What to Expect
Love him, hate him or remain neutral toward his movies; you’ll have to admit, they’re works you cannot ignore. Right from his tightly budgeted film debut in Following to his last epic finale in The Dark Knight Rises, he’s had a certain scope of bringing in the wildly extraordinary within the tropes that are but ordinary. As a film enthusiast, I’ve always respected, nay, highly admired most of his work. He’s definitely had some weaker, yet gripping and pertinently well-made, turns in the form of films like The Prestige, and yet he’s continued to bounce back every now and then – from Insomnia to Batman Begins; from The Prestige to Inception (his best film yet) – and has had the power to be unafraid of exploring hitherto unexplored genre territories in the blockbuster template.
Nolan’s stylistic tendencies, however, have definitely managed to ring in quite a bit of dismay among another bunch of viewers. While most of them do agree that Nolan is a “masterful filmmaker”, there are a few whose common thinking does reflect what a dear friend of mine Husam has to say in that context: “… but he’s too busy […] trying to prove how much smarter he is than all of us.”
That’s not to say Nolan’s losing his charm. However, there are a varying set of tastes, and it is for that matter that a film like Interstellar was possibly not received the way his last original Inception was. Despite having an excellent promotional strategy in trying to reveal only what needs to in the trailers, there was lesser persuasive excitement amongst the potential audience relative to the past, when he was known as the most genre defining and defying filmmaker during his days involved in the massive The Dark Knight trilogy.
It’s only natural then, that I was expecting the world out of Interstellar. Far from just being excited about this film, there’s many a reason I’ve been waiting with bated breath for this one. And somehow I had a feeling that my obsessive wait and dangerously infinite expectations would prove a major deterrent in my probable awe for – and enjoyment of – the movie.
What’s it About?
Earth is dying. The atmosphere is collapsing. And the only way out for humans is for them to be transported to a more habitable planet. Former pilot and engineer – now farmer – Cooper (McConaughey; Dallas Buyers Club) is mysteriously led to a top-secret mission that could most definitely be humanity’s last way out. Thus begins an interstellar (pun not intended) voyage that will change Cooper’s course of life and his understanding of humanity forever.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Nolan films succeed at enthralling primarily because they’re supported by a very focussed vision. There’s a certain structure to how things work in the parallel universes of these films and the explanation – and resultant exposition (yes, there is exposition in Nolan movies) – receives stellar writing and direction. Here too, combined with the sometimes flabbergasting mind-benders theoretical physicist Kip Thorne provides the Nolan brothers Christopher and Jonathan as writers, the movie builds around itself a spectacular world – or set of worlds, essentially – with their own set of rules. It would probably be interesting to note that Thorne collaborated with the makers of the 1997 science-fiction drama also starring Mathew McConaughey. Most of the audience that’s ultimately watched both the films may have chances of finding loads of similarities between them – each having the potential to act as a probable complement to the other.
What’s ultimately different here is that in comparison to the extreme focus he’s been able to render through Inception, he decides to take an off-kilter route by making the film very personal. Most Nolan movies are characteristically sans emotional dynamics. That’s not to say the movies don’t have emotion; they’re basically razor-sharp films without heart-wrenching moments for the audience, though the characters do face a lot of emotional upheaval. This probably allows us to look at the films as they are, helping us as viewers focus more on the plot, the attention to detail its tools help the plot, and the way the movie progresses. At the risk of repeating myself, it does seem here that the script does end up taking a fairly emotionally relevant route. The plot-thread of father and daughter are bound to tug and pull on the heartstrings of the audience. In fact, on the whole in itself, the power of love is shown to be a major thematic element through the film. This may sound absolutely ridiculous on paper, but the poeticism is very apparent throughout, and the way this particular theme finds itself interwoven through the rather complex almost-theories and theories of determinism and relativity is beautiful.
The movie tackles a lot of scientific theories and – in many cases – hyperbole brilliantly. While the first two-thirds of the film focus mainly on building ground and baffling the viewers with some absolutely stunning imagery, the last one third of the film will most definitely leave the viewers in a plethora of questions that might either require clear, connective assumption or giving up and calling it “just a movie.” There’s a high chance that it may not have been an issue, and that there’s a major message hidden behind the slightly obscure way things suddenly fall into place, but there’s no denying this doesn’t mark for Nolan’s usual straightforwardness. Situations are surprisingly milked to the point that it looks uncannily dramatic.
