Box Office Democracy: “Interstellar”

Interstellar is a movie that in the hands of most directors would be a failure. It’s a movie about space and time that assumes an awful lot of knowledge on both subjects from the audience. It’s a movie with a moral compass that swings so wildly that at the end I can only point to three characters and say I absolutely know how the film wants us to feel about them. There’s a healthy dose of paradox and deus ex machina flowing through the third act of the movie. Even good directors would mess this up; this script could have been Neill Blomkamp’s Waterloo. Christopher Nolan turned it in to one of the best science fiction movies in years. I was delighted to watch this movie and hope that every bit of Nolan’s post-Batman career can be this enjoyable.

It must be quite hard to make a movie about space travel. No one in the audience has ever been in space and I have no reason to believe that any of the depictions we’ve seen in movies over the years have been particularly accurate. Instead of trying to one-up Gravity or anything Nolan seems content to draw upon the history of the depictions of space in film. Scenes in Interstellar felt like they could have been in Alien, or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nolan decides to use our shared visual vocabulary to tell quick, expressive stories out of fleeting shots. I don’t mean to suggest that he sits back and only uses images from other directors, far from it; the wormhole and black hole sequences are mind-bendingly wonderful images. Nolan puts more on the table than any director in the genre since Kubrick. It’s the most I’ve been impressed with just sheer directorial force of will in recent memory. Nolan elevates this move more than any acting performance could ever hope to.

It’s a good think Nolan is here because the acting is not the strength I thought it would be. We may be waist deep in the ongoing flood of latter-day Matthew McConaughey’s talent but he feels like he does little except not mess up this movie. He’s not bad or anything but he doesn’t bring anything to this part that any equivalent leading man couldn’t have brought unless Nolan thinks that halfway drawl was essential to portraying this engineer/rocket pilot. Unfortunately this kind of stretches across the cast; I only thought Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and John Lithgow did work that was above replacement level in their roles. The cast is an embarrassment of riches and has the kind of cast that defies belief. I have a strong feeling this cast will one day be looked at like The Godfather or Murder on the Orient Express as one of those films where it’s just unbelievable the top to bottom talent they got. I wish I could come away raving about more of the performances unfortunately they’re all just really good and not spectacular.

It’s hard to walk out of a movie that’s almost three hours and not think it’s a little bloated and Interstellar is no exception. There’s a subplot that slowly worms its way in to the main plot that is just not as clever as either of the Nolan brothers think it is. It leaves us with a very long scene where the characters figure something out that was pretty obvious two hours ago. The script is just a bit shy of being as clever as it thinks it does and those moments become a little more obvious when you’ve been sitting for over two hours.

These are little, meaningless, complaints. Performances that are very good but not great, 15 minutes that could be easily trimmed from a 169 minute movie, trifling little nothings. This is a masterpiece of filmmaking and the bar that I will be measuring science fiction against for years to come. It’s a spellbinding, emotionally gripping, visually arresting piece of filmmaking that is, as of now, the best film Christopher Nolan has ever produced.