Review: Interstellar

I finally got around to seeing Interstellar, almost five months after it’s release.

As such, this review unabashedly contains spoilers.

I don’t expect movies without plot holes or unexplained things that happen — you know, because plot. But Interstellar gets damn close. It’s cerebral, action-packed, and as I watched it, in retrospect, I realize I could not predict where the story was going.

But hey, at least the black scientist didn’t die first.

First of all, when talking about Interstellar, one must understand one thing – this is a Christopher Nolan film, the man behind such so-called mind-blowing movies as Memento and Inception. That being said, I don’t know why I didn’t go into this expecting some form of brain-bending imagery or concept at work.

And apparently they had a theoretical astrophysicist named Kip Thorne on the film crew – a guy who gave up his professorship (I didn’t know one could do that) to pursue writing and movie making.

Does that mean Interstellar is bullet proof from scientific criticism?

Certainly not. No more than story elements would be safe from smug critics like me.

One thing I could not help but notice is that the premise of Interstellar is very much based on a story-telling trend we are experiencing now: concern for the environment. Dystopian future. We’ve seen these trends, lived through them, and new ones arise.

In the 1950s, Hollywood movies produced a plethora of films focused on the fear of nuclear fallout. Later, experimental films got more popular, possibly reflecting the nation’s increasingly un-ignorable drug culture. The 90s showcased a variety of movies stating that…

“…genetic power’s the most awesome force the world has ever seen, but you wield it like a kid who found his dad’s gun.” ~Ian Malcom

Then the terrorist films got more popular following 9/11, followed shortly by dystopian stories — usually featuring zombies, battle royale-esque gladiatorial games, or impending, inevitable global disasters. As of this post (April, 2014) I believe we are undergoing a story-telling trend still in that mindset focused on a nearly-hopeless future, concerned predominantly with an environment that we ourselves fucked up with continuing abuse and negligence.

In other words, as far as tropes go, Twenty Minutes Into The Future.

I find it interesting that films tend to prey on the current fears of the audience. It is something of an insight into how the pubic viewed the world. There are, however, some interesting resources, such as this one and this one that help put these trends into perspective.

Which is a little ironic considering one of the major story reveals at the end. And by no means am I complaining, rather, just observing. In fact the presence of a drone as a prominent element of the setting early on (though, frankly, the scene didn’t add much to the plot) turned out to be a moment that left an impression on me. I remember when drones first starting hitting the headlines – the fear mongering and distrust and the anger. Then, after some time, it became just another part of the media that sorta kinda got lost in the blur of distraction we call “news coverage.”

I actually rather liked that the drone’s presence in the story wasn’t some sort of heavy-handed statement, except, perhaps, the statement being that “they’re already here and they’re going to continue being used. Get used to it.”

The mention of “corrected” history books got a rise out of me as well. I tend to get emotional when I hear about education systems (even fictional ones) messing with history for whatever agenda they have. I’ve heard of textbooks in California wording that the Conquistadores came to Latin America “with peace in their hearts.” When the Japanese Empire took over Korea, they committed a multitude of unbelievable atrocities which they – to this day – have taken no responsibility. History textbooks in Japanese schools describe their “occupation of Korea” as though they were performing a favor for Korea.

You could fill volumes of books with the information that’s been twisted, or purposefully omitted, from the descriptions of our various American presidents and events in our so-called education. This kind of stuff should not come as a surprise to the literate, but by all means do your own research should it interest you.

What else in our textbooks now has been “corrected,” one wonders.

It was satisfying to see John Lithgow, who I first came to recognize around the time of 3rd Rock From The Sun, in another movie about space. It was awesome to see the concept of a modern farmer as not a laborer, but as more of an overseer for semi-automated robotic harvesting equipment.

I once read a quote about how the true purpose of machines and mechanics and, eventually, what we would call robotics – was to the performance of physical labor so as to unchain our collective mental performance. In other words, robots freeing humanity from all forms of menial labor. The speaker of that was pretty dated, if I recall, as it was in reference to the American Industrial Revolution, but is still as relevant today as ever.

Anyway, back to Interstellar, I have to admit that I was waiting for those cubist robot helpers to betray the humans at a crucial moment. I found myself pleasantly surprised that they didn’t, and I also found them to be thoroughly enjoyable to watch and listen to.

