Thoughts On ‘Interstellar’

I just watched Interstellar. I had a great time. I feel like director Christopher Nolan really nailed the feeling he was going for – which, to me, was a bold mixture of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Brian Eno-scored NASA documentary For All Mankind, life affirming earth panorama Koyaanisqatsi, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos… with a sprinkling of exquisite 90s galactic haunted house Event Horizon and Terence Malick’s The Tree Of Life. It may not be for everyone, but for my particular tastes and predilections, it hit the spot in a very specific way.

Interstellar-Trailer-02

It never coheres perfectly, but I was genuinely caught up in the illusion he was pulling off this time. I was high on the experience, despite seeing his influences splattered everywhere, in startling clarity. Hell, the main theme is an unabashed riff on the final movement of Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi score. In that last sequence, we watch a Russian cosmonaut rocket explode on takeoff, then tumble to the earth, pirouetting in slow motion. See it here:

Powerful stuff, right?

It’s an apt metaphor for the fear driving this film’s ambitions. Writer Jonathan Nolan was quoted saying, “We’re not fucking going to space,” to originally attached director Steven Spielberg. He goes on to say, “We’ve literally peaked as a species with a little flag on the moon. Can you imagine in a million years when the alien anthropologists turn up and they find the flag and say, ‘Fuck they almost made it. They got that far.'”

I get the feeling that when a science fiction film is considered, all bets are off for the pedants who normally respect the illusory irrationality of cinema. While I will make no case for Interstellar as a perfect piece of cinema, or an important one, I will say that it’s not only a grand ride; Neil DeGrasse Tyson agrees.

As I reminded a friend: Tyson is an astrophysicist, not a film expert. I’m merely making the case that, because someone who has dedicated his life to what most of us deem speculative fiction can fully accept the film and take it on its own narrative terms, surely the armchair (or wood panel basement) equivalent can learn to relax and enjoy sci-fi as you would any other genre. Or not.

I suppose that tangent was merely a nod toward the fact that, hailed as a “true” sci-fi epic or not, this was a supreme aesthetic experience that never blows audience intelligence out the airlock. It may not even attempt the depth most of its inspiration (especially Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, which Nolan has specifically mentioned and is totally fucking streaming in full on youtube here) but it grabbed me on a gut level that few films do. I think you should watch it.

Addendum

Sitting at work this morning, contemplating Armistice Day, I recalled a line from Interstellar, regarding the spaceship under construction. “Every rivet could have been a bullet.” This appears to be a direct nod to President Eisenhower’s famous Chance For Peace speech, where he intoned the following:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

This reinforces my understanding of the film as not only a thoughtfully grand magic trick, but a call to arms (so it were) for the current generation to focus our ambitions beyond ourselves, and look to the skies rather than our borders. It’s a remarkably similar sentiment expressed countless times throughout the modern iteration of Cosmos, which is now streaming in full on Netflix. Watch it if you have yet to.

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