Christopher Nolan is one of the two great scamming’ Watusis in the modern film industry. The other con artist, M. Night Shyamalan got found out quickly because he’s a one-trick pony who doesn’t know how to tell a story or write believable dialog. On the other hand, Christopher Nolan, with his plummy English accent and ability to pump out pseudo-intellectual ‘scientific’ gobbledygook knows how to make an audience feel dumb in a smart way.
Obsessed by the notion of time and how it collapses, Nolan connects to an audience by creating exquisite other worlds where his obsessions with memory, personal identity and the responsibility of being ‘special,’ are repeated. Nolan doesn’t worry about plot or holistic conceptuality. Although he has brought in over US$3.5bn at the box office in movies like. Memento (2000), Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Night (2008), it was the huge success of Inception (2010) that really put him up there on the pantheon with the big boys.
Science Fiction in its classic form, like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, is about when Big Math gets fucked up. Very satisfying and definitely in that tradition was Alfonso Cuarón’s corny Gravity (2013), which told a fine tale with the minimum of metaphysical complications. Whereas Gravity isn’t really at all about gravity, Interstellar actually is! Simple and sublime, everything about Gravity is stripped down and minimalistic, it must have left Nolan feeling devastated. So, Nolan being Nolan and money no barrier, he decided to make his movie into something 1,000 times more garish and aspirational. Well, if you like razzle-dazzle, geek blabber and fantastic cinematography, this is the equivalent of a pimp and his hos allowed to fill a giant shopping cart for 172 minutes at a Wal-Mart.
The problem with Mr. Nolan is that, like that pimp, he’s so in love with his high concept and his member that there’s no room in his big ol’ universe for people. So much of the plot has already been given away in the trailers that I can pass on a bit more about the narrative than I usually do. In the future, earth is a dustbowl and humankind is about to perish. “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt!” our hero Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) manages to say with a straight face. It’s all part of his persona as a hillbilly/astronaut/seer who spews out wise-Buddha aphorisms on human existence, the American family, God and the cosmos. Oh, dear! Mr. Nolan doesn’t need to be loved. He loves himself enough for all of us!
Cooper is an old-school scientist, yet his cantankerous ways and tendency toward nostalgia make him an object of contempt of the ruling class of the corporate fascist modern world. Circumstances lead him to a secret space station where his old teacher and mentor, Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), along with his daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), are planning a top secret mission to locate a wormhole which forms a pathway to another undiscovered galaxy where a new unspoiled mirror planet of Earth awaits settlers.
A vast, scary universe awaits. There are more than a few thrilling visuals and quite a few scenes own a thrilling edge. Space is a place of danger, despair and relentless emptiness and Nolan has us in awe of it, which is much to his imagination’s credit. In the film’s best scene, three crewmembers exit the mother ship to explore what they hope and pray is the savior planet. What we slowly realize, however, is that seven Earth years are going by for every hour spent exploring. By the time the crew returns to the mother ship, the sentry is an old man in a bathrobe and slippers. It’s a weird wow!
I’m not a scientist, but I’m certain most of this is simply big-budget hokum. I feel empathy for the actors, McConaughey, an embarrassed-looking John Lithgow, one of my favorite actors, Jessica Chastain, certainly has her talent wasted as Cooper’s daughter while Anne Hathaway, as per usual, excels at showing off those fabulous choppers. I was also grievously irritated by Hans Zimmer’s tubercular, churchy organ score. It’s all exquisitely photographed by Hoyte Van Hoytema, to be sure, but the more these humans talk of humanity, the more they sound like replicants. Every Nolan film puritanically stiff-arms sex. Numbingly sexless, Nolan’s oeuvre, all of it, is replete with talk about the nobility of love and connection, yet its never even slightly evident.