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The Refreshing Optimism of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’

by on November 14, 2014

This site was started because of Christopher Nolan. I mean, there’s a tab on the top of this page with his name on it if you haven’t noticed.

Unpacking that first sentence a bit, if I may, this site was started because of how much “Inception” changed the way that I watched and thought about movies. Within a year, movies had gone from a hobby to a passion. And Christopher Nolan’s films were and are an important part of that passion. This blog was basically started as a way to talk about his work.

Seriously, the first five or six stories I ever ran on this site were about “Interstellar”. Over time, the site has developed (and is still developing) into something bigger than just one director, but the impact of films like “Inception”, “Memento” and “The Prestige” are crucial in how I developed an idea of what film can and should be for me personally.

Needless to say, I’ve been waiting for “Interstellar” for a long time. And yeah, it has drawn mixed reactions (to say the least). It is undoubtedly not one of Nolan’s most competent or coherent films. Taken in step with 2012’s “Dark Knight Rises”, you could argue that Nolan is trending sharply downward. Of his nine feature films, the two most previous are far and away the weakest in the bunch. But many of the criticisms of Nolan’s latest work not only seem to be off the mark, but exaggerated. It may not have been his most coherent film, but I found it beautifully ambitious and emotionally effective.

“Interstellar” is far from perfect, but it’s a damn good sci-fi movie.

Here’s why:

Nolan is in the business of making movies for the theater.

One thing Nolan has always done remarkably well is make movies that you need to see in a theater. And “Interstellar” definitely qualifies as a movie theater experience. There are beautiful, expansive landscapes. There is amazingly composed and imagined space photography.

There are great twists, big monologues, strong emotional moments and an overall sense of epic proportionality. Sure, none of these things necessarily make a good movie, but the sum of these parts makes for a great movie theater experience.

The Pledge, The Turn…

Christopher Nolan is also kind of a magician. It’s fitting that one of his best movies was about a pair of them. As a director, he knows how to keep his audience invested in what is happening on screen. He draws you in with beautiful visuals, sets up little narrative puzzles throughout to keep your mind turning, and really gives his actors what they need to perform.

When I finish one of his films, I always feel like some kind of magician has just drawn me into his greatest trick. Is this a good thing? I don’t know, but I sure do enjoy watching his movies because of it.

23 Years An Astronaut.

Many of the complaints about “Interstellar” have revolved around its slightly confusing plot. Personally, I didn’t find myself confused by things that were happening. Were there some plot holes? Yes. But everything made sense in the universe of the film. And many of the things that happen in the movie haven’t even been tested by science yet, making the questions about its scientific veracity a bit petty and aggravating.*

*Also, I’ve seen a few interviews with scientists who say the science holds up pretty well in this movie.

But regardless of what you think of the plot (which, I remind you, is the plot for a sci-fi movie), the reason the movie worked for me had nothing to do with it. The moments of emotion and humanity in the movie were what really resonated strongly with me. What if we had to choose between our lives and our kids? What if we had to choose between our lives and the lives of a world full of people we don’t know or particularly care about? What if you missed 23 years of your kids’ lives? What if that happened in an hour?

Well, the acting.

For me, the biggest reason that the emotional moments in this movie landed was because of how strongly the ideas were communicated. If you’ve seen “True Detective”, you know Matthew McConaughey can take nonsensical dialogue and turn it into something that sounds profound. He does it all over that show, and he does it all over this movie.

You feel his pain when he has to go save humanity. When he has to watch his kids’ lives unfold in a matter of minutes before his eyes. Don’t get me wrong, though, everyone in this film is pretty great. The acting basically single-handedly elevates the movie from a “C” a “B”.

HUT, HUT, HOYTE! 

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Hoyte Van Hoytema. In breaking away from longtime DP Wally Pfister for this movie, Nolan’s work was elevated in a really special way. Van Hoytema, most recently the director of photography for “Her”, really composed some magical images for this one.

The expansiveness and vastness of space is conveyed through every shot. I counted at least ten moments during the film where I literally said “wow” at the sight of a spaceship floating through space or dust falling alongside an old bookshelf. Nolan may be the director, but Hoyte brought the movie to life.

Was this a great movie? No. But did it do what it set out to? I think so.

I really get the sense that Nolan loves the work he’s doing when I watch his movies, and this is no exception. And like I said, he knows how to make movies.

Most importantly, everything about this movie feels very ambitious and optimistic about human life.I wish we had more directors like Christopher Nolan in this sense because the movies have been weighed down lately by all their cynicism. I’m not saying it is bad to be cynical, but it helps to have a little hope once in a while.

That is why I found it incredibly refreshing to have an optimistic, almost naive movie like “Interstellar.” Nolan was aiming for the stars in every scene. It was as if to say that we may need to reach for the stars to save our planet, although even then it might not be possible. But it is important that we try. He may not have reached the stars with “Interstellar”, but Christopher Nolan’s latest attempt was at the very least quite admirable.

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