CGB Review of Interstellar (2014)

“Do not go gentle into that good night; Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
–Dr. Brand

This is my review of Interstellar!


Earth is not looking so good.  Dust and scorching winds have become the norm.  Cooper is a farmer and the single father of two children, a son named Tom and a daughter named Murph.  He loves both children, but is particularly close with Murph, who shares his love of science.  When Cooper and Murph discover an old facility that contains the remaining members of NASA, this launches a mission to find a new planet for humans to inhabit.  However, this means that Cooper, a former pilot, must leave his family behind to travel through a wormhole and save humanity.

The Hits
If there’s one thing director Christopher Nolan is particularly skilled at, it’s visual storytelling.  He allows the imagery on screen to explain the plot instead of having characters go on long-winded expositional schpiels.  Through show-don’t-tell, we get to see Earth as a weakened planet hanging by a thread.  Water is scarce, so God help you if your house is on fire.  Going into town requires covering your mouth and nose so that you don’t breathe in the dust.  School textbooks are riddled with scientific inaccuracies and those who challenge the lies (such as Murph) are dismissed or suspended.
There are some great scenes that make an impact on their own.  The sequence where the crew first enter space and how everything outside of the ship goes silent is brilliant.  The design of the different planets they visit are pleasing to the eye.  Hans Zimmer’s musical score is epic and engaging to listen to.  It gives the film a wide scope, illustrating that the characters are a small part of a bigger story.
Speaking of Cooper and Murph, their relationship in the first twenty minutes of the film is quite charming.  Their rapport and chemistry as father and daughter is believable and I like how young Murph is written as a really smart kid whose still learning, not the child prodigy with an impossibly high IQ cliché.  She’s bright and fast-thinking, but lacks foresight, giving her the black-and-white worldview of someone her age.
There is a lot of technobabble, but the dialogue is well-handled to where what the characters are talking about is made comprehensible without being oversimplified.
[SPOILER] This movie has one of the best tragic endings I’ve ever seen.  Cooper reunites with Murph on her death bed only to have to go back into space to join Amelia Brand.  In the end, Cooper will always be separated from his family and his earthly home.  Sure, he gets to see Murph after all this time, but for only a brief moment.

The Misses
I despise the scene where Cooper says good-bye to Murph.  I had to pause the movie and take a walking break during this scene.  Why do I hate so much?  Because of what Cooper says to his distraught child:
COOPER: Once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost of your children’s future….Murph, look at me.  I can’t be your ghost right now.  I need to exist.  They chose me.  Murph, they chose me.  You saw them–you’re the one who led me to them.
The minute I heard, “I can’t be your ghost right now,” I actually pressed “rewind” to make sure I heard that correctly.
Then it gets worse.  He tells her that when they go through the wormhole, time will slow down for them [he and the explorers] and every hour will be seven years on Earth.  “By the time I get back, we might be the same age.  You and me; what?” he says with laughter in his voice.
I replayed the scene again to make sure I wasn’t misinterpreting anything.  To me, his line “I can’t be your ghost right now” came off as him clocking out of fatherhood.  I would have no problem with this if Cooper had been written as an unlikable character who is supposed to learn a lesson in the end.  However, Cooper is written as a man who we’re supposed to sympathize with.  Given that we are facing a fatherless crisis in America, I feel that making a father who abandons his children a good guy was a mistake.  Also, this is a characterization problem that could’ve easily been fixed.  Just have Cooper say something to the effect of, “Murph, they chose me.  People are counting on me.  I’m doing this for your future.”  Sure, it still has a father leaving his children, but it would have made Cooper a dutiful character, not a person who seizes the first chance to have an adventure at the expense of his familial responsibilities.  After this scene, any time Cooper expressed concern for his family, I couldn’t take him seriously because of how he so readily left his children.  It just goes to show that actions speak louder than words.
Speaking of characters, towards the end of the second act and all throughout the third act, it becomes clear that Christopher Nolan had some trouble handling multiple characters.  Characters are either dropped from the story with no explanation or die off-screen.  The only people whose archs come full circle are Cooper, Murph and (to an extent) Amelia Brand.

Interstellar is a mixed bag for me.   The visuals are remarkable and the lengths that everyone involved went to make this film as scientifically accurate as possible is something worth commending.  While the characterization of the protagonists is questionable, this story clearly came from a place of passion and I can respect that. If you like space, theoretical principles and all things NASA, then give Interstellar a try.

Saint Gertrude, pray for us.

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