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A team of NASA astronauts travel through a wormhole in search for the future home of mankind. Image: http://d1oi7t5trwfj5d.cloudfront.net/61/c2/57799d2d48d9974d681ebac520cf/interstellar-tesseract.jpg

Essentials #10: INTERSTELLAR (2014)

The BEST PICTURE of 2014. And I predict: one of the top films of the decade. Einstein’s relativity. Nolan’s Masterpiece.

The McConaissance continues: “That’s what I like about these black holes. The people on Earth get older…but I stay the same age.”

As a huge proponent of science and philosophy, INTERSTELLAR holds a special place for me because it deals with ideas I have long been fascinated with but never thought could befilmed. With the help of physicist Kip Thorne, the Nolan brothers have created the impossible: a sci-fi adventure drama that incorporates the complexities of time dilation and interstellar travel into the narrative with scientific accuracy.

BRAND: “It’s not possible…”

COOPER: “No…it’s necessary”

Complainers might say: “Well…this could never happen in real life.” Well…duh. Of course this could not happen in real life. It’s a movie. If you want real life, watch a documentary or record yourself for a day and watch that on playback and see if that’s any more interesting. Science fiction is called science fiction for a reason. What this means is that a story in this genre will employ scientifically proven elements, but in regard to its narrative (how it tells the story), there will be certain aspects that are embellished or omitted for dramatization. If you can accept this stipulation, then you will enjoy a movie like INTERSTELLAR.

The plot is simple: Planet Earth is dying. Humans need to find a way to survive so NASA is sending groups of astronauts to find potentially habitable planets. Cooper (McConaughey) is one of these people who is recruited for this mission.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to this but that’s enough to get you started.

Like I mentioned earlier, the film explores the mysteries of black holes, time dilation, and human nature. I won’t explain what these phenomena are (that’s another can of worms), so I’m going to assume you will already know these ideas going in. Even if you don’t, the Nolan brothers’ screenplay is easy to follow and digest for the laymen. What I am most impressed with is despite the story’s dense scientific theories, INTERSTELLAR functions as an excellent drama. This is key because if you’re talking about something as grandiose as the ultimate fate of humanity, you run the risk of losing the viewer to the macro ideas of the story over the micro. Cooper’s dilemma is in the form of two options:

  1. Stay with his family and watch them grow, even if it means the death of humanity
  2. Explore space and potentially save humanity, but miss out on the simple experiences that make our lives worth living

On a superficial level, it seems pretty straightforward, but this decision functions later into the movie’s philosophical questions about our own evolution and the human experience.

Given we are evolved critical thinking beings rooted in emotion, we must ask ourselves, as homosapien sapiens: What drives us forward? What is our nature? What do we ultimately value?

Most would argue our species values “survival” among all things, but the film states otherwise. Survival is an innate trait that lies in all organisms but since we are hardwired with an array of feelings and desires, we are biologically flawed. Therefore, there must be something other than our need for survival that drives us forward as a species. According to the film, it appears our emotions outweigh our instinct for survival and that one particular emotion transcends space and time, making it just as mysterious as the longstanding questions regarding the origins of our universe.

Do I agree? I’m not sure. Nonetheless, I’m wholly impressed by this notion, especially coming from a $165 million Hollywood blockbuster.

That being said, this movie is ballsy. That’s what I love about Christopher Nolan’s work. He’s not afraid to take chances. Aside from his storytelling abilities, this is also why he is a brilliant filmmaker. His detractors would argue his scripts have no humanistic element (some complain his characters sound like caricatures of real people and are merely vessels for exposition) but if anyone’s ever made a film before, they would realize how difficult it is to explain a highly conceptual idea through dialogue and dramatize it for an audience. And Nolan’s “audience” is you, me, and everyone we know. Imagine trying to explain the concept of time dilation to the average schmuck and more importantly, make it interesting. From a screenwriting/directing perspective, it’s bloody difficult. If it means anything, INTERSTELLARis Nolan’s most human film and in my opinion, his best work to date.

