Movie review: Interstellar (also: embracing sci-fi, and ruminating on the things I love in stories)

If you had asked me two weeks ago if I’m a sci-fi fan, I’d have shrugged, hemmed and hawed. “I like some sci-fi,” I’d say. “Ender’s Game was very good. But I’m much more into fantasy.” And, thanks to my reawakening to the Temeraire series this year, I might add, “DRAGONS” and flail my arms to better demonstrate my feelings. I’ll pass on vampires and zombies, thanks; just bring me all the dragons.

I saw a movie earlier this year, on a transatlantic flight, that had me reconsider my stance on sci-fi. Her blew me away on so many fronts, especially on feminism. But on the sci-fi front, what impressed me most was how carefully everything was thought out, in this world with AI operating systems. I loved how normal the clothes and sets looked — so familiar to our own world, and thus it all felt so plausible. But it didn’t make such an impression on me that it changed my overall feelings on sci-fi.

But after seeing Interstellar on Thanksgiving day, I feel I have had a moment of sci-fi Enlightenment, a feeling that I hope will not fade. Now, if you were to ask me if I like sci-fi: Yes, I would cry. I love well-thought-out sci-fi. I especially love robots, or any non-human being, dedicated to serving and protecting human lives.

On my to-do list: go see Big Hero 6. (But not on my to-do list for 2015: to see Chappie, the trailer for which I’ve seen twice now. I don’t know why it doesn’t appeal to me, despite my newfound revelation about sci-fi, except the story looks a little tired and preachy, even though it seems to have a message I support. I was almost sold by the shot of Chappie petting the dog, though.)

Interstellar reminded me that I’ve experienced such joy before over robots. For my senior seminar in college, we had Ilium by Dan Simmons on our syllabus. That was a weird book, plucking characters from a variety of venerated literature (including the Iliad and Shakespeare) and cramming in all of Greek mythology, plus lots of time travel and sci-fi elements, all narrated by a dead English professor from an Indiana university of our own time (this felt even weirder since our college was also in Indiana).

I did not like much of the book — except the robots, Mahnmut and Orphu, who were highly advanced AI creatures that had a profound appreciation for literature and constantly debated Shakespeare and Proust. They weren’t committed to saving humans, but that was okay because what they were committed to saving was each other. This is a bulletproof kink of mine, whomever the relationship is between. I should mention at this point that I once wrote a story about tree leaves passionately devoted to each other.

Back to Interstellar and the noise I made when CASE began spinning over the tidal wave planet to save Brand.

Like Her, the characters’ setting and wardrobe are all devastatingly familiar. Houses, cars, clothes — nothing looks new. A lot of it looks older, in fact, than what we have now. It drives home the point that all innovation and manufacturing has stopped.

The grandfather (Cooper’s father-in-law) says that when he was a boy, it seemed like a new gadget came out every day, and he speaks wistfully of a global population of six billion. Cooper says that when he was a boy, everyone was too busy fighting over food to think about gadgets. And now it’s the return of the dust bowl, crops failing one by one.

I find it frighteningly realistic. Hopefully not in just two generations, but down the line, yeah — considering how short-sighted politicians are, and humanity’s capacity for denial and unwillingness to inconvenience themselves while it may still make a difference.

I love the role NASA played — in the historical past and in this fictional future. The revelation that the latest schoolbooks deny the lunar landing, one of humanity’s (and America’s) greatest accomplishments, ever happened was meant to appall us along with Cooper. The reasoning seemed to be that for our reduced population, our hopes and dreams (such as eating more than one food crop in your lifetime) should be kept small. Don’t look up.

Cooper pushed back hard against this, especially for his children. He wanted his son to go to college, to learn to be an engineer — anything more than a farmer, the default profession of everyone, now.

Then something weird happens with the dust.

I was intrigued by the suggestion of an unknown, omnipotent being out there, bending forces to help humanity survive. It’s an appealing belief that many would identify as religion, and therefore an interesting subject for the movie to tackle. Even more interesting was the ultimate revelation (if hypothesized, not proven) of the being’s identity.

(spoilers ahead)

The movie’s proposition is that mankind ultimately saves itself, through time and space; that we evolve to something godlike, to our present perception. It’s a ballsy statement that may not sit well with some audiences.

But the whole black hole/fifth dimension sequence was ballsy, too. It nearly broke my suspension of disbelief, until TARS hypothesized that it was the unknown being manipulating space into something Cooper could understand. (And what a relief that they popped him back into back in our own solar system, because I was afraid he’d have to wait in that awful alien place until he ran out of oxygen.)

Miscellaneous points:

  • My only real complaint is that nothing was indicated about what happened to anyone on continents outside North America. I would have liked something to see how they’re getting along or how they were rescued too, eventually.
  • All astronauts really should be trained to watch out for space madness
  • The cinematography was SO GREAT, though
  • The tidal wave planet was glorious. At first, I was holding my breath, waiting for a sea monster to emerge — but no, it’s just ENORMOUS TSUNAMIS all the time
  • I really liked the little acknowledgements of the empty silence of space and how it affected the astronauts, like when Cooper lent Romilly his earbuds with sounds of Earth
  • I can’t even stand to think about Cooper watching that backlog of videos from so many years, augh. A+ job, Matthew McConaughey

I also loved the final scene, when Cooper leaves (with the new TARS!) to join Brand on their new planet. So touching — not only so she’ll have some human companionship in her long exile, but I also had a fleeting, amusing image of them raising 500 babies together. Of course they wouldn’t bring all 500 to term at once, that would be madness…but still, I like to think there’s some platonic co-parenting in their future, all while adjusting to their new earth.

Sounds like a sequel to me.

6 thoughts on “Movie review: Interstellar (also: embracing sci-fi, and ruminating on the things I love in stories)

  1. Total agreement on the tidal wave sequence… visually it seems so simple, but it was done with a high degree of craftsmanship. Solid film, and a solid review. :)

  2. I loved Interstellar. I saw it in the IMAX, which was amazing. The lovely cinematic sequences used the whole IMAX screen while the ones with the actors were in widescreen format. It was pretty neat. I loved how the movie was pieced together and how fair it was with the “twist” at the end. I love that it was humans who saved humans, even with all the timey-wimey stuff. Now, I have to go watch Her.

    • Yes! I saw it in IMAX too. So, so worth it. I liked the twist too, though I was seriously worried for a while we were going to watch Cooper die, knowing he’d accomplished his purpose, but THANKFULLY it gave us a better ending than that. And OMG THE DRAGONS ROBOTS. (Lol, I am still listening to Temeraire audiobooks. Have dragons on the brain.)

      Let me know what you think of Her! I loved the twist to that one, too. It’s a surprisingly feminist movie, given the premise (lonely guy falls in love with the OS he purchased).

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