Thoughts on the Not So Fantastic Four

2015 Fantastic Four


One of my favorite film critics is Roger Ebert. Of course I have to share my adulation for the first film critic to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with other film buffs. Reason being he used prose that the layman could understand and he pretty much communicated his thoughts in all candor. I like that. What I don’t like are film critics that suck all the fun out of the movie-going experience (ergo the pompous John Simon of the “National Review” whose attacks Siskel and Ebert had to defend on ABC News in 1983 when Simon blasphemed “Star Wars” as “dehumanizing” and “stultifying”). From that very interview Siskel states “I do not think a film should be rewarded for aiming low and hitting that mark.” Alas I think I’ll don my Pauline Kael suit for this review considering there is something about a bad movie that can’t even meet the mild expectations I originally had for it that makes me very upset.

When great movies do well in the box office everyone is happy. When great movies flop the moviegoer is still happy. When bad movies do well (e.g. “Jurassic World” which I admittedly liked) only Hollywood is happy. But when poor movies flop, no one is happy (think “The Lone Ranger”). Well “Fantastic Four” falls into the latter category with a solid Rotten Tomatoes score of 12% which is pretty terrible considering some of the worst movies I have ever seen have gotten scores of 80 to 90%–even “Ant Man’s” rating was 80% fresh tomatoes. So what to make of this dismal display of light and sound that without a doubt does not reach the level of art all movies should strive to reach? Well first when you throw an old, tired genre like the superhero movie at an audience that continues to go see these god-awful flicks and completely drop the ball…I’m sorry to say but our free market economy just will not tolerate let alone reward this kind of ignoble failure, at least in the case of the blockbuster movie. I mean the most intelligent line from the movie that I can recall is Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathey) preaching that his “generation’s mistakes are your generation’s [the millennials’] opportunities.” Boy was that vapid. Second maybe the producers shouldn’t have gone through with the idea for a sequel considering those of us who are millennials, which is essentially who the American film industry is catering to these days, (ever since the jarring beginnings of the “New Hollywood” starting out in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s) saw this movie a decade ago. Trust me, I was nine and I still remember Jessica Alba as Sue Storm. Anyway all this to say we need more movies that mean something to someone, anyone other than as a product that falls somewhere on the economic spectrum between a good and service for the sole purpose of generating box office sales. (Except for the special effects used to create Doom’s head. Those were sick and we need those for the upcoming “Star Wars Episode VII,” which by the way they can make ten more of and I will be at every theater showing).


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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation: A Pretty Probable Mission Because It’s the Fifth One


Mission Impossible 5


Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” I just wasn’t moved by it. There are so many intuitive avenues a movie centered on the dissolution of a government agency the filmmakers could’ve taken, yet the plot for this particular installment was very simple like a naïve child. (Let’s just get on our knees for a minute and thank God it wasn’t as bad as “Avengers: Age of Ultron” because Lord knows it could’ve been). Don’t misread me though. I don’t mean the movie is immature because of the low comedy—which was admittedly pretty funny. No, I mean the movie was unsophisticated even as they chose to select a femme fatale that was, which is very much in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock—more on that later. The intellectual underpinnings of the movie are just as important as its content. Ilsa Faust’s (Rebecca Ferguson) leap-into-the-air-and-scissor strangles, motorcycle grand prix, and a lot of bullet fire do not make up for a weak and unsatisfying story. Indeed what is a beautiful edifice if its architecture is flawed in more one ways than one?

I will concede however Alfred Hitchcock’s influence in the film is very apparent. The close shots of Ilsa’s coming betrayal when Benji (Simon Pegg) remarks he misjudged her is plucked from the master’s own oeuvre. Then when director Atlee (Simon McBurney) forces her to commit more acts that go against her morality halfway through the movie, we really see the Professor (Leo G. Carrell) from “North by Northwest.” This revelation is interesting because apart of what made North by Northwest such a remarkable film was the fact that Hitchcock played against the audience’s expectation in the desert scene by planting the main character Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) in the heart of an abyss away from the city and his technology. But in this fifth rendition, the climactic ending is shrouded in fog and darkness. This is one reason why I find the film unrewarding: it doesn’t make me think very much. With an action film of this nature, naturally the filmmakers are supposed to made good on some of the conventions a genre promises its audience. But that is not necessarily an excuse for a lack of ingenuity or creativity. Simply put director McQuarrie could’ve done better.

