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.