Thursday, November 6, 2014

Interstellar - Of Wormholes and Plotholes

Cooper: We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.

As the screen cut to black there was silence in the movie theater, a “What just happened?” expression was writ large on the faces of the audience, and as Christopher Nolan’s name appeared on the screen, there was a thunderous applause that went on for a couple of minutes. You see, it’s all in the name. Your name carries your brand, your achievements, your vision, your reputation, and if your name is Christopher Jonathan James Nolan, even more so. In the weeks that have led to the release of Interstellar, there have been more feature profiles on him than on any of the stars of the movie. All these articles celebrate his style of movie-making, of how he’s the blue-eyed wunderkind of Warner Brothers who churns out blockbusters with larger-than-life set pieces, with a story laced with philosophy and red herrings told in a tricky fashion, that in its final moments pulls the wool over the eyes of its viewers and leaves them in a frenzy, making them dissect and discuss the movie for days. Nolan’s movies could be frustrating, with a simple plot told in a complex manner, you’d want to that guy who understood the story better, the smartest guy in the audience.

We celebrate him like he were the greatest thing to have happened to motion pictures, which to an extent, is true. He is the best thing to have happened to commercial cinema in recent years, he's the reason we want to go to the movies. Not since Spielberg of the 90’s have we seen a director who is celebrated by the masses and critics alike, nor have we seen a director who enjoys carte blanche over his work. He is the most recognized movie director in the world, for someone who doesn’t own a cell phone or an email id, that’s saying a lot. His movies are flawed, and god forbid, if you mention that in your review, your comments section would be flooded with taunts that question your intelligence to death threats. We live in an era where our opinions are malleable by tweets and online articles, and if someone doesn’t conform to our opinion we strike down upon them with great vengeance and furious anger.

With Interstellar, Nolan makes a foray into the space opera genre. It is a story we have heard before, of a father who leaves his family behind to save the world with a promise that he will return. The premise may be similar to Armageddon, but they differ in the narrative and treatment. Within the first one hour, we’re shown that Earth is nearing extinction with corn being the only crop that could be grown, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a farmer and a has-been spaceship pilot who believes “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here”, he stumbles upon the defunct NASA that is working out of a secret base, and within the first hour of meeting them, agrees to fly the mission to search for a habitable planet for the human race. After bidding an emotional goodbye to his heartbroken daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), promising that he will return, Cooper and his team fly across space exploring signals from NASA’s previous attempts.

Nolan has previously made run-of-the-mill stories that have hinged on scientific themesmemory (Memento), dreams (Inception)—and had yet managed to entertain the audience with innovative storytelling (Memento) and jaw-dropping action set-pieces (Inception). Interstellar is where he explores the space-time continuum with the theory of wormholes and blackhole, but it is while using the theme that the plot seems convoluted. Nolan’s movies are known to befuddle the viewer with a complicated storyline, while you try to wrap your head around the story he cleverly inserts a jaw-dropping action scene, the visual aesthetics in the scene always compensate for the complexity of the plot. But in Interstellar, there are too many complicated scientific theories that he brings into play within short intervals, while the visuals of space and the traveling through the wormhole are an immersive experience, it somehow does not make up for the gaping plot holes and convenient resolutions that he comes up with.

Even with limited screenings before the movie officially releases, the internet is set ablaze with over-analysis and explanation of scientific theories ranging from gravity to relativity to astrophysics used in the movie. The average viewer would rather be entertained than to have to go home and do their research on space-time travel to understand the plot. Not everyone in the audience would be equipped to handle the scientific mumbo-jumbo that is thrown around in liberal doses, and in some scenes with the sound mixing not right, it could be a pain to figure out what is being said. While Interstellar may blow your mind away with the visuals and the technical aspects--of which Nolan is a master--it is found wanting in the screenplay--of which Nolan is not--where some plot points go way over your head. What also ails the story is the lack of well developed characters. There are some shoddily written scenes that try to come across as thought-provoking but only end up looking manipulative.

Fresh off his Academy Award success, McConaughey plays his role with aplomb, he speaks his lines with the same calm and raspy tone that he did for a season in True Detective making it sound like you were in a class of Philosophy 101. His character is also blessed with more detail, which makes us easy to connect with, however, we cannot say the same for other characters. Michael Caine as Dr. Brand is an extension of the Michael Caine in any of Nolan’s other movies -- the wise old man who gives a direction and a sense of purpose to the hero’s journey. Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand is a weakly developed character, for someone who shares more screen time with the hero, her character doesn’t add much to the story, there comes a moment in the movie where she talks about love and how powerful of an emotion it is, instead of sounding thought-provoking and rooting for her, it only sounds manipulative and out of place in a sci-fi flick. Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain as Murph is the emotional core to which Cooper wants to return to, angry at her father for having left her, but smarter beyond her age, she tries to put the pieces together. There are more lighter moments in Interstellar than in any of Nolan’s films, most of it coming from a robot named TARS. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack has always been an integral part of Nolan's movies, making the scenes more grand. In Interstellar it is minimal yet absorbing, a departure from his more pulse-pounding works in Inception and the Batman Trilogy.

While Interstellar features Nolan’s trademark jump cuts in the final scenes of the movie that keeps building the suspense, it would seem hard to keep up for the audience once the movie becomes more scientific and enters the perplexing territory of time and space and other dimensions. Interstellar requires a suspension of disbelief, while it may be frustrating to grasp what’s happening in the movie, you’d just have to let go and be taken in by the stunning visuals. If you thought the beauty of space was jaw dropping in Gravity, Interstellar would only take it to a whole new level.

Nolan’s movies have always created a divide in the audience where a certain section calls him out as a sham that makes blockbusters with all the razzmatazz and pop-philosophy but lacking in heart, whereas there is the other section of Nolan fanboys that reads between the lines of every Nolan flick and tries to equate it with a profound philosophy. I love the rush of watching a Nolan movie in a crowded cinema hall, it leaves me perplexed yet entertained, it gives me scenes that I could take home with me. Although, I wouldn’t go all out to madly defend him, I know his movies have flaws, but at the end of the day, he leaves me entertained, and that’s all that matters. 

However, while I walked out of the theater, there wasn’t much to hold on to, all my excitement that had reached fever pitch during pre-screening was fizzled out, giving way to a bewilderment in trying to figure out what was happening after the show ended. But as the hours passed, and I kept going over it again and again in my head, I realized I needed to give it a second try in the theater, and a third try when the DVDs released.

Interstellar could be a frustrating watch or an enthralling one; it depends on the expectations you walk in with. With the scientific concepts and some gaping plot holes, it is yet another Nolan flick that would require multiple viewings to understand. But then, you wouldn’t mind, it’s Christopher Nolan after all. It’s all in the name.

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