Sean K. Cureton

A Space Odyssey Remembered

In Movie Reviews: 2014 on November 22, 2014 at 10:06 am
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

3 out of 4 stars
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Interstellar is probably the most highly anticipated film of the year, setting it up for the potential disappointment that comes with a film as over-hyped as this one most certainly is, while also granting it the space required for it to grow in what ever direction it needs to, its dreams un-tethered to the expectations associated with an unknown director’s work, and allowing for its final grand gestures towards cosmic significance to feel genuine despite itself. Coming off of a string of seminal films that have succeeded in establishing Christopher Nolan as one of the greatest directors of his generation, Interstellar builds upon an already established and credible legacy, leaning on the iconographic cache of Nolan’s name in order to attempt the making of one of the most sought after goals in Hollywood: the making of a space odyssey. Inevitably, Nolan pulls upon such unavoidable inspirations and sources as Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas in order to do so, but is still able to instill his impeccably distinguishable touch into his own work, giving his audience a film that is cinematically compelling, even if we have seen its like before. While Nolan’s new space odyssey doesn’t offer any new avenue into the sci-fi genre, stumbling over the convolutions of plot that occur in the narrative’s utilization of time travel, it’s hard not to stand in awe of the film’s technical mastery. Watching Nolan’s film is akin to recapturing the innocence of our collective youth, ephemeral in its impermanence, playful in its mimicry of its forebears, and awesome in its genuine sense of wonder, still caught up in the dreams of childhood that we have long since been shaken awake from.

Intersellar is deeply indebted, both in terms of narrative and aesthetics, to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as such sets off in search of new territory from the well of Kubrick’s pervasive influence on both the genre and Nolan’s film itself. By taking the very best aspects of Arthur C. Clarke’s original screenplay and Kubrick’s authorial vision, Nolan attempts to neatly repackage what audiences have already seen in a way that is surprising, fitted to modern times and his own cinematic sensibilities. Essentially reformatting Kubrick’s classic vision of the omniscient wonder of space to a contemporary, ecologically driven narrative, wherein earth is becoming uninhabitable and depleted of sustainable farmland, Nolan pulls on the grandness of the space odysseys of the 1970’s and 1980’s, inhabiting a dreamscape that was once pure fantasy made into a more tangible reality within the scope of his film. One of the most stirring aspects of Interstellar is its fascination and intimate love for deep space exploration, reinvigorating a dying enthusiasm for space travel and the sci-fi epic that has long lain dormant in our collective subconscious for nearly a decade, only to be reinvigorated once more by the majesty of film, propelling us out of our seats and into the stars. Interstellar is by no means Nolan’s greatest achievement, unmemorable in its constant allusions and trace resemblances to such classics as Kubrick’s aforementioned odyssey, but its level of visual tenacity and outright beauty is a marvel to behold, urging you to watch more closely, and revel in the silence of yet another small step for man, leaping into the void in order to reinvigorate our long lost love for celestial drama.

Probably the most glaring criticism to be made about the film comes in the laziness of its many conveniences and contrivances of plot, most notably being the overly sappy and Kubrick-esque third act, wherein the familial drama that forms much of the film’s thematic center is married to the fictive surrealism of the plot’s poorly delivered sci-fi tropes. Granted, the climactic portion of the film that bears the brunt of a lot of this specific source of criticism looks remarkably similar to Kubrick’s final sequence in 2001, but where Kubrick was driven by the camera, alienating and isolating his viewer’s in the process of crafting some of the most well edited and composed shots in terms of cinematography, while alienating and confusing his audience in the process, Nolan’s film is interested in the characters, their stories and connections to one another as important as Nolan’s debts and connections to his audience. While certain aspects of the familial drama do feel Spielbergian in their overt manipulation of the audience’s sympathies and investment in the film, it’s also a thematic point of fundamental significance that serves to anchor the viewer’s investment over the course of the film’s near three hour run time. What’s more, this familial drama is set up clearly in the film’s script from act one, is seamlessly carried over through an emotionally taut second act, and finally grants climactic closure in a third act that feels well earned and genuine, sentimentalism carrying the drama and action throughout. As was the case in Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 ecological fable Silent Running, Nolan implements genre filmmaking in order to tell a story of the warmth and compassion of humanism, setting his film apart from the cold, nihilistic detachment of Kubrick, and making Interstellar stand out on its own, definitively Nolan-esque. It might not be the most memorable film within Nolan’s oeuvre, but it’s certainly one of the year’s best, populated by characters that are compelled by the cinematic vision of an auteur, and carried on the shoulders of the script’s structural, if not scientifically cogent, mastery.

Without a doubt, Interstellar is a film that will be talked about for weeks to come, and will be the center of a lot of Oscar Buzz as we head into awards season, but it likely won’t be the recipient of the Academy’s final selections for artistic recognition. Nolan’s admirable attempt at the space odyssey often feels a little too redundant in its wistful reminiscing of what has come before, leaving the viewer in a state of disaffectedness as the credits begin to roll, left with the knowledge that the film was in fact directed by Christopher Nolan, his name holding more aesthetic power and cohesiveness than the film itself, lacking the character of The Dark Knight and the clarity of Inception. The stylistic indebtedness that the film holds to the sci-fi heyday of the 1970’s and 1980’s is a welcome resurgence that strives to carry on the example set by Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar winner from last year, and next year’s The Martian directed by Ridley Scott seems to be further promise of the genre’s reemergence as critically and commercially viable. However, Interstellar’s grandness might also be its downfall, just as big cinematically as Star Wars, Alien, or Blade Runner, but not nearly as vital, lacking a certain authorial urgency and heart that defines the three aforementioned classics, Nolan merely playacting as Kubrick in a dilapidated playground of adolescent exuberance, contented but not inspired. For all of its cinematic effectiveness on its own terms, Interstellar struggles to surpass its inspirations, treading water in the tidal pools of recursive nostalgia, the vast ocean of independent innovation lying beyond its comfortable recesses in the sand.

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