Interstellar is epic but riddled with problems
I loved Interstellar, it was beautiful, had thoroughly intriguing story, and even had a satisfactory conclusion. However, I cannot turn a blind eye to some significant problems with the story and direction that I saw. The story problems prevent the movie from being as effective as it could have been, and Christopher Nolan’s direction suffers a lack of focus on details of the narrative and lack of subtlety. These major drawbacks, along with the 3-hour runtime may potentially keep this film from connecting with a large portion of the audience.
Interstellar begins on the Earth of our future. The planet is slowly losing its ability to sustain life, and humanity has stopped dreaming of the stars. School textbooks have been corrected to identify the moon landing as a cold war misinformation scheme. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot and engineer who is now a farmer, due to NASA shutting down for budget purposes. Living with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), teenage son Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and 10-year-old daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) Cooper wants nothing more than to make a better life for his children, but is bound to the land. Murphy’s unbridled enthusiasm of investigating a ghost in her room leads her father to decoding a set of geographic coordinates hidden in gravitational anomalies in her room. The coordinates lead Cooper to the secret base of operations for NASA. It is there he learns that his old mentor Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) are working to rescue humanity from the Earth. They had recently discovered a series of gravitational anomalies, similar to what Cooper found in Murphy’s bedroom, which lead them to the discovery of a wormhole near Saturn. Through this wormhole, they found twelve potentially habitable planets. Ten years ago, they launched the Lazarus mission to send one explorer to each of these planets to ascertain its potential for supporting human life. Dr. Brand then convinces Cooper that his past pilot experience with NASA, and his background makes him the perfect commander for a mission to recover the Lazarus scientists and finalize plans to bring humanity to a new world. There are just a few large problems to overcome. Dr. Brand has not solved the problem of getting a large population of humans off the earth, and several of these planets orbit a gargantuan black hole.
In this story, the first major problem with the film arises. The motivation behind the planet failing to sustain life is not adequately explained. The problems that are coming up with food production are dismissed just by saying a solution cannot be found. Any audience member with a passing understanding of the history of our planet would realize that life is fairly resilient. In fact, the main character, Cooper, expresses the same sentiment that life is resilient and plant and animal life will adapt, which Dr. Brand dismisses without a second thought. Now had they added some additional exposition to this initial plot point it would work, but it is simply taken for granted as an accepted fact. For a film that obviously tried incredibly hard to get as much scientifically correct as possible this rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning. The second major problem with the story is the lack of development, and the significant leaps that will keep an audience running to keep up. The inconsistent pacing began to feel deliberate, as if Christopher Nolan knew that if he gave the audience a chance to think, they would reject the story as only half-formed. The more I think back on the actual story being told, the more I realize the significant lack of depth that was hidden behind awe-inspiring visuals. I was also distressed with the lack of subtlety in the execution of several key plot points in the film (which I will avoid outlining, as they will lead to spoilers). So lacking was the subtlety many climactic moments late in the film were robbed of their gravitas due to the heavy handed foreshadowing. Finally, the sound design was oppressive. With the film score (which was marvelous) and the ambient noise, drowning out dialogue and bordering on the uncomfortable. It is fortunate the story can be followed in spite of missing chunks of dialogue.
I do not want to give the impression that these problems prevented me from enjoying the film, even loving it. Visually it was awesome. The magnitude was nothing short of literally epic. I believe the story Christopher Nolan was attempting to tell was too large for a three-hour film. I don’t think Nolan understood that. This story needed to develop over a longer period of time, and I think that it could have survived a two or three part treatment, if not a Game of Thrones style series length. Honestly, I want more, and was deprived of the development I now desire.
Interstellar is an awe-inspiring film. It serves to remind that Christopher Nolan can turn in a good original story, and direct a visually stunning film. Exposition faults will not detract from the overall enjoyment of the film for the majority of the audience, but may leave some disappointed. 3.5 out of 5
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn
Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language.
Runtime: 169 min