The movie elicited quite the range of emotional responses from me, as well. I felt goosebumps wash over me at various key moments – particularly the reveal of the wormhole, when someone in the meeting room stated that “someone is looking out for them,” especially since, supposedly, wormholes are not a natural phenomenon.

I experienced Adult Fear right alongside Cooper as he watched the video-messages of his aging children, though I also found myself (pleasantly) surprised when, at the “present” time, we as the audience traveled back and forth between Cooper’s perspective and that of his now-33-year-old daughter Murphy.

Which at last brings us to the finale.

The representation of the so-called Fifth Dimension within a three-dimensional space was rather interesting. The tesseract was quite the mind-trip, though I had some troubles with understanding a few base concepts. And I’m not talking about quantum physics (which are of course beyond me), as well as Relativity (which I get on a fundamental level, but largely goes over my head).

Things like that are explained in great articles like this one. There’s a video at the end with Neil Degrasse Tyson talking about the dimensions — always a treat to hear this guy talk.

Rather, things that don’t make sense to me are how Cooper was able to interact with the “past,” using the tesseract, to communicate with his daughter across space time. We saw him manipulating the watch in her old bedroom by plucking strings of space/time that connected to the second-hand of that little time piece — I remember sitting there and having my suspension of disbelief shaken as I watched his 3rd-dimensional finger pull the “string” in, as best as I could tell, was the 5th dimension.

And are we seriously expected to believe that he transcribed quantum data, collected by TARS, to her in morse code?

I guess he had nothing better to do. But you think he might have slipped in a “hey, this is dad” message along the way.

And besides, if the tesseract and wormhole were placed there by “them,” who are strongly implied to be future humans rather than aliens (though I guess technically they would be extraterrestrial) during that specific time. One wonders why they wouldn’t have done it earlier? Or closer?

Perhaps humanity would not have developed the technical skill to know what to do with it, if the wormhole had formed around the time the Blight had started. But then, everything changed anyway when the wormhole was erected in the first place — so the same question remains: Why then?

Or perhaps the future-humans of 5th Dimensional superiority had in fact been trying, throughout history, to warn us past-people about things, but we’ve simply been unable to comprehend what we saw. Possibly relegating eyewitness accounts to the realms of paranormal superstition, or religious events, or plain old mental illness.

Perhaps the time that the wormhole appeared was carefully calculated because the ascended future-humans would know the precise time when humanity was capable of doing something about a wormhole, since to them it’s in their history books.

Such is the nature of these paradoxes. Honestly I’m more concerned about how Cooper pushed books from the shelf and manipulated settling dust when, with that kind of ability, he could have potentially just written in the dust anyway.

The whole thing felt like more of an illusion than it felt like a scientific representation of a theory.

And regardless of those little nit-pickings, I loved this. I loved it all.

Much like Jevon Knights puts it, Interstellar Could Be The Greatest Science Fiction Movie Ever. I have found that I am in agreement with him, because true science fiction is about taking a scientific principle, or concept, or theory, and exploring a dramatization of that theory expanded through narrative. In other words, you take an idea, and you create a story around that idea, asking the question “What if?”

Science fiction isn’t about asking questions like “What if a group college kids got marooned on an island with some science experiment roaming the jungle?”

That is a slasher/monster flick.

Science fiction isn’t about asking questions like “What if there was a race of sentient mechanoids capable of disguising themselves as vehicles and household appliance?”

That’s a series of movies supported by people with no respect for the art.

Science fiction is about asking scientifically or philosophically based questions, and providing a scenario where that question is extrapolated and explored.

But quite frankly I lost all suspension of disbelief when I was expected to believe that Cooper was 33 years old.

And when Matthew Mcconaughey didn’t take off his shirt once, had I been eating popcorn, I would have thrown it at the screen.

This movie gets 9 black holes out of 10.

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One response to “Review: Interstellar

  1. I have to admit I was really surprised that robot didn’t betray everybody. I kept expecting it to happen and it never did, making me really love that thing in the end.

    As for why the future humans chose him, I think it had something to do with love for his daughter, which was disappointing but I guess the writers can’t nail everything.

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