Christopher Nolan Reaches For The Stars, Via IMAX
DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER NOLAN/2014
Christopher Nolan likes what he likes. And at the moment, a whole lot of other people like those things as well. These include movies shot on film, writing his own screenplays with his brother, big ideas on a big scale, and of course Michael Caine. And let’s not forget one-word titles that start with the letter “I” – Nolan’s certainly had a very good run of those: Insomnia, Inception, and now, Interstellar.
Among those, as well as among the rest of his oft-celebrated canon, there’s a lot of humorless gravity. Nolan, as a director, has become known for a certain audience-friendly weightiness in his stories. In his love affair with the super-size celluloid IMAX format (a key part of his work since The Dark Knight in ’08), that weightiness has manifested as large scale, epic scope productions. The most unique quality of his films, beyond the personal themes and vaguely right wing/Bible Belt notions found in the tales, tend to be the fact that he is one of very few major directors (perhaps the only one?) who can get a massively budgeted original screenplay green lit, produced, and globally marketed into rare, must-see cinema. The kind of films that people who only see a handful of movies theatrically flock to.
But for all of his arresting ambition, drive, and appeal, the work somehow retains the fingerprints and qualities of the obligatorily impressive work by the smartest, sharpest, and most admired kid in high school. He’s that perfect and impeccable would-be student council king who will never burn a bridge or make a wrong turn. There’s a measured quality to his appeal, but darn him, he’s still appealing. And he will always be nothing short of impressive, as long he continues to surround his work with lessers. (Check out Interstellar’s multiplex marquee mates…). Try as we might, it’s nigh-impossible to begrudge him his reputation or success. In high school, or otherwise.
And Interstellar, as tremendously awe-inspiring as it can be (you will see nothing else to rival its scope, vision, and utter creative reach this year) nonetheless remains an aggressively rolling wheel of ideas as opposed to a gently drifting wheel of beauty. But don’t just take my word for it – compare the functionality of the “wheel in the sky” ships of 2001: A Space Odyssey with the round exploratory home-away-from-home of this film. Nolan’s sectional Endurance positively spins and plows its way through the cosmos, its apparent hurry doing nothing to shave minutes off of the film’s nearly three hour running time. If it were a monster truck, it would crunch three dozen cars in record time, and then every car in the parking lot for good measure.
…the work somehow retains the fingerprints and qualities of the obligatorily impressive work by the smartest, sharpest, and most admired kid in high school. There’s a measured quality to [Nolan’s] appeal, but darn him, he’s still appealing.
The film opens in a mega-rural future America where some sort of past global mess has caused mankind to focus almost exclusively on the growing of food at the expense of all other human endeavor. (Except baseball.) Technology, deemed a non-essential force, has been set aside – no cell phones, few computers, and certainly no governmentally funded space exploration. The latter of which places astronaut test pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, filling the part ideally) at a loss, professionally speaking. But then again, his permanent grounding and subsequent farmer life has given him ample time to bond with his young son and daughter. But when Cooper spots an errant government drone flying nearby, and opts to chase it down and find out what its all about, the course of the rest of his life, and possibly the utter future of humanity, is forever altered.
[Mild spoilers, this paragraph only…] As one might guess, manned space travel isn’t quite as dead as Cooper and the rest of the world were led to believe. Michael Caine, at this point taking over the expository role from aging grandfather John Lithgow, explains that unless a new inhabitable planet is discovered, and soon, no one will be breathing easy ever again. Cooper is groomed for the mission, one that, thanks to the crazy time-bending rules of relativity that occur in deep space travel, will take him away from his family for decades… at the least. Cooper’s daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy) doesn’t take this news well at all. She loves her dad, and can’t bear for him to go. All too soon, he’s gone on his mission, her emotional drama unresolved. This is the true center of the film, and it is effective stuff. Scoff at the science babble, question the purpose of Anne Hatheway in the movie. But do not under-estimate the father-daughter bond. So says Papa Director. [End of mild spoilers.]
“Interstellar” is a heavy load with everywhere and nowhere to go, and man, does it go there.
Nolan aims far and wide with Interstellar. In its finest moments, its his best work. But in-between the effective payoffs and calculated surprises, Nolan’s desire to bend our minds like the bend of that familiar point-A-to-point-B folded paper explanation of how wormholes work (it shows up in this film, in case you don’t know the reference) is borderline aggressive, littered with both jargon that sounds heavy but isn’t really delved into (which come later in the movie), and familiar Earthbound dystopian tropes out of Children of Men, or any number of other survivalist future works. Early comparisons with Kubrick’s 2001 do it few favors, but fact of the matter is that Interstellar nevertheless demands to be seen on the biggest IMAX screen available. Don’t come looking for fast paced action, but rather a ship-load of booming awe.
For some, Interstellar will be the revelatory trip they’ve been hoping for. I don’t think one must be an already indoctrinated Nolan fan for that to be the case. The visuals alone are spectacularly worth it, and in a way not seen in his previous films. But, for other filmgoers, it will be an uneven hunk of spacefaring ambition. Its a heavy load with everywhere and nowhere to go, and man, does it go there.
Christopher Nolan, while remaining the inescapable Christopher Nolan who’s inadvertently inspired a whole universe of somber popcorn epics, continues to push himself both technically and artistically. For someone who could rest on his laurels and make Batman movies for the rest of his life, his drive to break into new territory, and take us with him, must be admired. That is, even as it insistently drifts, plows, and combines its way through the stars.