On Christopher Nolan and ‘Interstellar’

There is a tendency when discussing the work of Christopher Nolan to instead discuss the ardent fans of Christopher Nolan — the splenetic commenters who spew vitriol, bigotry and misogyny in bits, pieces and 140 characters.

These people, who generally lie dormant in Nolan forums across the Internet until a new film’s release, unfairly but inevitably affect how people perceive and approach the man’s filmography.


Interstellar
Rating: PG-13
Running time: 169 min.
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway

But save for the death threats directed toward Marshall Fine (he wrote a negative review of The Dark Knight Rises), none of this is particularly relevant.

Since time immemorial people have always found something to get enraged about.

For some it’s ISIS, corruption in Washington or income inequality between men and women, for others its a mixed review of a film directed by their cinematic hero — a man who fortuitously and unfortunately has become the singular voice in these wretched echo chambers.

It is in these hallowed halls of Nolan worship that insularity and ignorance permeates, where names like Kubrick, Hitchcock and Welles are given a “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of that guy” response.

What’s more interesting is not how these people act so childish while cloaked in anonymity, but why. And more specifically, why the films of Christopher Nolan?

After nearly three hours of familial drama, space exploration and relativity, Interstellar answers that question.

For too many, Nolan is the apex of what modern filmmaking has to offer. The final vestige of a bygone era when Hollywood produced intelligent big-budget fare for the masses. And Interstellar, in more ways than one, satisfies the desires of a seemingly insatiable fanbase.

Like Mitt Romney promoting tax cuts at a GOP rally, Nolan is once again preaching to the choir.

From the Hans Zimmer score to the unnerving action sequences and labyrinthine set pieces, Nolan’s immediately recognizable iconography remains intact.

And yet this is Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s most dissimilar collaboration to date. There is an unexpected amount of sentimentality coursing through the veins of Interstellar — an optimistic streak unseen in their work until now.

This attempt at wearing its heart on its sleeve is not always effective, but always fascinating.

This approach begins with the father/daughter relationship between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy). The two are connected in ways that transcend the inherent bond between parent and child. They’re spiritually intertwined, their minds seemingly morphed into a single organism.

But, as the law goes, anything that can happen will happen.

Cooper is forced to make the difficult decision to leave his children (there is also Tom, played by Timothée Chalamet) behind with his father (John Lithgow) as he embarks on a mission to explore a recently discovered wormhole.

What rests inside and beyond the wormhole is precisely where Nolan’s interstellar voyage travels.

As the film unfurls in glorious 70MM, it’s not clear what Interstellar is trying to do or say. After a misbegotten opening half hour, Nolan’s space opera plunges into the abyss with admirable ambition.

Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s creation of space using practical effects is astonishing. There are a few breathtaking shots in which Cooper and his crew’s ship are orbiting a planet that profoundly underscore just how minuscule we all are in this universe. But creative visual splendor is not something Nolan has ever had any difficulty doing.

What Jonathan and Christopher Nolan continue truggling with is narrative judiciousness. Eerily reminiscent of the scattershot screenwriting of The Dark Knight Rises, Interstellar never stops to narrow its focus.

This is not to say that Nolan is overly ambitious, as many have criticized him for over the years. To damn an artist for trying to create something innovative is like chastising a mother for caring too much about the well-being of her children: it’s unproductive and anyone listening to your argument is likely to ignore it.

However, as the aphorism goes, sometimes less is more.

By trying to juggle myriad of complex themes and concurrent narratives, Interstellar undercuts immersive spectacle with exposition. And yes, a lot of what is unfolding in the movie warrants some explanation.

Relativity, black holes, space-time continuum, these are intellectually rigorous matters that take energy and patience to wrap our brains around. However, there is seldom a conversation in this movie that doesn’t feel like a speech with its attention-grabbing opening, five bullet points and rousing conclusion.

This calculation comes off as unnatural, inhuman even — and undermines the pulsating, occasionally palpable emotion underneath the film’s slick veneer.

What establishes Interstellar as a piece of art worthy of our attention and further examination is its vision of the future. Most movies don’t dare to traverse as far into the unknown as Interstellar does — as a result, what the film and its creators propose is equally exhilarating and terrifying.

Regardless of your views on space exploration or the multitude of environmental challenges we are quickly being forced to confront, Nolan has delivered another experience.

It’s a messy, yet loving homage to the blockbusters of Nolan’s childhood, where sitting in a dark, silent theater completely engrossed with what’s being projected onto the screen was as ubiquitous as inventive movies made by major studios.