Once again Tom Cruise places himself in considerable danger that other actors would’ve pleaded a stuntman to perform. Cruise is a man who knows no boundary. As the film was winding down (when it should have been building up to a climax might I add), Ethan’s luckiness, his disposition to play God, and the efficacy of his past missions being attributed to pure luck is hammered down our throats. But I felt these insults were leveled more at Tom Cruise the man, rather than Ethan Hunt the character. Hanging onto to the outside of a mammoth plane for a couple of shots that we will soon forget about in the cacophony of Vienna opera houses and scripted fight scenes, Cruise as gone from dauntless to megalomaniacal.

Anyway I loved Rebecca Ferguson. She isn’t like the typical American lead actress who flaunts her sexuality in such a provocative way, you feel uncomfortable if you went to see this movie with family members. She is an elegant lady in my opinion and her grace is subtle yet entrancing. The very kind of woman Hitch searched for in his movies: think Eve Marie Saint or Grace Kelly. Sean Harris as Lane was also pretty terrifying. If you enjoyed playing in the sandbox as a little one, you’ll probably enjoy this movie too. After all it’s just child’s play.

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Southpaw: A Movie That Will Kick Your Tongue Out

Billy gets down to some serious training at Tick's gym.  Boxing Coordintor Terry Claybon, JG, FW


            Last night “Southpaw” opened to a packed theater house and ended to an initial patter of clapping that grew into a resounding ovation, quite an anomaly in today’s movies. Indeed the ending was a humbling resolution to a character study that was quite emotional.

“Southpaw” is more of a modern day rendition of “Raging Bull”—a kind of Jake LaMotta meets Floyd Mayweather and all the grandeur that comes with contemporary boxing matches. The allusions and similarities are quite apparent in the opening moments of the movie. Though the beginning fight isn’t fixed, Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is nonetheless the incarnation of the masochistic fighter played by Robert De Niro. In the words of Paul Schrader’s script “no matter how hard [Billy] is hit, no matter how often, he always staggers forward — like a bull.” Even in the corner of the ring, Billy’s trainer criticizes him just as Jake’s younger brother Joey (Joe Pesci) did. Jordan Mains (50 Cent) is the slimy manifestation of Salvy (Frank Vincent). Characters make a handful of heavy-fisted references to Hell’s Kitchen, the location of Raging Bull and Martin Scorsese’s hometown.

The choreography of character movement in the film is the most notable distinction between “Southpaw’s” earlier companion. The punches are timed to perfection, and they land with visceral delight. The final uppercut that planted Miguel Escobar firmly on his keister catalyzed a salvo of hoots and hollers from the audience. Additionally, the dance between Billy and the opposing fighters in the ring is something of a primal waltz.

The movie takes an original spin on the use of diegetic and non-diegetic music to evoke mood and themes just as Scorsese plucked songs from his youth to garnish his movies. The movie expertly uses Frank Ocean’s “Wise Man” to signify a number of different ideas like the fact that Maureen would be proud Billy changed his ways after her death and repaired his absent relationship to his daughter. (I would like to note that the ambience created in the theater when this song came on in the background to Billy’s loving embrace of his daughter was nothing short of romantic and tender). The Weeknd also makes an appearance, albeit an auditory one, in Billy’s consummation with Maureen. It seems like no one knew who he was a couple of years ago and now his music is ubiquitous.

The personal touches that have made what would have been good movies classic ones in the past are what make “Southpaw” such a satisfying movie. When Jordan makes a command to his security detail to walk out with Bill following a disagreement to ensure he doesn’t “break shit on the way out” was very clever. The scenes between Billy and his new trainer (Forest Whittaker) are some of the best in the movie. Also the shots of Billy roaring into the camera lens was primordially gratifying.

