Updated: Jul 15, 2018
[This post was originally written in 2014.]
Interstellar has long been on my radar. In light of a new volunteer job and increased productivity on my book, it subsequently fell off. So it came as a fortuitous coincidence that after a few weeks of slowly watching through all of Stanley Kubrick’s films in chronological order, a friend of mine reminded me that Nolan’s film was out. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was circumstantial that, on a night I had first decided to rewatch 2001: A Space Odyssey I instead went to view Interstellar.
The film feels like Christopher Nolan’s take on 2001: A Space Odyssey. It has a similar structure to 2001 in that it’s about people going out into space and experiencing some Crazy Things in the form of Big Ideas, but it’s kept very grounded in human experiences and relationships. Whereas 2001 is a psychological trip, Interstellar is an emotional one. Both have haunting scores, though for entirely different reasons. Hans Zimmer brings the pipe organ and cello to life in this soundtrack in a way that eerily complements the frightening forces encountered by humanity on the edge of a daunting new frontier. Although the physical torments faced by the crew are many, the film relishes in providing a new kind of space horror, one that has not been explored in such excruciating detail in cinema before; whereas Gravity was about the horrible effects of physics on a human in space, Interstellar is about the effects of relativity. It’s a haunting story about mankind’s struggle with physics and time, both in our personal lives and in the larger sense of human survival in space. Never before has a film presented such a horrifying take on the effects of the Theory of Relativity, putting to shame any portrayals that have before appeared on screen. One scene in particular, following the crew’s return from their first alien planet, hits the viewers hard. It’s not the sort of horror that takes an immediate place in front of your eyes, perverting the senses, but a deep-seated, real-life horror that grips you by the heart and slowly squeezes, making it all the more terrifying and emotional.
Interstellar, in the vein of many Nolan films, is also a movie about ideas much grander than the simple title would have you believe. Although the plot might be understood, at its basic level, to be about mankind’s need to leave Earth for new worlds, the subtext of the film reveals many alternative messages depending on where you choose to look. At one point, McConaughey’s character inquires to Hathaway’s about the imposing force of nature, to which Hathaway responds that “nature isn’t good or evil… the only evil out here is what we bring with us.” Later in the film, as two character engage in physical conflict on a remote planet, there is a striking moment where the camera jumps away from the action, to portray the two humans – whose story we deeply care about – as insignificant dots in a large and oppressively passive world, reminding the viewer of this earlier message. The futility of conflict against nature is a constant theme in the film, both in the visuals and dialogue.
In spite of all this, Interstellar is undeniably a movie about hope. It is about humanity’s triumph over adversity, not just in the moment-to-moment action of the film, but in our theoretical future. As the film depicts situation after situation where mankind is insignificant in the face of the cosmos, the film ends on an uplifting note. While individual characters get their resolution in the last minutes of the film, humanity itself is given resolution in a very pivotal scene preceding that, meant as a not-so-subtle nod to the final moments of Space Odyssey. The scene (and the science fiction concept behind it) presents us with the idea that the unyielding and terrifying forces of the cosmos which have been plaguing our protagonists in so many ways throughout the course of the film are ultimately tamable. It presents us with a message that humanity can accomplish anything, given the motivation. And while some of the lesser themes of the film are about finding that motivation through love, in moment-to-moment actions and in larger ways, the real point that can be taken away from the film is that it doesn’t matter what inspires us… inspiration in any form is what will push humanity towards a brighter future.
“Haunting” isn’t a large enough word to encompass the many ideas expressed within this film, but it is the singular word most adequate to describe both the terrifying and the uplifting moments of this beautiful, unforgettable experience.