Thursday, December 11, 2014

Interstellar - Nolan's Field of Dreams

On a rainy December night, I left work early with some of my favorite people on the planet to see Interstellar on the second-biggest IMAX screen in the world (I hope frogs eat your crops, Australia!). I had an exceptional time - as did my companions... Yet this movie makes you say "uh, so..." or "but wait" quite often. This is clearly a Nolan directorial trait, as I felt that way about his last several pictures.

What's the story? Well, you'll be amazed by how natural the early exposition seems, as the movie so neatly conveys that: in the not-too-distant future, Earth has been suffering extreme crop blight for a while. The whole planet's turning into the Dust Bowl of the early 20th century, and can barely feed itself. Mankind has abandoned its ambitions (like war (sigh) and scientific progress), since scientists are not needed as much as farmers are. The farmer we focus on is Matthew McConaughey's Coop, a former astronaut-in-training.

Coop is a single father trying to ensure a good life for his teenage son and his 10 year-old daughter. But a series of inexplicable events starts to disturb life on their farm. Coop's daughter, Murphy, informs him that there's a ghost in her bedroom, and everything for this family is turned upside down when he sees evidence of it for himself. The search for answers reveals not only some hope for the future, but some of the world's greatest secrets.

The amazing thing for me was realizing how much this movie is like Field of Dreams. That 1989 pic was also located in the Midwest, and centered itself around familial relationships and faith - in people, in the impossible, in struggling on despite great difficulty.

While no one would likely categorize FoD as a sci-fi film, it too involved secret messages from ghosts, time travel and causality, and incomprehensible beings who turn natural law on its head for benevolent purposes. Both movies are intelligent, yet simultaneously display an incredible amount of heart. And both movies are packed wall-to-wall with corn.

While it's true that Field put a lot of its weight into the father-son relationship, it's the father-daughter dynamic that drives that movie - just like in Interstellar. Costner's Ray Kinsella is alerted to the presence of the impossible by his little girl, like Coop is. The parental concern of both men for their daughter's future adds a great amount of tension to the narrative. And Ray, much like McConaughey's Coop, is a man who's new to farming, and struggles a bit with his obligation and identity in this role.

I love these two pictures. Each created an astounding amount of sentiment inside me. And I was glad for the hopeful tone in each film, which ultimately focus a lot on depending and relying on people, on taking incredible chances and hoping for the best. Furthermore, Ray isn't the true center of the story he lives out, as we learn when he tries to tell the baseball ghosts that they're guests in his field. In Interstellar, Coop also comes to a great realization about his importance in the incredible events unfolding around him.

And, man, all that f--king corn.

But this connection was something I noticed because... well, I'm me. For everyone else in the world, the clearest comparison is that Interstellar is like 2001 meets Contact. Both of those are exceptional, leisurely-paced science-heavy epics that are, I feel, as good to watch as reading an actual sci-fi book. Normally that's blasphemy, as reading is one of the best things in life next to sex and food, and it's always more stimulating to read than to passively sit and watch something.

Yet I make exceptions for those two films, which are both based on books by sci-fi titans (Clarke and Sagan), each of whom helped make the actual films produced from their works. And, oh crap, Contact also has Matthew McConaughey, and now I think I'm in a wormhole.

Anyway, 2001 is a very cold, dispassionate movie about man encountering the unknown (by finding God in space), basically, and Contact is a very emotional film about man encountering the unknown (by discovering signals that may lead to an alien encounter in space). 2001 is about life's struggle for survival, the hidden perils of technology, and the incredibly grand scale of the universe. Contact is about exploration, faith, and love. Both have superb acting, visual effects, and sound design.

So take those two, add some sugar, blend well, and you have Interstellar. Although this new film might not be as good a capital-F Film as that pair, it is certainly as worthy an entry in the sci-fi genre. Nolan's accomplishment is actually all the more impressive since it wasn't written by a genius on the level of Clarke or Sagan.

Believe me, there are flaws here... Some truly stand out, while others are a little less noticeable, and some people will mostly focus on the flaws - especially considering the hype this film has received. But Nolan hasn't made a flawless movie since Memento (although Batman Begins may count, to me), and Interstellar's strengths greatly outweigh its weaknesses.

No matter my issues with it, I love (almost all) the cast, the story, the plots, the cinematography, the special effects, the music, and the emotional beats of the characters. Of all of these things, only some of the plots and emotional beats have some particularly big problems, but I address those in my list of issues with Interstellar, which will appear tomorrow in a separate post so you can all avoid spoilers.

And it's worth adding a separate paragraph just to state that I loved Tars and Case. I loved them so very much. It's very rare that a movie manages to get you so g-d invested in characters like those. And, now that I think of it, most of the pictures that have pulled that off are at the top of my list of favorite films.

I strongly recommend this movie, and seeing it in IMAX, although I must admit that the $23 price tag was shocking. It included a service charge, but c'mon, I could buy a good ironic t-shirt for that kinda cash.


  1. Nothing blasphemous about saying a movie experience is much like reading a book(I can think of two fine examples, Cloud Atlas and Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World), that's a high compliment in my book!

    Also, I kind of like Contact despite all of the folks complaining about not having a big pay-off at the end-I thought it ended just right! That said, not sure about Interstellar but maybe I'll give it a chance when it comes to DVD.

    1. You got it exactly right. One of the first that I have read. Even Damon;s character is named Mann.
      This film is extraordinary. There is no accident that baseball is prevalent in at least 2 scenes.

    2. Thanks, lady t! I know it's not truly blasphemous, yet reading almost anything is more stimulating and beneficial than watching just about any film. I haven't seen/read Cloud Atlas, but I must confess that Master and Commander was fine.

      Contact was great, complaints be damned. Folks who wanted a big pay-off probably would've preferred it if the end had Will Smith walking away from an explosion in slow-motion =)

      I think the movie is a visual feast, and worth the price of admission. I'd only skip this kind of picture if I had no interest in the premise or subject matter. But your mileage may vary...

  2. Thanks, anonymous commenter! I hadn't noticed the "Mann" connection - very nice observation, there - and I was hoping that someone else would point out the two baseball scenes... Certainly the last one made me instantly think the words "Is this Heaven?" "No, it's Iowa."

    I hope your keen insight can weigh in on the Problems and Thoughts post that went up yesterday!


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