Interstellar review

I saw Interstellar last night and can’t get it out of my head.

First, should you see it? My answer to that question is easy: Yes. If you have even a remote interest in cinema, Interstellar is worth watching in a theatre on the biggest screen you can find. The tougher question is whether you’ll enjoy it. The current 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is indicative of the mixed opinions of professional reviewers, and I can understand their lack of consensus. Many movie-goers will actively dislike the film, while many others will love it—very few will fall in between. Such a dichotomy of opinion is generally reserved for those rare films that cloak a deeply personal story within the gilded folds of a grand epic, and that’s Interstellar to a T.

Two reviews that I think fairly and effectively encapsulate the positive and negative views of the film are from Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times (positive) and Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post (negative). Here are key excerpts from their reviews...

Turan: Much less of a B picture dramatically than last year’s “Gravity,” [Interstellar’s] exploration of the ways in which love, mendacity and the core nature of humanity are informed by the physical and psychological demands of outer space ensures that this story will stay with you, its themes taking permanent residence at the back of your mind.
Hornaday: Once Cooper and his colleagues cross back and forth between the space-time continuum, “Interstellar” falls into the talky trap, with the filmmaker trying to overcome plodding, drearily explanatory passages with Hans Zimmer’s basso profundo organ-music score and pummeling sound effects.

Indeed, your opinion of Hans Zimmer—and particularly his contributions to previous Nolan films—is probably the best indicator of how you’ll react to Interstellar. If you liked his work in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, chances are better than good that you’ll enjoy Interstellar. But if you found the scores for those films overbearing, you’ll likely share Hornaday’s less positive take. And she is by no means out on a limb: Complaints that the dialogue in Interstellar is too often overshadowed by its score and sound effects are already widespread.

Perhaps I’m being a Nolan apologist here, but, after seeing the film, I’m fairly certain that what some are describing as sound mix issues were actually conscious directorial decisions. In the scenes in which the score washes over the dialogue, the intent is not to convey information through language, it’s to engender feeling through a combination of sight, sound and the physicality of over 10,000 watts of audio power vibrating the air around you. Nolan seems to hint at this in a fantastic interview with The Guardian:

“What I’ve found is, people who let my films wash over them—who don’t treat it like a crossword puzzle, or like there is a test afterwards—they get the most out of the film,” he said. “I have done various things in my career, including, with Memento, telling a very simple story in an incredibly complex way. Inception is a very complicated story told in a very complicated way. Interstellar is very upfront about being simple as a story.”

The Guardian piece also discloses an interesting tidbit: “No green screens were used during Interstellar, the majority of which was shot with real locations, miniatures, or sets using massive projectors.” Though highly unusual for our modern era of film-making, I think Nolan’s insistence on physical models and practical effects is of a piece with his desire to make audiences feel his films rather than simply viewing them. The “reality” of his sets and scenes coaxes the viewer into letting our guard down—into suspending disbelief just enough to allow the otherwise unbelievable things we’re seeing scratch beneath the surface of conscious thought to touch our emotional cores.

At left is a bust of Costanza Bonarelli by Gianlorenzo Bernini, circa 1635—a masterwork of representational sculpture. At right is a sculpture from Pablo Picasso’s Cubist period called Head of a Woman, circa 1909. Both are powerful and affecting works, but they deliver their impact in fundamentally different ways. Whereas a movie like Gone Girl benefits from David Fincher’s Bernini-esque hyper-reality, Interstellar is more in the vein of Picasso’s visceral symbolism.

At left is a bust of Costanza Bonarelli by Gianlorenzo Bernini, circa 1635—a masterwork of representational sculpture. At right is a sculpture from Pablo Picasso’s Cubist period called Head of a Woman, circa 1909. Both are powerful and affecting works, but they deliver their impact in fundamentally different ways. Whereas a movie like Gone Girl benefits from David Fincher’s Bernini-esque hyper-reality, Interstellar is more in the vein of Picasso’s visceral symbolism.

I know I’m getting pretty highfalutin here, but the best way I can think of to describe Interstellar is to say that it is to conventional cinema as abstraction is to representational art. Both are mechanisms that humanity has developed to communicate across time; one takes a more literal approach to that communication, while the other is more visceral. If you go into Interstellar looking for that more literal A leads to B leads to C form of storytelling, you’ll leave disappointed. But if you open yourself up to the film as something you process with your feelings as much as your intellect, I think you’ll find it a deeply rewarding experience.

Agree? Disagree? Either way, let’s continue the conversation on Twitter @edotkim.