Monday, 10 November 2014

Interstellar (2014/US)

Julien Faddoul

* (1 star)

d – Christopher Nolan
w – Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
ph – Hoyte Van Hoytema
pd – Nathan Crowley
m – Hans Zimmer
ed – Lee Smith
cos – Mary Zophres 

p – Christopher Nolan, Lynda Obst, Emma Thomas

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Wes Bentley, Matt Damon, Mackenzie Foy, David Gyasi, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Timothée Chalamet, Bill Irwin, Josh Stewart

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is a bold film. It has an urgency and a sense of concord that is evident in all his films. Regrettably, as his career has progressed, that urgency has turned to bombast and that sense of concord has become more like pacification. Interstellar contains all these things, but unfortunately, the latter outweigh the former.

His place in cinema is an interesting one to dissect: He is virtually the only auteur left with, more or less, complete creative control who can secure a $200-million budget on the basis of a wholly original property and his advocating for shooting on celluloid has never been discreet. At his best (Memento, The Prestige), his characters’ and their struggle with their own identity augment a patience with life’s obstacles within his audience.

In the near-future, the United States government no longer exists. Coop (Matthew McConaughey), an engineer and former test pilot is now relegated to the profession of ‘corn farmer’ due a world that has become depopulated and decayed by an agricultural parasite called the Blight. Mr Nolan awkwardly begins his film with intercuts of Reds-like interviews of Dust Bowl survivors. In the film’s best scene, Coop and his children drive into the cornfields in an attempt to catch a military drone that is flying automatically on solar cells, establishing the threat of a possible global war.

The children – a genius daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and a scantily written son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) – are being raised with the help of Coop’s father-in-law (John Lithgow). Murph is intrigued by what she calls “ghosts” in her room which, she feels, are trying to tell her something in Morse code. When Coop eventually begins to indulge this, he realizes the code is actually a set of Binary coordinates that lead him to the remnants of NASA, led by Dr Brand (Michael Caine). Brand explains to Coop that NASA have put together a plan to transpose mankind to an adjacent galaxy through a wormhole near Saturn. He asks Coop to lead a crew of four, including Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Dr Brand’s daughter. They are also accompanied by two A.I. androids that are by far the most inspired creations that Mr Nolan and co-scripter/brother Jonathan employ, TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart).

So basically, it’s Dr Who meets Battlestar Galactica. I will try from here on to keep plot machinations clandestine. Suffice it to say that what occurs spans many decades, with Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain (noticeably lousy in this) playing the adult versions of Tom and Murph. Mr Nolan has always been interested in the unknowable and Interstellar is no exception, with the film taking its most alluring narrative cues from Solaris (1972) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Mr Nolan’s house style cinematography here is at its most vulnerable. A hefty helping of this feeble space adventure was filmed on IMAX cameras (shot by the very talented Hoyte van Hoytema, a stand-in for frequent Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister) that fill the screen with all the celestial delights one could ingest. But Mr Nolan’s compositions are so flat and arbitrary, with his actors’ faces often a quarter out-of-frame as they rattle around in an obviously hand-made space shuttle set (another Nolan standard). There is practically no trust here, at least compared to, say, just last year, which brought us Alfonso Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki’s far more arresting Gravity.

Instead, Mr Nolan relies on the cinematic stopgaps that have contaminated his aesthetic water supply: Lee Smith’s aimless editing – cutting back and forth with events separated by time and space that serve no thematic point whatsoever – and Hans Zimmer perpetual score – this time heavy on the pipe organ. One feels the kinetic profundity of the film until they merely look closer – within only a few seconds of each sequence – to see that there is really nothing there.

The film is peppered with endless poorly-staged scenes of characters explaining either expository scientific concepts in box-office friendly terms or daft proclamations of the fuzzy heart. The worst of these scenes centers on Hathaway’s character delivering an embarrassing monologue about the power of love, spanning throughout the universe, that is difficult to watch with a straight face. I also found where her character ultimately ends up by the film’s end to be downright distasteful.

The 169-minute running time of Interstellar is taken-up by various intergalactic episodes, many of which are conceptually very interesting. But Mr Nolan doesn’t seem to want us to fully experience any of it, adding nothing but heaviness and bravado in the pursuit of the great endeavor of importance: characters are constantly – constantly! – crying about every little thing, confessions are made on deathbeds, faces are punched without reason, children enact the ultimate movie sickness that is incessant coughing and all of life’s virtues and problems are, of course, the only topic of tranquil conversation. “This world was never big enough for you, Coop.” Get it?

Why Mr Nolan has gone down this path is something I am still deducing. I found (and still find) his early films to be such ecstatic depictions of life’s joyous mysteries. But after Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and now Interstellar, I simply think of him and feel fat. For goodness sake, this film has a black hole named “Gargantua” in it; you’d think he’d learn to take himself less seriously.

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