Revised for accuracy. Given recent personal experiences I’ve had a hard time finding a way to conclude this piece, which by my own admission rambles and meanders on rhetorically. You can only smack the hell out of a laptop so hard it resets so many times before you realize there is really more wrong with the user than the hardware. This stems from a lack of confidence, a fear of sentimentality, and a true monster: a loss of purpose. I don’t know how to say ‘I have a friend who is seriously ill and it scares the shit out of me’ in any way that isn’t cliche or trite. So fuck it, that’s there and it’s going to affect my inadequate writing. Go see Interstellar.
It becomes more and more difficult to write about film in the age of the Internet. Hyperbole and knee-jerk reactions rule the collective consciousness. Commentary runs rampant before a movie comes out, cast and crew and plot details are picked clean for meaning months before a movie is released and we go into a two hour feature with opinions firmly established and expectations in mind. I wonder what it must be like to either go back in time or forward, away from this period of instant gratification and short attention spans. When we would and might tell stories on a stage with a handful of actors and the most basic of props; human stories about love and fear and the nature of life and of being alive. I can only wonder what the perspective was and might be in reference to a film like Interstellar, a film that aspires to be both deeply personal and grounded as well as vastly real, tragically and terrifyingly large in relation to the nature of the Universe and all of its barely comprehensible, terrible majesty. I can only look stupidly on as the ideas and utterly fascinating spectacle of what space and time and science can render in the human mind glance off the popular imagination and spin away into relative obscurity. Replaced by the inanity of a Kardashian or a gesture of political hackery, dismissed with an off-hand ‘SUCKS’, or ‘IT’S OKAY, NOT AS GOOD AS GRAVITY’. And the world spins on. No, Interstellar is not a perfect film in my humble opinion but it’s more than all that. And in relation to that not too distant past and potentially not too implausible future, Chris Nolan is a kind of sorcerer and he created an incredible, bracing story about the mortality of the human race. A prescient one that it’s audience may or may not be worthy of.
My biggest problem with this film and Nolan in general is his affinity for exposition. It’s apparent and necessary in his film Inception but here it’s almost like he has no trust in the general public to take things on faith. There are two kinds of dialogue in Interstellar, expository scene chomping and emotional scene chomping. This is where my only real disappointment came from, his endless need to telegraph what the audience should be thinking and feeling at all times which makes a kind of sense based on what I’ve read of his directorial style. He’s methodical and precise, clear and detached, processing what needs to be done as it’s happening and this comes at the expense of spontaneity, of genuine chemistry developing on screen. This feeds into my other big problem I have with him, the man has no sense of humor to speak of. There are a few attempts made throughout this film that really require a mental moment to review, oh, this is meant to be funny, that was supposed to be a joke. Comedy is timing and context and not his gift at all. I cannot fathom why the artificial intelligence is voiced by two of the least intelligent sounding voice actors I have ever heard in mainstream cinema. I couldn’t place it during the movie but afterward it hit me:
The thing is, when Interstellar is focused on its actual points it is pretty devastating. It’s like looking through a telescope where everything on the other end is hypnotic and stunning, it’s star-stuff, the heavens and hell made amalgamate but then you take your eye off the lens and suddenly you’re looking at the absurd collection of protein and calcium that talks to you and smells good and loves you and is so real and important that your own existence becomes a secondary priority to their well-being. It’s love and it’s gravity. Thematically they are exchanged in this film as, theoretically, the only two forces we know that can transcend both space and time. And I believe in that idea. That they are interchangeable philosophical concepts, the behavior is the same, they are equally dangerous and critical. Life saving, life altering. Maybe time altering. And maybe I’m looking for that meaning to be there and that feels right, too. I feel like looking for that is what we’re here to do.
Lately, it feels like there is a kind of pall hanging over us all right now. Where social media has increased public awareness of things like political correctness and class division, we’re also coming to terms with the reality of climate change and human rights atrocities, the wild injustices that still run rampant, things we’re not capable of handling or ameliorating in an immediate or realistic sense. We’re becoming vividly aware of a kind of imbalance, of a trend towards entropy that is not going away no matter how many times we re-tweet or Like a good cause. Perhaps it’s just me but sometimes it feels like the demons are running amok and our captains are as lost as the rest of us. That there are no more heroes, that we are bailing out water and no one seems to be able to right the ship.
So there is this quote that has been on my mind a lot recently, referenced by Kevin Smith and it applies to this film. It’s from The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. Bruce Wayne is speeding towards his eventuality, his car on fire and his enemies closing in, hurling to what he refers to as a ‘good death’. But at the last second he pulls away and fights on. A good death but not good enough, he realizes. Not good enough. I loved Interstellar. It paints with broader strokes than I would like but it also inspires and aspires to something pretty large and significant. Something that is nearly absent in popular culture with the exception of Cosmos: curiosity about the nature of the Universe and a need to explore the unknown for the greater good. Where is Star Trek and The X-Files and The Twilight Zone? Where are the pioneers and the adventurers? How have our imaginations stagnated to such a degree that we no longer look to anything that isn’t familiar for comfort. I read once that Ray Bradbury insisted so vehemently that Fahrenheit 451 is not about censorship that he walked out of a lecture full of students who insisted it was. His assertion was that his novel is actually about the dumbing down of American culture through television. He imagined rooms with entire walls for screens with an endless amount of hollow entertainment, he saw a docile, apathetic society that ignores an impending apocalypse and he saw it in 1953.
I think there are a few heroes left. I don’t know if there are enough but I have a better idea of what that word means, expounded in the words of a father in relation to his children.”When you become a parent, one thing becomes really clear. And that’s that you want to make sure your children feel safe. You cannot go and say to them that they are not safe and someone is going to save them.”
That kind of accountability is not superhuman or abstract, it’s real and palpable, scary but more important than it seems. It can extend beyond family, and it absolutely must in darker days. And when it comes to love, real love, not the playful, aw I love you kind of silliness, the kind that keeps you up at night and is the first thing you think about when you wake up, this accountability is as powerful as anything else in the Universe, Black Holes be damned. Maybe I bring a pessimistic perspective to Interstellar but it comes with an idealistic heart. That we may not be in as bad a shape as it seems, sometimes. Maybe the world isn’t spinning off the rails just yet, but I’d rather not wait until it is for us to realize that this Pale Blue Dot (Google it, young ones) is all we have right now. Emphasis on we and that this matters, all of it. It’s a pretty damn beautiful Dot in my humble opinion, we are a fascinating species capable of as much wonder as horror and if we have lost our purpose and this is the best we could do, this would be a good death.
But not good enough.