Even now Maureen’s (Rachel McAdams) death continues to haunt me. I just wish her death was on terms that would have criticized society in a bigger way than just another insufficient reason as to why we need gun control reform. All in all Billy’s relationship to his daughter resonates with me the most (just like Jake and Joey’s) and may even show a few of us the importance of cherishing the few people in our lives that mean the world to us…because they may be taken out of our world at any moment by something as arbitrary and as little as a bullet round.

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Ex Machina: Artificial Intelligence or Imperfect Gods?



“All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.”

“Ex Machina” is quite cognizant of Hollywood’s predisposition to incorporate memorable lines into its films for creative reasons or otherwise more financially motivated ones. (Does “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” come to mind? Oh, no? How about “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore?”) In spirit with the industry and, of course “Ex Machina,” I decided to throw in a line of my own from Proverbs 16:2. I admit I have my own monotheistic leanings, but I nevertheless feel it brings the film to a full 360-degree circle.

Ex Machina is one of the best sci-fi films I have seen. The ultimate measure of how well any film holds up under both critical and the general movie-goers’ reception is whether or not it resonates with them on a personal, emotional and logically satisfying level. Ex Machina does. The entire movie with its many original renditions of conventions plucked from the genres of mystery, sci-fi, drama and monster-in-a-house is much more complex than your typical run-of-the-mill version of cat-and-mouse. Though the ending is a bit trippy and shocking, it is indeed the logical conclusion of the film’s central dramatic question that Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) asks of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) at one point during the movie: what purpose does AI (short for artificial intelligence) serve? Honestly, I don’t have an answer. Frankly I don’t think it needs one just as Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” leaves its meaning open to interpretation. But there are some particularly attractive ideas that the movie ponders.

(Spoiler) Nathan dies. His death is particularly unfortunate and was not exactly expected. Considering his uber-intelligence and seemingly ubiquitous understanding of both people and machines it comes as a surprise because his death follows a scene in which he very convincingly led us to believe he was very much in control of Caleb and Ava (Alicia Vikander). But he failed to see the imminence of his own death that ironically came by the hand of one of his own creations. Maybe it was hubris? Perhaps Nathan had one too many drinks and it impaired his ability to think? Pretty dubious if you ask me. I took his death to mean that not only do immoral men of every stripe always receive their comeuppance but that also when men are left to their vices they consistently and unfailingly undermine and bring about the undoing of themselves and the people closest to them. Humanity is connected by a common umbilical cord, and every decision we make affects another person. This is the very reason why the Dalai Lama advocates compassion more than anything. If you look closely at Jesus’ teachings, He also believes in treating others as they would like to be treated. The problem is that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Admittedly Nathan’s life looks a lot more like one of hard work and dedication. But in those very candid moments in which he opens up to Caleb, his responses are always vapid and picayune, contributing very little to Caleb’s search for truth. Nathan personifies the existentialism and disillusionment that has come to personify our times. Bored with life and vaguely believing in the importance of his work he decides to build AI to serve his own bestial needs, rather than simply going out and finding a nice woman or better yet making friends. Wealth and material possession can never take the place of personal fulfillment and discovering one’s friends and family. Simplicity and contentment is not enough for men like Nathan and only in the end do they realize at what price their vanity and avarice has cost them.


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Trolled Image

By: Morgan Young

A veritable mountain of Redbull, Twizzlers, and Pop-Tarts awaits students as they file into Princeton Film Productions’ lecture hall. Students of all backgrounds and academic interests have come together to celebrate and undertake the art of filmmaking. After a quick orientation, the assignment of teams, and the distribution of film equipment, t-shirts, and caffeinated snacks, Princeton students scatter, blood pumping with excitement and inordinate amounts of sugar. Their only mission: to create a film…in twenty-four hours.

Last Friday, Princeton Film Productions (PFP) invited Princeton students to participate in Princeton’s first 24-Hour Film Festival. Students were given everything they needed to create a short film no longer than five minutes. They could explore any genre and tackle any subject. Working in teams, students were instructed to write a script, film the footage, and edit their entire film—all from scratch—in only twenty-four hours. If a short film felt like too large a project, students could even submit a trailer for a theoretical film they envisioned as a group. To get the creative juices flowing, PFP also gave the teams a phrase they had to include in each of their final products: the flexible and stimulating, “Why does everybody keep saying that?”

