The Auteur Syndrome
I would say that most people’s enjoyment of Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s new space epic, will hinge not on the true quality of the movie, but on their perception of Nolan as a director in general. This way of film judgment has its pros and cons. On one hand, fans of Christopher Nolan are going to be much more forgiving of the movies faults; on the other hand, non-fans are going to be chomping at the bit to tear the movie apart piece by piece. So the question in your mind, dear readers, is where do I fall on the Nolan love/hate spectrum? Right square in the middle, I would say.
I generally like Christopher Nolan’s movies. I also think that he, much like his cinematic idol Stanley Kubrick, is more style than substance. My favorite movies of his are Batman Begins and The Prestige. Both were made before he was the flavor of the decade, and both are wonderful genre films that are well worth the praise people place on them. The Dark Knight is where Nolan, and movie audience opinion, started losing me.
To me, The Dark Knight is a so-so movie buoyed by an iconic performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker and not much more. The movie wastes a more interesting character (Harvey Dent/Two-Face as played by Aaron Eckhart), has plot holes you can drive a truck through (how did the Joker get out of the party?), and is a Batman movie that isn’t about Batman. Somehow, TDK is now the litmus test for superhero movies even though it is more like a watered down Heat than a continuation of Batman Begins.
Nolan followed up TDK with Inception, a movie that is really good the first time you watch it, but less so upon multiple viewings. It’s score is pummeling; it isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is, and it is just kind of boring. It does look great and is filled with wonderful performances, much like a Kubrick film.
The Dark Knight Rises followed Inception, and I like it a bit more than The Dark Knight. It still had huge plot holes (how the hell did Batman get up on the bridge with that gas can?) but Tom Hardy as Bane (channeling Michael Collins as Auric Goldfinger), Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the Robin stand-in, and The Dark Knight Returns feel made it worth the price of admission. Not to mention that it stands up to multiple viewings a little better than TDK.
And this, of course, brings us to Interstellar.
The Lights Are On, But No One’s Home
Interstellar, for all intents and purposes, is an okay movie. I would never try to talk anyone out of watching it. It is a well-made (and overly long) piece of filmmaking filled with wonderful performances front to back. Matthew McConaughey continues his career renaissance by giving his best performance in a film yet (although True Detective features his best overall performance, and Wooderson in Dazed and Confused is more entertaining), Anne Hathaway almost made me forget how bad of a Catwoman she was, and even Topher Grace is kind of good in it. The film looks great and has awesome special effects. As a purely visual experience it is almost unparalleled in modern sci-fi filmmaking. Where the cracks start to show are in the story.
I am going to go out on a limb here (not really) and say that the problem with most of Christopher Nolan’s movies start with the script. He has collaborated on most of his movies with his brother Jonathan. I’ve never seen the show Person of Interest but it appears to be the only project Jonathan Nolan has been involved in without his brother. Interstellar is co-written by the brothers and has a lot of the same problems Inception has. Interstellar wants so badly to be in the same league as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick was not afraid to make plot a totally secondary factor in 2001; the Nolan brothers do not have the same lack of fear. Unfortunately for them, this is the primary undoing of the movie.
Interstellar takes place at an indeterminate point in Earth’s future. It seems to be around fifty years or so but the specific year is never mentioned. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former pilot who is now a corn farmer in a world that is pretty much the equivalent of the dust bowl in the western United States in the 1930’s. Through a series of pretty ridiculous plot points/holes, he discovers that NASA is still operating and is about to embark on a mission through a wormhole to explore three planets that may be able to sustain life. Some earlier one-person voyages have already traveled through the wormhole and transmitted data back about the planets. In no time flat, Cooper is given a place in the mission due to the fact that Brand (Michael Caine), a former teacher of his that works for NASA, vouches for him (I can’t make this shit up). Before you know it Cooper is traveling through the stars with three other astronauts on the most important mission any humans have ever undertaken. Not bad for a former pilot and frickin’ corn farmer.
Due to the fact that this movie just opened I am going to stay spoiler-free. Suffice it to say, shit goes wrong, and the mission takes twists and turns that no one expects. The film is (not really) good enough for a watch, but there are a lot of problems with it, and I would wager that it is probably Christopher Nolan’s worst movie overall.
Outside of storytelling issues, the film is way too long. It clocks in at almost three hours and you feel every minute of it. The Godfather it ain’t. Thirty minutes could have easily been trimmed from the movie, and if one plot point (the required twist in every Christopher Nolan movie) had been removed as it probably should have been, a full hour could have been lost. At two hours Interstellar would have been an event; as it stands, it is more of a dirge.
And speaking of dirges, the score (by Hans Zimmer) to this movie makes Inception seem subtle. I hated the music in this movie. It is so loud and distracting at all times that it reaches parody a couple of times. The score is truly one of the worst I have ever heard in a major motion picture, and I’ve watched Scarface multiple times so you should know that’s a bold statement. I am not sure why in the world Christopher Nolan wants his movies to sound the way they do but someone needs to stage an intervention.
The more I write about this movie the more I realize that I can’t really recommend it. I really didn’t like the movie that much, and for all its bells and whistles it is a completely empty vessel. Stanley Kubrick was never afraid of making purely visual movies but I feel like Christopher Nolan tries to make emotional statements with his movies and fails miserably. It’s as if a robot has been programmed to write his movies and it just can’t get the humanity part down, which is too bad because the movie is so well made from a technical standpoint. Interstellar is an empty vessel of the worst kind; one that tries to be full and fails.
Until next time…