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Interstellar Thoughts

Finally got around to seeing Interstellar the other day, and I just wanted to share a few observations.

First of all, I liked it. It's definitely not perfect, but it didn't seem quite as flawed as some reviewers made it out to be.


Second, if you're planning on seeing it in the theater, you absolutely should see it in IMAX if possible. (Wednesday was the last day it was showing in the format at my local theater, so I figured I'd better hustle.) Some viewers find the shifting aspect ratios to be distracting, but the action sequences look truly spectacular and epic.

Some points to consider (SPOILERS everybody):

The "woo" aspects were, I think, a bit of a red herring. Brand's monologue about love existing as an observable, quantifiable, fifth-dimensional force (reminiscent of Dan Simmons' Hyperion series) is interesting, but there's no sign that Nolan actually believes it. (And her belief that Edmonds is still alive, rooted in that faith, is proven to be wrong.) It's entirely possible that the entities from the post-human future were simply using Coop's love for Murphy as a means of guaranteeing that the humans in the past get the gravity equations in order to guarantee the species' survival. They knew that he was so desperate to be reunited with his daughter that he could serve as a transdimensional medium. Love was a powerful force but it wasn't the sole motivation behind their actions. Superficially, exoterically, the movie seems to be saying that love is the answer, but what they really wanted was survival.

Remember, a lot of viewers are convinced that Inception is all about DiCaprio and his hardy team of Dream Warriors working hard to convince a sad little rich boy that his cold and distant oligarch daddy really, truly loved him. In reality, the movie is about a gang of mercenaries straight out of a William Gibson novel, who have been hired by a rival (and utterly ruthless) oligarch to plant a memory in the son's mind that may, in fact, be totally bogus and without merit. (The movie is a pretty good metaphor for filmmaking and storytelling in general — compelling audiences to belief wholly in characters whose dreams, ideals, and values are totally fictitious.) Similarly, it could be argued that the fifth-dimensional beings are acting in terms that register as pragmatic or predetermined rather than purely benevolent. The important thing isn't that Coop is reunited with his daughter, which would have been the emotional payoff in a traditional Hollywood movie (and certainly would have been the case if Spielberg had made the movie, as originally planned). Rather, it's that Coop and Murph realize who the "ghost" was all along, and that the information relayed from the singularity enables humanity to evacuate Earth en masse. (The actual reunion is surprisingly underwhelming.) Nolan is closer to an SF writer in a lot of respects, particularly in the way that the conceptual breakthroughs outweigh the emotional epiphanies.

Stuff I liked:

  • The sense of space and other planets as totally foreign. Miller's and Mann's Worlds come off as truly alien and barren in a realistic way, reminiscent of photo montages of the surfaces of Mars and Titan. The sense of isolation and desolation is utterly compelling; I could sympathize with Mann's insanity and his need to escape. (Looking forward to seeing Matt Damon in The Martian.)
  • The robots! Yeah, I figure if we get AI, we'll want them to be sassy and independent (or at least convey the impression of same). TARS reminded me poignantly of my dying iMac.
  • The design of the spacecraft and the presentation of space travel. If Gravity and Interstellar have demonstrated anything, it's that (quasi-) realistic portrayals of space and spacecraft are completely viable with today's effects, as opposed to magical gravity generators and starships banking and pitching like terrestrial aircraft. I just about cheered when I saw the Ranger's attitude thrusters puff away in total silence.
  • The whole "solve for gravity" thing didn't bother me that much. I assumed it had something to do with getting the colonies off Earth, since the resources didn't exist to build them in orbit. Bit hand-wavy, but okay.

Iffy stuff:

  • The gender stuff is, ugh. I just don't see Murph being so pissed off at her dad for leaving that she wouldn't talk to him for twenty-odd years, once the importance of the mission sank in. And Brand's desire to go see Edmunds because he's her boyfriend (fifth dimensional concerns aside) is annoying. It's nice that Nolan wants us to see astronauts as warm empathetic humans (as opposed to cold Kubrickian technocrats) but this wasn't the way to go about it.
  • The sound design and score, which made some of the dialogue inaudible, was apparently a deliberate choice on Nolan's part. But I found myself straining to hear quite a bit of what the characters were saying, and had to review the Wikipedia summary to clarify a few of the plot points. Zimmer's score, oddly enough, put me in mind of this classic rock chestnut:
  • The future "slow apocalypse" scenario seemed a bit sketchy. I'm not sure of the timeframe of the movie, but I'm guessing it's probably about 40-50 years in the future — Lithgow's Jesse is probably a Gen-X'er who remembers our gadget-strewn present. There's clearly been some sort of war, maybe even WWIII, and the world population is considerably smaller than what it's projected to be by mid-century — only six billion. The blight just seemed like a sort of general purpose metaphor for environmental collapse, like maybe the filmmakers didn't want to piss off climate change deniers. (But evoking the Dust Bowl, to the extent that they used clips from the Ken Burns documentary, is less controversial, because it reminds us of a struggle that America overcame.)
  • Clearly the educational system of the future has suffered massive setbacks, because Brand Sr. only knows one goddamn poem.
  • The extended epilogue felt like something from another movie. The O'Neill colony looked a little small-ish (and is NASA the only government now?). Also, the launch bay looked very generically sci-fi, with the recon ships oddly reminiscent of the fighters from the old Gil Gerard Buck Rogers show.

Other random stuff:

  • So I guess the post-Earth future is kinda like Pohl's Gateway, with humans using the wormhole to find suitable planets.
  • Did Cooper go back to rescue Brand, or did he stay on Edmunds' World to help her raise a colony?
  • If the wormhole led to systems in other galaxies, shouldn't the title have been Intergalactic? (And would they have used the Beastie Boys tune?)
  • Is the Earth totally dead? It seems to me that if the future humans were capable of colonizing hostile planets they could eventually go back and fix the homeworld. After reading Kim Stanley Robinson's stuff the whole notion of just abandoning the planet seems pretty cavalier to me.

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