Princeton Film Productions was founded last year, a student group meant to “appeal to people who…want to create something,” says co-president, Cameron Johanning ’16. With almost no opportunity for Princeton students to engage with filmmaking as an extracurricular activity, PFP wants to provide students with a new way to ex press themselves in the arts. Co-president Dalia Katan explains that the 24-Hour Film Festival was meant to “find a way to bring in the wider Princeton population and involve them in film production” so that people who had never touched a camera before could gain some experience in a new art medium. Students raved about how much they learned during their weekend dip into the film industry; PFP gave flash tutorials in screenwriting, directing, acting for film, and equipment use and remained available to answer any questions participants may have had during the full twenty-four hours.

Once the twenty-four hours were up, students submitted their final works and prepared for the Saturday night screening party. PFP arranged for a panel of Princeton University faculty to judge the films at the screening and award $600 worth of prizes to the films chosen for Best Acting, Best Script, Best Directing, and Best Production; the volunteer judges were Dean Janet Rapelye, Professor Michael Smith, Professor Michael Hecht, Shira Hecht, Jim Grassi, and Dr. Justine Levine. Audiences at the screening were called upon to choose the film that would take home the award for Crowd Favorite.

The ambition and creativity shown by the students in their final products were truly impressive. Most teams planted their films firmly in the safer world of comedy, a genre that favors short sketches, informal scriptwriting, and sometimes shaky camcorder filming. Nevertheless, participants managed to experiment with elements of many different genres including film noir, documentary, horror, stop motion, silent movie, and even the quirky genre of internet memes, a small team using their filmmaking opportunity to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Some films were more successful than others, but all teams obviously put a huge amount of effort into their pieces. Once the screening was finished, the judges deliberated, tallied their scores for each film, and presented the chosen teams with their awards.

Above Two Lines by Ioana Ferariu ’15, Martina Fouquet ’16, Allen K. Williams ’15, Oliver Marsh ’15, and Hema Globin ’16 followed its own creative team’s hilariously desperate unraveling under the pressure of creating a film in just 24 hours. Many teams experimented with film festival meta, creating films about the struggle of creating films. But the Above Two Lines team’s admirable commitment to their ridiculous melodrama earned them the award for Best Acting.

The judges awarded Best Script to the sweetly simple and heartwarming Just Duet, produced by Nonny Okwelogu ’15, Michael Melesse ’18, Casey Kolb ’15, Cynthia Steinhardt ’16, Alex Geller ‘GS, and Francis Adu ’17. Starring team member, Casey Kolb, and Emily Whitaker ’15, Just Duet delicately spins the adorable tale of two pianists who romance each other with musical conversation through the wall between two practice rooms. The creative team chose to echo the silent films of the early twentieth century, communicating the piece’s few lines of dialogue with stylized intertiles. Just Duet stood as a testament to “less is more” at the 24-Hour Film Festival, proving that simplicity triumphs over crowded wordiness. Lift, which took home the award for Best Directing, is a lovely and poignant piece about an elevator conductor who celebrates his birthday by silently and patiently working the hotel lift for increasingly peculiar guests. Created by Spencer Rodriguez ’15, Don Wilson ’15, Nabeer Khan ’15, and Myles McGinley ’15, and starring a host of talented actors, Lift uses a plethora of creative filming techniques, including a dream sequence, flashbacks and voiceover narration. Lift capitalizes upon visual humor by setting up laughably contrasting shots between the many guests the operator encounters, switching from a snobby businessman, to two drunk bachelorettes, to a surprisingly amiable hit man. The guests’ stories are artfully told in parallel, and the Lift team was very careful to keep the pacing quick and smooth.

The award for Crowd Favorite came down to an impassioned cheer-off between the teams of Lift and Yik Yak. The two teams rallied their friends into screeches and songs in an effort to take home the gold. The deafening whooping, chanting, and dancing of Luis Gonzalas-Yante ’18, Fida Newaj ’18, Daniel Spruill ’18, Jeffery Saeteurn ’18, William Kelly ’18, Daniel Liu ’18, Duke Atalay ’18, and their friends won Yak Off the Crowd Favorite trophy. The short film itself was a huge success amongst audiences at the festival, leaning heavily into a niche of reference humor targeted specifically at Princeton students. The protagonist, as punishment for the heinous crime of reposting a Reddit joke on Yik Yak, is kidnapped by the trench-wearing, sunglasss-sporting social media mafia. They subject him to atrocious forms of torture, including the clanging scales of The Frist Piano Guy and the cheap, itchy texture of the campus bathrooms’ notorious one-ply toilet paper.

