably traveling to two different space stations, Stone encounters a Russian Orthodox icon of Saint Christopher carrying the child Jesus in a Russian spacecraft and a smiling Buddha statue in a Chinese spacecraft. (Strikingly, the only analogous object on the American space shuttle is a statue of Marvin the Martian — an ironic comment, perhaps, on religiously deracinated Western secularism?)

 
“Interstellar” shows no similar interest in religious themes or iconography — nor, as my friend Kenneth R. Morefield pointed out, in most other facets of human culture and history. It is biodiversity, not music, literature, or art (even popular art, such as Marvin the Martian), let alone religion, that “Interstellar” is concerned with taking into space.
 
The two film’s differing attitudes toward human religion may not be unrelated to their contrasting attitudes toward the Earth itself.

 

 

 

Thank you. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The movie's long running-time and tepid response all but distinguished my interest in seeing this movie.  But it was Father's Day weekend, and this was the highest rated on imDB film dealing with fatherhood that I hadn't seen yet.  So my wife and I rented it and watched it over three nights (we're early-risers; we can't do epic-length movies like we used to).

 

And we have a collective "Quesque c'est... wha?" over the results.

 

Have beautiful scenes ever been screened so sterile?  Has plot mechanisms ever been so confusing?  Have a reliance in emotions ever been doused with midi-chloridians?

 

Some good scenes, but if you're gonna spend the entire net-worth of a third-world country to craft entertainment, it should be a thousand times more rousing than this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In Interstellar, we passed through a wormhole that our descendants created and sent back in time so that we could pass through the wormhole and create our descendants... or something like that. There's no ironic "Wow" moment there, it's just a solipsistic "Huh".

 

I was okay with the causal loop here, as the wormhole allowed Cooper to collect the data needed to save humanity so that the species could continue and achieve the kind of technical know how to build wormholes and stuff. The pathos of the narrative mechanic here derives from the father/daughter relationship that I did not find very gratifying or interesting until the time loop payoff happens - at which point it blew my stack, made me all teary, etc... 

 

At this point, this is one of the few 2014 films I will keep coming back to. I think it best read through the lens of a certain era of sci fi literature (Simak, Bradbury, Farmer, Harrison, some Heinlein, etc...) that used pulpy sci fi concepts and images to evoke highly literate forms of parental or filial emotions. It even captures the jokey mood and Enlightenment fixation on human progress a lot of these authors espoused.

 

Earlier in the thread, SDG described the film as a "noble failure." I think it is just flat out noble.

This is such a fascinating commentary, Michael. 

So, is it necessary to be well-acquainted with that era of sci fi literature in order to fully appreciate this film?  Among the work of all the sci fi authors you mentioned, Michael, is there one particular novel that you would recommend that captures this brand of literature in a nutshell for the uninitated?

I also was intrigued by your comment about the change in the way you experienced the father/daughter relationship once the causal loop became clear.  Do you mean that, now, when you revisit the movie as a whole, the father/daughter relationship as it is even in the first 2/3 of the film is compelling?  Or is it only in the final stretch that it is compelling?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think you have to read a bunch of pulp sci-fi to appreciate the film. That was just my initial point of access to it. Probably could have worded that better,

And I think the end of the film makes the beginning of the film better.

Edited by M. Leary

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/8/2014 at 0:58 AM, NBooth said:

The robots are the worst-designed robots I've ever seen, and that includes the flying one in Flubber.

Resurrecting an old thread now that this is on Prime and I got around to watching it.  The robot is positively Minecraft-y.  Not that I play, but I kept expect one's name to be Steve.  

Otherwise, I never figured out why Matt Damon was bad.  What were his motivations?  Why try to kill Cooper?  It made no sense.  And how did they keep having little ships?  I liked the waves, but they seemed like a holdover from the extended edition of THE ABYSS.  And this was totally the plot of a Twilight Zone.  I really liked the 23 years of video scene, but I'd seen a mashup of that as Matthew McConaughey watching the Ep VII trailer, so its impact was moderated by that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, Buckeye Jones said:

Otherwise, I never figured out why Matt Damon was bad.  What were his motivations?  Why try to kill Cooper?  It made no sense.

Damon wanted the ship to go to Edmunds planet to see if it could sustain life. Cooper was planning to take the ship back to earth.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I mean, the fact that Cooper wanted to go back to Earth was clear.  But I also thought that Mann wanted to go back to  Earth, so I didn't understand why he went ballistic.  Any clue as to why the one robot blew up and destroyed Romilly?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Buckeye Jones said:

I mean, the fact that Cooper wanted to go back to Earth was clear.  But I also thought that Mann wanted to go back to  Earth, so I didn't understand why he went ballistic.  Any clue as to why the one robot blew up and destroyed Romilly?

Didn't Mann rig the robot to detonate?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I assume so, but why?  He would have had to rig the robot years previously with the assumption that whoever showed up would actively oppose leaving that useless planet and have the idea that it would be a good idea to dig into the robot.  There's a lot of unnecessary premeditation.  Really, you could wipe out the entire Dr. Mann subplot by having him already dead by the time they get to new Hoth.  Once there you have them find out that he faked his data, and then the crisis is the need to choose between Earth and Edmund.  The Dr. Mann plot cost the producers unnecessary money by hiring Damon.  Could have eliminated him altogether and saved $1 million.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 minutes ago, Buckeye Jones said:

The Dr. Mann plot cost the producers unnecessary money by hiring Damon.  Could have eliminated him altogether and saved $1 million.

Matt Damon's mere presence improves any film, so your logic is flawed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, at least he enunciated in INTERSTELLAR, unlike the rest of the main cast.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×