Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Gargantua, Interstellar’s black hole, as seen from the other side. Black holes are the scariest things in the known universe. Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures.

Interstellar tries to be several different movies at once, and it’s long enough that it succeeds.

The movie follows pilot-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) through a journey spanning more than 90 Earth years. The planet has become plagued by a nitrogen-breathing organism called blight that has destroyed all crops and wealth, and a second Dust Bowl has followed in its wake. Fortunately, mysterious beings from another galaxy have opened a wormhole to a potentially more hospitable galaxy orbiting Saturn. Cooper is drafted – without much vetting – to pilot the last expedition through this wormhole.

After an emotional parting with his daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), Cooper sets off with Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and a refrigerator full of test-tube babies to explore the three most promising planets. Murph (Jessica Chastain after a time-skip) stays behind to try and get discover the science required to get the existing population off-planet.

The thing with writer/director/producer Christopher Nolan has always been his desire to make movies that reward subsequent viewings, and he’s found a cheap way to do that in making the movie really obtusely long. This isn’t the puzzle box that Memento was or the layer cake of The Dark Knight, but it will reward second viewings simply because of how long and involved it is. Viewers will miss things purely because of exhaustion.

Nolan succeeds in packing several different genres and forms of appeal into the movie, and he even succeeds in overlapping them so there aren’t any jarring gear shifts. However, the types of appeal aren’t equal and would better be measured separately.

STARE WITH HORROR INTO THE INFINITE ABYSS 

One of the reasons everybody liked Gravity last year was because it was terrifying in ways most traditional horror movies don’t dream of. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) spend the entire movie teetering on the edge of falling infinitely away from Earth, suffocating as their bodies drift endlessly toward the edge of existence. The shot of Stone tumbling into the impossibly vast nothing touched viewers in a place Hollywood scarcely ever reaches for.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

Interstellar hits that same nerve. Contemplating the abyss has always made some stomachs queasy, and this film is at times a barrage of “NOPE” moments along those lines.

There’s shot early in its voyage of the Endurance orbiting Saturn, reminding everyone that the third largest body in our own solar system is 764 times the size of Earth. On several occasions, characters chart a course into a black god damn hole. The first planet the Endurance visits is 100 percent covered in water, and it’s so close to said black hole, Gargantua, that seven Earth years pass for every hour on the planet due to time dilation.

These and other scenes highlight how fragile the conditions for human life are in context with the rest of the universe. Interstellar is truly terrifying in a Lovecraftian sense.

TAKE A RIDE ON THE FEELS EXPRESS

Trailers prominently place Brand’s line, “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.”

Interstellar tugs hard at the audience’s heartstrings, both with Cooper and Murph’s tragic relationship and Brand’s relationship with Edmonds, one of the explorers sent through Gargantua in an earlier expedition. Neither of them are will they/won’t they romance stories, which are largely ineffective outside of sitcoms. These love stories are about love abandoned and lost, and are much more mournful and evocative.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leaves Earth on bad terms with his daughter, Murph. It’s the cosmic equivalent of going to bed angry.

GAZE DEEPLY INTO HUMANITY’S GRIM FUTURE

Nolan’s vision of Earth’s bleak future references mass killings of the rioting poor in the Eastern and Southern Hemispheres and the dismantling of NASA as a matter of course. Ruralization overtook urbanization as farming became the most lucrative industry. Technology is mostly rural, but with smatterings of modern and near-future innovations thrown in.

The furthest-future of these are Interstellar’s blocky robots with customizable personalities. CASE (Josh Stewart) has a humor setting, an honesty setting, a discretion setting, a trust setting and presumably countless others. The cartwheeling, wisecracking automaton is one of the movie’s best features.

SMILE SMUGLY AS HOLLYWOOD TELLS OTHERS TO RE-THINK THEIR LIFESTYLE

The movie also wants to wax philosophical, and it does a bad job of it. It demonizes man’s response to the presently imminent food and gas crises of encouraging farming and environmental friendliness instead of looking to leave immediately. It’s a very irresponsible message the movie obviously sends, and it’s more than a little offensive to anyone who believes the world can still be saved.

In the later reaches of the film, a character pontificates for a long, long time about humanity’s survival instinct. Characters frequently explain their personality traits in reference to the robots’ settings. This is probably supposed to mean something, as well. Professor Brand (Michael Caine) recites that Dylan Thomas poem in full, like, three times. The movie tries to cram themes in where they don’t belong, and you can tell when it’s doing it.

That silver thing that looks like part of the ship is one of the movie’s robots, TARS (Bill Irwin). Those things are awesome.

The film does most of this cramming with long periods of dialogue. The theater I saw this in didn’t have its shit together, and the sound kept cutting out. This was an important part of the experience, because it showed how little this movie loses shedding even key parts of the dialogue.

ACTION AND EXPLOSIONS

There’s high-stakes fist fights and explosions in this movie. Saying even that much could be a spoiler.

They’re few, but satisfying. That said, no one will go into this looking for high-octane action sequences.

Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. So, is Clowns of America International a national organization, or an international one? Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter when I can be bothered to make one, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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