The award for Best Production justly went to Trolled, by Sam Chang ’16, Aaron Yin ’17, Robert Zhang ’16, and Logan Sander ’18. A brilliant amalgamation of horror and comedy, the short film follows a protagonist on his way out of Princeton who is relentlessly haunted by a miniature troll doll. Trolled’s ambitious and creative cinematography gave the short film, which ran less than five minutes, the polished feel of a professional feature film. One of the few films that used incidental music, Trolled had a sound that effortlessly built up suspense. Editing was precise and clever, a series of rapid-fire, one-word flashback cuts seamlessly spelling out the required phrase, “Why-does-every-body-keep-saying-that?”

Princeton Film Productions has proven itself a force to be reckoned with. The 24-Hour Film Festival was an exciting and rewarding commencement of a new annual tradition on Princeton’s campus. The festival is an incredible opportunity for experienced students to hone their filmmaking skills, or for novices to sail uncharted into a whole new artistic world. The film community at Princeton is sorely underrepresented and PFP’s 24-Hour Film Festival is an excellent means of gaining growing visibility and providing the community with an increasing number of artistic opportunities and experiences. As the festival becomes a time-honored tradition on campus, Princeton students will be sure to let the good times—and the film reels—roll.

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Through a Black Hole Darkly: A Review of “Interstellar”

Interstellar 2014 Movie Captures00041

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Spoiler alert: (There might be one or two spoilers in the following)

“We had an agreement. 90%.” These few courageous words heralded man’s defining achievement as space pioneer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) transcends space-time and pilots mankind’s ushering into a “literal heart of darkness”: a black hole. These words capture the essence of the entire film within a very brief exchange of dialogue. Its implications could also be the film’s central concern: the price people pay in the name of well intentions.

Cooper’s voyage into the star-gate, a psychedelic abyss that stows away the fate of a starving human race, holds more than Professor Brand’s dying words thought possible. The sweeping story of man’s ascent into the stars runs the gauntlet and never takes its foot off the pedal (or our throats for that matter) from visceral emotions and conflicting motivations to broken beliefs, and bubble-bursting actions. In essence, Interstellar is a cosmic rollercoaster ride with a mind-bending ending.

My first impressions of Christopher Nolan’s visionary science fiction tale could best be described as tantamount to The Godfather spoken in Italian-with just enough instances of the astronauts speaking the king’s to understand the emotional ramifications involved when characters are confronted with new revealing information that shatters their original, preconceived notions about how the universe perceivably works. But, as time will wont to do, doesn’t. So as not to spoil too many of those really juicy parts that people could have spent the price of admission for on well-cooked meats elsewhere, I’ll address those intriguing ideas I conjured upon reflection with my roommate.

The beginning was slow. Perhaps that was intentional. After the film picks up steam, it chugs along gaining speed, velocity and momentum until maybe we aren’t sure if even Nolan has control over this three-hour long locomotive. When the movie does begin to deliver the goods, the astronaut’s dense, rapid-fire conversations left my head swimming which was probably how Romilly (David Gyasi) felt after a mission to recover a beacon goes awry, and he’s left face-down swaying to the rhythm of waves blanketing a planet that could potentially house future generations in water. I also felt the beginning was improperly paced as the sentimental moments (evocative of the opening of The Exorcist before the real action begins) could have been done without. All the audience really needed to know were three things: (1) the world is running out of food, (2) humanity needs a new place for its attractive, yet degenerate race to call home—with Cooper as its savior; and (3) creating an emotional bond between Cooper and his daughter, and the very real possibility they may never see each other again which, in turn, raises the stakes to an unbearable degree. This could have been done without all of the panoramic shots of cornfields and images necessarily redolent of the Dust Bowl which followed the Great Depression and hitting home with obvious contemporary and far-reaching repercussions about the recent Great Recession. I think the audience would have arrived at these points with just a few well-thought out scenes.

