Monday, October 12, 2015
I have been a big fan of Christopher Nolan's movies since I first saw his backwards told Memento in 2000 or 2001, and although each of his movies is flawed in certain ways, I've liked or loved them all. That doesn't really change with his latest movie Interstellar, which I only caught up to now a year later, but I wish I loved it. I won't bother with a plot description, since most people who are going to see the movie already have. So let's jump into it.
The movie boasts a lot of things: flawless special effects, fine performances (from a tremendous cast all doing great work), and an interesting plot straight out of the spirit of classic science fiction literature. My biggest problem with the movie is actually aesthetic, and it's that Nolan just isn't a visual artist. He has the soul of an engineer or a puzzle builder, but not a poet or a painter. And I think in the translation to cinema, space exploration sci-fi needs visual inspiration. It needs the awe that Spielberg, Herzog, or Kubrick (in their various ways) bring to their work for it to really achieve transcendence. Nolan has created some great images in his time, the shot of The Joker hanging out of the cop car in The Dark Knight, or the rotating hallway in Inception. But this movie is very flat, visually. There's not a single image in the 169 minutes that I'll vividly remember. There's no curiousity in the creation of the thing. Nolan already has the answers and he's just telling it to us, which gives everything a certain sense of inevitability and of being controlled within an inch of its life that prevents the movie from expanding our minds or imaginations beyond what is on the screen at any given moment.
All of that said, I do think it's a really good movie. I don't always buy Matthew McConaughey as the smartest guy in the room, picking up downed drones to reprogram into farm equipment and whatnot, but he still sells things overall. The women really shine nicely though, Anne Hathaway is terrific at displaying intelligence and determination while also projecting a sensitivity and emotion. It's a tricky performance that has gone really undervalued in the assessment of the movie by most people. And the 3 actresses that play Murph at the different stages of her life (Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain, and Ellen Burstyn) are all wonderful and real and impressive. Not just because Foy and Chastain look like they could be mother and daughter, they really inhabit an intellect, and the most curious of the characters. Matt Damon, surprisingly, considering I think of him as one of our finest star actors, is underwhelming in his supporting role as a rescued astronaut. There was something about that performance that was just a bit off.
Another drawback for me was that Nolan's dive into the area of sentimentality isn't quite something he can pull off. He isn't sentimental, though all of his movies have moments of (often tragic) emotion, the lovingly sentimental is trickier. Even the King of Sentiment, Spielberg, doesn't always pull it off successfully. But ultimately, it's a minor quibble. I know it sounds like a lot of complaining and maybe even nitpicking, but I really do like the movie. It has interesting ideas in its head, and that's more than can be said for most major Hollywood blockbusters. I just wish Nolan was more of a dreamer and less of a thinker.