19 November, 2014

Wagner's A Space Odyssey

Or "Time is Not a Flat Circle, It's a Sphere"
A Review of Interstellar (2014)

While I've been diddling around reviewing mediocre comics on a self-imposed dare, I have been remiss in my actual calling: Reviewing good movies and telling you to go see them. Ignoring the movies that I have already reviewed, I will say this before I get onto the actual review, the following movies are fantastic and deserve to be seen: Fury, Calvary, Noah, Gone Girl.

Alright. Thanks. Here we go, into the great wide open--

For those of you who worry: This will be a spoiler free review. Part of the wonder of Interstellar is not knowing where it is going and then, somehow, arriving at these amazing vistas. And the rest of the fun comes from figuring out how you got there. So, worry not. Put your adult diapers back in the closet, you won't get them in a ruffle over little old me.

I will also try to be brief.

2014 has been a fantastic year for film and, specifically, it has been a fantastic year for the special effects movie. Between Snowpiercer, Godzilla, Days of Future Past, Guardian of the Galaxy, and Edge of Tomorrow there have been a lot of well done, exemplary films that also happen to involve running, jumping, and blowing things up. We are in a new golden age of special effects pictures and Interstellar fits snuggly in among all of those.

Christopher Nolan, he of Batman and Inception, has crafted a movie that is as much about human relationships as it is about fast things moving through space. That has always been his strong suit. His weakness is that in that ambition, he misses out on the details, yet we are also left with an amazing experience. Interstellar is about human beings interacting with time, space, movements, and sound on the grandest scale possible. It is not so much film as it is opera.

I will come absoluetly clean with you: Interstellar is a movie that I did not understand at all for the last hour and a half, but I know that I loved it. Somehow that feels thematically consistent.

So, the good things--

First of all, the music is incredible. As much as 2001: A Space Odyssey is about melodrama in the Classical sense, so to is Interstellar. The score by Hans Zimmerman sets the tone and the emotions as much as the actors on the screen set them, and between Matthew MacConaugher (Academy Award winner), Anne Hathaway (Academy Award winner), Michael Caine (Acadamy Award winner), Matt Damon (Academy Award winner), and Jessica Chastain (Academy Award nominee), the movie does a pretty solid job on that end.

It's an amazing score, and it underlines what the movie is about, which is motion and emotions. I think I vainly tried to describe this when Gravity came up last year and I failed. I think the same feelings apply, though. Interstellar in many ways is about feelings and movement in the grandest sense possible. Again, this is opera that we are dealing with. Zimmerman's score, mixed with everything else in the film elevates it to something more, something much more precious than the sum of its parts.

Space Man, Dude
A lot of people complain that music is manipulative, that it tricks people into thinking a scene is more important than it is. Well, that's nonsense. That's what music does. That's what music in film does. It's a trick. It's all a trick. Nolan and Zimmerman manage to pull off the greatest trick of all, which is making you believe in this massive, cosmic opera that they have constructed. The film's score is as much responsible for making me cry during this movie as anyone else in the project.

And, on a slight aside, Interstellar has the best movie robots since. . . Aw, hell. David from Prometheus? We all liked him, right? Anyways, somebody give me a TARS spin-off. What an amazing/dumb idea.

Interstellar, like all of Nolan's films, are not the perfect watches that he wants them to be (or, with some people, needs them to be). I won't slog into the Dark Knight Risesdebate again, but we all have opinions on that film, right? Whether we like it or not, we all know that the details of the story are not Nolan's main concern, right? In his ambition, Nolan tends to overstep. Missing the details in favor of the grander picture. And unlike a great piece of Islamic art, his mistakes are not intentional. He is a man and his reach excedes his grasp.The same is true of Interstellar.

When the film arrives at what I will call the “Cosmic Erector," the movie hits a patch of black ice and starts careening out of control. It is at this point that we are asked to take a big bite of this mystery sandwich. Now, I might be mixing up my metaphors (or are the similes?) here, but I'm riding high off of space fumes and really need to get this all across. Like Nolan, I need you to stick with me.

Anyways, it's nonsense. Utter nonsense. In a movie that has painstakingly and proudly adhered to scientific reality (there is a reason that Nolan called upon physicist Kip Thorne to work on this movie) it is an abrupt and confusing stop. Faith is a major theme in the movie, but I don't know that this extends to the viewers. It has given you a good few hours of concrete, scientific adventure, then it basically asks you to believe in wizardry. And fuck you, no I am not. I just paid sixteen bucks, not including parking to get into this movie. But, the movie has been good so far and I just paid sixteen bucks, not including parking to watch it.

And, luckily that great filmic ditch never arrives. The narrative rights itself and everything turns out just fine. And that's kind of amazing. It then appears to be less of a film losing control as it is a film that has earned a few moments of indulgence. From the places it has been and the places that it then goes, it maybe had earned that indulgence.

And that mystery sandwich that I mentioned earlier? It is a Reuben. Maybe the best Reuben you've had in years. And you feel like a fool for ever doubting this delicious, delicious sandwich. And what's that? A pickle? Yes it is. You earned it.

Interstellar feels like a movie born to receive superlatives. It is about the greatest achievements of mankind. It is both a requiem and a jubilee all rolled into one. It's big, it is audacious, it is very loud. There is nothing muted or demur about the movie, even when it is dealing with smaller character moments. Even its flaws are incredibly loud and obvious. As a whole, though, like the best of Nolan's films, it works. Interstellar is a grand and imperfect film that perfectly encapsulates what is so incredible about people, the universe, and film.



Whether you want it to be true or not, Christopher Nolan is going to go down as one of the Great Directors. Make yourself right with your god, because no one else is going to save you. And, for the record, The Dark Knight Rises was the second best Bond movie to come out that year.

 It's also appropriate that the last movie I saw at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood was 2001: A Space Odyssey (it also might pass for a major plot point in a Christopher Nolan movie, but anyways. . .)

Man. Now I want to see 2010: The Year We Make Contact. And Contact. And Sunshine again. And Event Horizon when it's not on TV. Man. Space really is the place, isn't it?

I still have this document, complete with pictures, about the hows and whys of how amazing space travel is. I will never finish it. But Interstellar will do in its own way. It is a love letter to space travel and space exploration which, to me, is a love letter to this planet. Going Out There represents the greatest achievement that we could possibly have. Or not. I don't know. I never finished it because the ideas never coalesced in my head. We should strive to do impossible things, I guess is the major thrust of it. I don't know if that is what Interstellar is arguing for, but I'd like to think that it is. I'd like to think that somebody does something impossibly because of what this movie represents.

It would be nice to live in a world where our greatest heroes are pioneers, not soldiers. And I say this as a guy who loves Fury with all of his pinko heart.

James Kislingbury writes, podcasts, and begs for money.