If there was a time to “talk down to the audience,” it would’ve been during scenes such as when Dr. Mann (Matt Damon) provides the rational behind his deceit and later betrayal of Cooper and his team’s trust ending up in the destruction of a temporary space station and consequently Romilly’s life. During one of these impenetrable conversations I was able to make out “Einstein,” and maybe the writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan should have read Einstein’s quote, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” It would have helped us who are uninitiated into the ranks of esoteric quantum mechanical lingo follow the logic of the story a little bit better.

Now onto treachery, the first instance being Michael Cain shattering the congenial expectations his person in a Nolan film brings up by confessing to a lie his character Brand orchestrates in order to get Cooper and company—real people who are biologically motivated to place a greater emphasis in and allegiance to family members they care for versus more noble values such as saving the human race—to sacrifice their reality in favor of his. (Interstellar may be like Inception after all). These ideas of how the ideal world is perpetually in contention with how the world actually works resurfaces again and again as these characters who literally feel the weight of the world on their shoulders “forces” them to cave under pressure, i.e. the definition of uncourageous—or plain ol’ pathetic—which is why I felt my earlier comparison to The Godfather on the grounds of similar themes was justified. As Cooper charges Dr. Mann on these grounds, I can’t help but point out that his namesake must be a conscious association with the carnal self-interest that drives him. My spill is that even though I empathize with the characters after originally having mixed emotions about Mann and Brand with my emotional pendulum swinging to that of hatred versus sympathy, it’s not acceptable to justify one’s immoral actions with that of good intentions. If these astrophysicists and astronauts could see that their actions would have proven to be inefficacious (though they ultimately are not), they would surely not have made them in the first place. (To deter for a moment, I feel like the controlling idea of Interstellar was the idea that humans will one day have complete free will, and autocratic autonomy to do as they please and that Cooper’s ascension into the fifth dimension expressed in thee dimensional shapes was indicative of. Therefore, if the cowards in the film had remained true to their ideals they would have saved mankind without sacrificing moral respectability). However speaking hypothetically, especially in a retrospective way, is a dumfounded approach and is much too simple to provide solutions to my readers about how to conduct themselves here on earth so that they may die peacefully, feeling fulfilled (and hopefully able to meet God in the umpteenth dimension). The best way I’ve heard my argument played out was by none other than Eleanor Roosevelt, “Connecting should advance, rather than compromise, your principles.” Sure, she may have been referring to networking, however it’s the principle once again that counts at the end of the day. And if people like Mann and Brand make decisions that compromise the integrity of the values and ethics they grew up to believe in which make up the fabric of their beings—the very principles like saving mankind encompasses—then everything they stand for and any fruitful products they may bring about will essentially be for naught. In economic terms, the moral costs will outweigh the tangible benefits.

I think it’s overdue to discuss another level of deceit I sort of implied earlier: the censorship of truth may somehow be justified if the people in power do what’s “best” for the people—with best being a very subjective word indeed. There are two kinds of deceit that arise: (1) that of the government supposedly faking the space program to plunge the USSR in debt and boost morale back home in favor of our decision to suppress communism, and (2) the professor’s decision to withhold the truth that he had the solution to the equation that would’ve saved mankind and send Cooper on an interstellar goose chase. Since all of the major characters in the film had seemingly good intentions, and every action whether I agreed with them or not brought about the emancipation and salvation of people, were they right in doing so? That may be a little over my head to answer definitively and I leave that to you, the reader, but I would answer quite tersely “no.” As far as the teacher (Collette Wolfe) at the start of the film informing the audience that the space program was a sham and the professor letting Cooper in on the secret that NASA was continued without the knowledge of the general public, I feel like the filmmakers are trying to say that power should rest in the hands of not the reigning bourgeoisie nor the people, but instead in a ruling elite of both intelligent people and those with enough clout and skill to bring about, by any means necessary, mankind’s ultimate divination as gods, or a race who will one day inhabit its future Olympus, either here or somewhere out there among the stars.

Film Critique by Chance Melancon ’18.