Who among us did not want to love this movie?
This question seems more important than the one most others appear to be asking: Didn’t you love this movie?
By the time the movie actually arrived in theaters, there had been enough momentum behind it to knock down the theater walls. Nolan’s team marketed the film as a contender for the pantheon of SF greatness, among 2001, Solaris, and early Ridley Scott.
They cobbled a pair of very large shoes and invited everyone in town to come down to the square and await the arrival of a giant come to fill them.
Since the arrival of the giant, reviews have been mostly positive. Not overwhelmingly so, but very close. It’s not quite Star Wars but it sure as hell didn’t go down like Prometheus.
At io9, Annalee Newitz rightly bemoaned the pseudoscience of the film, while on another occasion she adequately pronounced, “Interstellar Is the Best and Worst Space Opera You’ll Ever See.”
Since critical reception has been hesitant to declare that the giant that arrived to fill the shoes had a particularly small foot for a giant, ChromeStone has decided to weigh in on the debate.
Interstellar undoubtedly reaches for the grandiose, chauffeuring the audience on a trip into a devastated near-future, across the solar system, and frighteningly close to a black hole at the center of a new (to us) galaxy. The film is epic in scope both spatially and temporally.
As refreshing as it is for a science fiction movie to be so bold as to attempt the grandeur of the aforementioned pantheon, the close of the film suggests Nolan missed the point of his influences.
The clean ending of the film, with everything wrapped up in one neat little package at the end (oh yeah, except for the epic paradox that goes unresolved at the film’s “resolution”), bow on it and all, slaps the entire process of interrogation from the construction of the story as a science fiction artifact.
A successful science fiction story estranges its audience from the subject, making that which is in constant focus during the story unrecognizable. The mind futilely races to shape the murky image into a known form or understood thing, never quite catching up to the idea but spawning an infinity of imagination in the process.
The reason that 2001, Solaris, and Scott’s successful scifi duo have such influence over the genre because of their ability to resonate with viewers as deeply science fiction. The effect comes from the estrangement generated between audience and monster/robot/mysterious-space-entity by way of presenting the SF element of the story as just beyond the grasp of empathy, not because we don’t care, but because we are limited by the narrow scope of our senses and cognition. The Thing is so utterly alien, so substantially mute to our human machinations, that its motive and relevance are left entirely to the audience.
2001 ends with one big question, literally staring back at the audience, “What the hell is that big space baby?” But other questions of greater philosophical depth linger beneath the surface of the more cosmetic “Big Baby” question.
The symbolism is elementary enough that some sort of rebirth, recycling, or regeneration has been set into motion as a result of humankind’s pursuit of The Signal. But Kubrick never stopped the story to explain, or cram into the plot resolution to make sure no one walked out of the theater with any questions. Questions were the point.
Similarly, Solaris refuses to answer questions, and unlike its counterparts, does not wait until the end of the story to confound the audience. The initial tension of the story stems directly from humankind’s inability to comprehend the giant thinking planet, Solaris. As the tension escalates throughout the film, it is only because of the exponentially widening gap between the true nature of Solaris and the audience’s ability to comprehend it.
Nolan, on the other hand, doesn’t trouble his audience with unresolved philosophical dilemmas, just gaping, unresolved plot holes.
The central mystery of the film (the identity of the extra terrestrial samaritans lending humankind the helping hand–and to a lesser extent, the imaginary friend in Murphy’s bedroom), were pleasantly explained by movie magic.
Who had been the savior of humankind all along?
Mankind was saved by mankind all along. Space is completely within our grasp. Just, ignore the fact that human’s would first have to successfully adapt to life off of Earth–and then advance significantly in terms of technology–before being able to render a wormhole. How did the first humans in the infinite continuum of time stumble upon the universe’s html code. What was the Prime Mover?
That doesn’t matter though, as far as the plot goes. Matt lives to reunite with his daughter at just that last moment, all loose ends neatly tied into a bow. Again, except for the giant gaping paradox.
Apparently the paradox is Nolan’s philosophical gift to his audience. Who will be the Prime Mover. Will it be us? Will it? Or dow we have to regress back to Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma and sacrifice our delicious, gluten-saturated, confection-covered delights, –by which I mean food–for a steady diet of corn?!?
This question, if it is indeed where we are intended to mine the ambiguity of the film’s moral center, disappoints. Too broad, too vague, too much a false promise, the ending disappoints. It leaves no room for the audience to decide, or to interpret. I would love to see the internet running rampant with interesting theories of value…
…but the conversation is cosmetic at best.