Interstellar (2014)

Don’t think, don’t feel, just watch.

In the not-to-distant future, Earth is dying, and Matthew McConaughey is sent through a mysterious black hole to find us a new home.  Buy a ticket and go see this most talked about film of the year, because you’re definitely going to want to catch this one at the cinema.

So, there’s an idea that in film that you should show rather than tell.  But here, it’s often the other way around.  We’re told that humanity is facing extinction, because of our own greed; but earth, in all honesty, looks in pretty good shape.  The dust is an issue, but everyone appears healthy and well-fed, and still has enough leisure time to go to the ball game.  OK, no MRI’s, but humanity still has cars and combine harvesters and laptops.  Access to university is limited, but children are still educated until they’re 16 or 18; even hundred years ago, education was only compulsory until age 14.  Cooper’s wife, we are told, died young, but her father and Brand Senior live to a ripe-old age.  (John Lithegow is 69, Michael Cane is 81, and both their characters survive approximately 10/15 earth years after Cooper leaves).

For such a talky film, it’s odd how little time and detail is given to explaining why our survival depends on leaving earth.  Some mention of blight depleting crops and oxygen, but how this is our fault, and why we can’t fix it is never made clear.  What kind of blight destroys potatoes, and corn, and rye?  It just doesn’t convince.   Maybe the filmmakers just wanted to get into space as quickly as possible.  Not unforgivable, but it does undermine the sense of urgency a bit.

It may also explain why it feels the characters exist to serve the plot, rather than the other way around.  Now, I understand it’s a movie and sometimes characters have to make mistakes in order for events to progress.  But if your characters repeatedly do stupid things, and these actions don’t resonate with their personality and motives, then you stop believing what you’re seeing, and that is a big problem.

Maybe I’m being picky.  But, maybe not.  I am a very credulous movie-goer.  I love falling into a film, feeling it, being pulled along with it.  My ability to suspend disbelief is probably stronger than most.  I absolutely loved Gravity, which has more than a few unbelievable moments.  The difference is I really cared about Ryan, and kept caring, even when she stuffed up.  But Interstellar didn’t have that emotional resonance for me, and without that to carry me through, the whole film just left me cold.   Cooper seemed a very distant father- he actually had to be reminded to talk to Murph.  Yeah, I know, plot.  But when the whole point of the story is that love unites humanity, you actually need to see it, and we never did.

Hang on, didn’t I say you should see this film? Err, yes.  Absolutely.  And please don’t just wait for the Blu-Ray, because, whatever its flaws, this film is staggeringly beautiful.  Nothing but a cinema will do it justice.  Once we get into space, almost every other scene is lovely to look at.  The black hole sequences in particular had me mesmerised.  I won’t attempt a description, because it will inevitably fall short.  Just go see.

I also, bizarrely, enjoyed how morally awful many of the characters were.  When faced with the extinction of the species, not to mention our own demise, I imagine most of us would be anything but reasonable, and I found this all-to-human selfishness and arrogance the most convincing aspect of characterisation in the film.   Though, given its supposed emphasis on the power of love, I’m not sure all of it was intentional.  Anyway, the heroic Mann turns out to be a deceitful little coward, who jettisons humanity’s only chance for survival, simply to gain few more years of life for himself.  A cracking piece of casting, putting lovable Matt Damon in the role.  His unexpected demise made everyone jump in their seats.   And quietly cackle with glee.  I also loved Brand Junior trying desperately to rationalise why the mission should travel to the planet that just happens to have her boyfriend on it.  Even lovely old Michael Cane turns out to have his own agenda, feeding humanity a lie to keep them working together, when he believes they are all beyond saving.  By the end, I was hoping for just a little emotional payoff.  But then Cooper, finally meeting his daughter again after a 70-odd year absence, decides to leave her to die with her family, as he has some more exploring to do.

On the flip-side, and probably just as strangely, I cared more about the robots than the humans by the end.  CASE and TRIP were better company than they were, and certainly more decent.  Even after being dumped in a black hole (albeit for good reasons) TRIP still does his best to ensure the survival of mankind.  They are also the only source of humour in the film.   I loved the interest caused by their customisable personality settings as well:  ‘100% honesty is neither optimal nor kind when dealing with emotional beings.’

Quick confession, I didn’t catch all of the space science.  I kept up until the slingshot approach to the third planet then I got confused.  Is there a difference between a black hole and a worm hole?  And if future us made the black hole that saved present day us, isn’t that a paradox?  Meh.  It all sounded convincing, and in a sci-fi movie, that’s all you need.

While it was chilly and occasionally confusing, the sheer grandeur and beauty of Interstellar kept me hooked ‘til the end.  It may fall short of true greatness, but it was still an entertaining spectacle that reminded me of the power of cinema, even while I hoped for a little more heart.  I might even go see it again.

What did you think?  Did the science convince?  Did you care about the characters?  Were you happy with the ending, or just let down?  Do let me know.