Feb 9, 2015
Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is a good example of enterprising laziness. I'm sure he and his brother Jonathan, his cowriter, did a lot of research on black holes, wormholes, relativity and singularities. This must have taken all their time, since they did not bother to write a coherent screenplay. As with Inception, Nolan is happy to yank the audience's chain for hours without any concern for clarity.
The Earth is dying. Matthew McConaughey (giving it his all while trying to keep a straight face through the corny, incomprehensible dialogue) plays a farmer with a Texas twang that is exaggerated even for the likes of him. McConaughey is a frustrated astronaut. One day he bumps into NASA and a minute later they are sending him out to space because HE IS THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN SAVE THE WORLD. He is a widower too, as is common in Hollywood movies. Why bother with a mother? He has a little girl who is a smart and stubborn pest, capable of holding a grudge for a lifetime. She is angry at daddy because he must go save the world. This is the level of writing. Busy and lazy at once.
Now, when characters (or actual people) take it upon themselves to announce that they are going to a) change the world or b) save the world, I feel like punching them in the face. It seems to me that those who do things to save the world do not go around solemnly declaring their intentions.
But there goes McConaughey, seriously torn between saving the world or staying with his family. What a tough, if contrived, choice. So he gets on this big secret rocket, but lo and behold, he is not alone. Anne Hathaway is with him, working her damnedest to erase any trace of charm or a sense of humor because she plays a serious scientist. And because sex is forbidden in Hollywood, even if Earth runs the risk of depopulation and they are traveling with canisters of frozen human eggs to create a new humanity elsewhere, it never occurs to these two handsome people to start shagging like bunnies, which is what anyone with any sense would do under the circumstances. If not for increasing the population, at least for recreational reasons. Space is a lonely place.
Hathaway happens to be the daughter of Michael Caine, who works for NASA despite his remarkable Michael Caine accent (pretty decent, but not as good as Steve Coogan's and Rob Bryden's). He is trying to solve a mysterious equation that -- guess what -- will save the world. It is never explained why he has no qualms about sending his daughter to outer space.
Then Matt Damon shows up in some frozen planet. We are always happy to see him. Alas, he's gone too soon. People age 127 years in a matter of minutes, which is what happened to me after sitting there for three hours, glazed over by boredom and by a certain bemusement at how anybody can attempt to meld such disparate things as the time-space continuum and a moody child. Gravity suffers from similarly cheesy writing, but at least Gravity is gorgeous and thrilling. And the story makes sense.
Meanwhile, Nolan is incapable of putting a sequence together. Everything is a series of gigantic anticlimaxes. He cuts out of the interesting stuff before he gives the audience a chance to gasp, but stays on the boring stuff. He cuts back and forth from space to the Earth, killing the momentum in every scene. I said that the scenes reminded me of orgasms that fizzle out and was told I was giving the movie too much credit. There is nothing resembling an orgasm in this film. There is no joy, there is no beauty, there is no awe, only plenty of fake heroics and forced feeling. Watching Interstellar made me pine for Steven Spielberg.
The busy music by Hans Zimmer (using an organ to remind us that instead of letting our lives ooze away we could be watching 2001: A Space Odyssey) gives the impression that something is about to happen, but the most exciting thing that happens is the cosmic equivalent of trying to fit a lid on a plastic container; that is, McConaughey trying to park his module correctly. The paucity of imagination is astonishing, considering the lengths Nolan goes through to incorporate the theory of relativity into a telenovela.
Visually, except for a pretty shot of Saturn, all we see is spacecraft sideboob. Nolan seems to think that the most interesting angle in space is from the side of a rusty spaceship. He is not interested in space. He is interested in letting us know, as if nobody has never entertained this notion before, let alone expressed it in a million other movies, books, songs and Hallmark cards, that love is the only thing that can save us.
That Nolan attempts to salute Kubrick is evident. He falls comically short.
There is no movie about space that does not hark back to 2001. But 2001 is poetic, enigmatic and existential. It makes you consider our size in the scheme of things, where do we come from, are we alone in the universe? It would not occur to Stanley Kubrick or Arthur C. Clarke to saddle Dave the astronaut with a sob story about his family back at home. In 2001 when Dave speaks to his little daughter from space, it is her joyful nonchalance that makes us realize how lonely space must be. Not everything has to be a vale of tears.
Instead of robot Hal 2000, an elegant, disquieting presence with a soothing voice and a scarily omnipresent lens, we get TARS, an ugly piece of junk with a mid-western accent and a feeble sense of humor. Instead of that crazy white room in 2001 in which Dave sees himself at the end of his life, we get a visualization of the time dimension, which could be pretty cool but for the fact that it is predicated on people saving the world. And you know how I feel about them.
Nolan is good at one thing: convincing Hollywood to give him millions of dollars to make ridiculous movies that, because of their deliberate, inane opacity and their geeky pretentiousness, seem smarter than they are.