Which brings me to the movie’s end; the final minutes. The end arrives on a note that’s quite unlike the usual massive ambiguity he leaves in the final scene of his previous works. This marks a very interesting shift in Nolan’s focus otherwise, as there’s a lot more indulgence to be found here. It is this very indulgence that creates some of the most riveting scenes in the film. It is, unfortunately, this very indulgence that gives the unsuspecting audience a film almost twenty-to-thirty minutes too long.
The film, unlike The Dark Knight Rises however, doesn’t tax its length upon you for almost ninety percent of its runtime, as throughout the film there is a lot that is happening – in dialogue, in direction and in dread – for good reason. Nolan’s post-Pfister collaborative choice impresses in the form of the formidable Danish-Swedish cinematographer Hoyt Van Hoytema, who, along with the delicious texture of film and the consistent movement of the cameras, transforms the frames into beautiful, haunting imagery. Some of the extra-wide landscape shots are brilliantly framed and lit, allowing for the VFX team at Double Negative to create a stunning marriage of the real and the synthesized into a surreal experience. Nolan’s regular Lee Smith’s superior editing skills allow for him to – whilst inducing signature stylistic editing trademarks – knit together a package that may have polarizing reactions. The usage of jump cuts, as an example, at the most indeterminate of moments might not gel too well with the viewers, who may look at this as a technical issue more than anything else. The production design of the film is massive. Right from the wide open fields to the vast universe, the movie knows what kind of an atmosphere it wants. There’s a sense of psychological claustrophobia knit into the wide spaces – you wouldn’t need crammed houses for that when you hit the nail right on the head. The music by Hans Zimmer (Nolan’s other regular) is without question a brilliant piece of work. The sound design is mostly involving, but the major issue with it is how its inevitable loudness eclipses a lot that the characters are saying, which is a major downside. I’m not sure if this is a probable mixing issue or just the theater I was at, but this definitely is a hindrance.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Matthew McConaughey has a distinctive accent that reminds the viewers of his trademark style throughout his films. While that may be a minor hijink, his performance is spectacular, and he puts his sincerest foot forward to execute a formidably written character with possibly the most emotional relevance in the film. Mackenzie Foy is yet another extremely talented performer in this film. Her portrayal of Murph sets great pace toward the eventual donning of roles by Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Burstyn, of whom the former is very impressive.
Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone) receives a slight raw deal, what with his short role, whereas Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3) in his appearance is a joy to look at. Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs) is yet another amazing performer who dives right into the role and becomes Amelia. Michael Caine (The Dark Knight), as usual, is confident and effortless. David Gyasi and Wes Bentley are efficient. Of all the people, however, it’s the surprise appearance I won’t name that will catch everyone who doesn’t know he’s in the film off-guard, not just with his existence in the film, but also with his convincing performance. Theres a certain desperation in his performative body language that will arouse both sympathy and hatred, which is exactly what this character wants to do to the audience.
The movie is Nolan’s most ambitious film yet, and also his most indulgent. While the sharp focus that made Inception the best blockbuster film one could get is clearly missing here, what one gets in abundance is a poetic salutation to the science-fiction genre that definitely goes a step ahead of 2001: A Space Odyssey with a ton of realism in concept, whilst also paying homage to the Kubrick classic that many people have come to be mystified by. While the third act will hurl the viewers into a whirlwind of information and informative ambiguity, and the end will receive polarizing opinions due to the very lack of it, replacing all of that with what could be apparent convenient dramatization, the movie still manages efficiently to be a wildly engaging and jaw-dropping experience that everyone wanted it to be. This audaciously filmed, spectacularly mounted sci-fi extravaganza might not essentially be the director’s best, but it most certainly is his most personal. And the very heart of it is what takes us through this highly impressive technical filmmaking experience.
The flawed almost-could-have-been-a-masterpiece product that it is, it definitely demands for a big screen viewing – IMAX, specifically – nonetheless, as movies like this are an absolute need, if only to remind us as moviegoers why we essentially go to the cinemas.
Consensus: 4 Stars
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