I applaud Nolan for taking this approach, especially today when most blockbusters would dumb down its viewer to the level of a five year old. Nolan gives myself and other filmmakers hope that movies can be both commercial AND artistic. I personally hate that there is a distinct separation between the two. It seems more and more that a film that’s commercial cannot have serious artistic merit and vice-versa. But when the divide between these two diametrically opposed viewpoints is broken, it truly is a beautiful thing to see.

Another reason why I love Nolan’s work is that he is practical. He won’t compromise his vision for the sake of current trends. For example, when most directors today would rely heavily on a computer or 3D technology to design the world of their story, Nolan is willing to travel to Iceland with heavy 70mm IMAX film cameras and get the shots he needs if it means adding a deeper layer of authenticity to his story. There isn’t a Second Unit crew for any of his movies because he loves shooting even the simplest of shots. Instead of green screen, he actually employed scrims and rear projection on the spaceships (a fundamental technique used long before the years of digital matting). Every role, position, shot, cut, visual effect, etc. is under his direct supervision. Why? Because it all matters.

Christopher Nolan is by definition, a filmmaker. A great one. And like all the greats, it’s his attention to detail that separates him from the complacency of lesser filmmakers.

I really like Matthew McConaughey. Not because we share the same name, but because he represents a dying breed of leading men in movies today. It’s alarming that many of today’s leading actors are either teenage models or straight up, pansies. Whatever happened to the John Waynes or Clint Eastwoods of leads? Rugged. Stoic. Masculine. It’s the same for females as well. There aren’t many women actresses that are, you know…women. Just boys, girls, and at times, lots of CGI. Maybe it’s a generational thing. I don’t necessarily want to see older people in movies but when I watch a movie, I want to believe this person through their acting but also through their physical appearance because let’s face it: that is just as important to a character.

McConaughey not only brings his typical southern charm to role of Cooper, but also that American, hard-working everyman sensibility. I buy that this guy used to be a fighter pilot. I buy that his wife passed away and he was forced to raise kids by himself. I buy that he’s a single father who’s had to work in the fields to support his family. Imagine if Cooper was played by someone like Michael Cera. Even if they acted well, I still wouldn’t buy it because they don’t match the physical characteristics of the role. McConaughey not only acts the part but he can be both masculine and vulnerable at the same time. And we don’t see that much anymore in today’s crop of actors. I really hope this trend of adolescent leading men will be just that. A trend. Because it’s distracting to me as fan of character driven films.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

  • If possible, see this in 70mm IMAX Film. Do it! I saw it twice. If not, hopefully 35mm film is available. Nolan, a longtime film advocate, continues his fight for film over digital and while I grew up with digital and have never used film before (aside from photography), I am 100% supportive of his stance knowing the advantages film still has over digital and being a huge proponent of the quality of the image and viewing experience. No matter how good your home theater system is. Nothing can ever replace the experience of 24 frames going through a projector in a dark theatre with good sound. Nothing.
  • Hans Zimmer’s score is haunting, visceral, and an evocation of those self-reflective moments where one ponders their place in space and time. His collaboration with Nolan keeps resulting in work that is spellbinding and groundbreaking. For example, look at the way he utilizes the organ here. Organs are associated mainly with churches but in the realm of science, space is the church of astrophysicists. I cannot think of any other director/composer collaboration where the marriage of image and music functions so symbiotically whereas I cannot separate them from one another.
  • Why this movie did not get the Oscar recognition it deserves is beyond me. I suspect because GRAVITY (2013) dominated last year, the Academy did not want another space film in contention. Either that or they just have a problem with Christopher Nolan (he got snubs for INCEPTION and THE DARK KNIGHT)
  • You will be pleasantly surprised with the casting of the film.
  • Like I mentioned, I loved the practical effects of this movie which is a reason why I believe this movie will age well 20 years from now. it will also serve as a lesson to future filmmakers to never cheat their audiences.
  • Relativity, time, space, and the other mysteries of the universe has taken up real estate in my mind ever since I was learned about them in college (I majored in Philosophy). I said it before and I’ll say it again; it’s so inspirational and enlightening for me as a filmmaker to see the possibilities are still endless in cinema and that movies can be highly conceptual, character driven, and best of all, entertaining.

This is part of an ongoing series where I will be doing movie reviews from my original ESSENTIALS Film List.

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Filmmaker | Photographer | MatthewOquendo.com

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