If you’re in the mood for a melancholy, vaguely country-western song, go listen to this. It’s one of my favorite Queen songs. Beautiful, yearning.
This song is what Interstellar is about. Except this song is three minutes and thirty-eight seconds long, full of emotion and longing and I love it, while Interstellar is almost three hours long and so brutally insulting I wanted to punch Chris Nolan after only about ten minutes.
Like ’39, Interstellar is a movie about the relativistic effects of travel close to the speed of light. It spends a lot of time explaining the science of the film, but weirdly it spends that time explaining how one might travel through a wormhole. It doesn’t explain why living near the event horizon of a black hole would cause your kids back home to age faster than you.
That part, relativistic travel, travel very close to the speed of light, is something they just say, and move on. “We’ll be traveling close to the speed of light. When I get back,” Matthew McConaughey says to his daughter, “we may be the same age!”
How does that work? Movie doesn’t say. The script just states it, and moves on. “If we go down to that planet, one hour for us will be seven years for” David Gyasi’s character in orbit.
How does that work? Movie doesn’t say. The characters just say it, and move on. Well, good. Because relativity is fucking weird and complex. But so are wormholes! But we get a WHOLE LOT of explanation about how wormholes work. God. Just say it and move on! I know you can do it, you did it every time the time dilation thing came up!
You know, Disney tried this is 1979 and came up empty. “Hey black holes are cool!” Yes they are. “What’s at the center of one?” Good question. And the answer is; a mathematical structure that defies normal physics and cannot be understood or explained. “Well, that’s not a dramatic answer,” Disney said, accurately, “How about heaven and hell!”
Ok well, that’s stupid. But I get it. Chris Nolan saw The Black Hole and thought he had a better answer.
He did not. His answer is stupid, too. Wow. His answer is just as stupid as the one at the end of The Black Hole.
There is an emotional core to this movie, and that part works. Matthew McConaughey is on a mission to, literally, save humanity but he also wants to see his daughter again.
His daughter is very angry that he left when she was 10. And I would be mad too, because the whole thing is completely stupid.
The movie sort of assumes everyone in the movie saw Contact and so when ALIENS contact Earth with a plan (sort of) to save humanity if only they’ll jump through this wormhole they planted, our hero just fucking goes along with it.
He goes along with it because he was created by the script. He was engineered, by the writers, to be someone who just happened to live 10 minutes away from an ultra-secret project that just happened to need an ace pilot of which he is literally the only one left, which is lucky, because he also happened to be the best there ever was. Chris Nolan, fuck you.
Hang on, let me calm down a little. That’s not the most insulting part of the film.
The most insulting part of the film is its attitude toward you. It thinks you are an awful person, because you have an iPhone and drive a car and because of you billions of people are going to die when all the OXYGEN on Earth is eaten up. I am not making this up.
I believe you can make an entertaining movie set after a global catastrophe in which our hubris doomed the world. I believe you can make that movie, because I’ve seen it. The Road Warrior is set in a world where we burned through all the oil and now there’s no more civilization. Why oil? Because it was the 1970s and that’s what everyone was talking about then.
This movie is no Road Warrior. That movie was entertaining and watchable, this movie is an insult.
There is a point very early in the movie where Matthew McConaughey goes to have a parent-teacher conference because his daughter brought in a banned book and got in a fight over it. What was the banned book? It was an old science textbook that taught man landed on the moon.
That’s considered propaganda in this future. Classes in the future teach that the moon landing was a hoax.
That’s not writing. That’s just being upset because you think Americans in 2014 are stupid, so you put your disgust with us in your script. Science fiction is great for getting us to look at ourselves through a different lense. Shit, I think that’s what science fiction is FOR. But this is not it!
In Alfonso Cuarón’s brilliant Children of Men he posits a future (taken from the book by P.D. James) where there are no more children. Human beings become infertile and no one knows why. The movie is about the last generation of humans.
That movie’s subversive brilliance came, not from the question “how would we behave, if we were the last generation on Earth,” but from the answer it gave us. “We already act that way!”
Wow, that was an effective use of science fiction to get us to think about how we live our lives now. About how lifeless our lives can be. But it never said that we, now, live our lives like there’s no tomorrow. Because that would be bad storytelling. It would be banal, and condescending, and heavy-handed, and didactic.
It would be Interstellar.
Cuarón made another great sci-fi masterpiece just last year! Gravity! Great movie! Interstellar’s visuals are better than the already-astonishing Gravity’s, the difference is, Gravity is one hell of a story. Interstellar is just some great special effects stuffed into a deeply offensive film.
There’s humanity in Interstellar but you have to dig to find it. Matthew McConaughey is aware that time spent on his mission is time during which his daughter is aging, and that part of Interstellar, the emotional core of the movie, works. It is effective.
But no more effective than Queen’s song about the same thing.
I believed Matthew McConaughey’s turmoil as he watched his kids age in transmissions he couldn’t respond to. I felt it when he realized the three hours he just lost cost his daughter twenty years.
I liked the use of the message-in-a-bottle cliche–where the people back on earth send messages to the people in deep space, which they will only be able to view years later–because it showed how, for the people back home, recording messages to your astronaut father for twenty years is not unlike having an internal dialog with a dead parent.
Except he’s not dead. He didn’t do them the courtesy of dying. He may still be alive. That limbo is interesting, it’s emotionally resonant.
It’s about 20 minutes of this movie.
I was interested when the movie finally got to the point, and started looking for other worlds for Man to inhabit. There’s some interesting, pulpy, 1960’s Sci-fi in there. What happened to the people they send ahead? Three people, all transmitting “things look good, we can settle here!” but three different answers.
Each answer is interesting. The first answer, the world orbiting a black hole, a water world with tidal forces so great there’s just a massive series of mega-tsunamis scouring the planet clean every ten minutes, leaving a foot-deep ocean behind them, is interesting.
The world where our Guest Star (what) is waiting to be rescued. . .is less cool. The surprise of an actor we didn’t know was in the movie is somewhat muted by how obvious his plot is. “Hey super-suspicious dude who just said he would have done anything to see another human face, I’m sure you didn’t do anything suspicious to trick us down here so you could see another face!”
Fuck you Chris Nolan.
I’m not saying the movie doesn’t have good bits. The thrill rides on the ship are amazing. The AI robots are super cool, why couldn’t we have a movie about them? Matthew McConaughey’s turmoil as the clock kills his daughter in hours while he desperately tries to get home worked on me.
The rest of the movie, the other 2 hours of it, the ending. . .?
Man, fuck Chris Nolan.