For many Christopher Nolan fans (or, as they prefer, “Nolanites”), the man can do no wrong. After all, Nolan is an oddity in contemporary Hollywood; he eschews using any forms of social media, insists on keeping all of his projects as secret as possible in an age filled with spoilers, and actually attempts to be original in his filmmaking. His filmography ranges from low budget indie thrillers (Memento and Following) to more expensive Hollywood blockbusters (Insomnia, The Prestige and Inception) and superhero epics (The Dark Knight Trilogy).
When Nolan’s latest project was announced, expectations were sky high. All that was known about Interstellar was that physicist Kip Thorne consulted on the production, there was a fantastic ensemble cast, and the plot had something to do with wormholes. As per usual, Nolan played his cards close to the chest throughout the film’s advertising, hinting only briefly at Interstellar’s climactic last hour. The result was a film that received wildly mixed reviews, with Nolanites insisting that it was a work of genius and detractors arguing that the film was a poorly written mess. Critics were just as conflicted; and Interstellar currently sits at a just-above-average 72% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Many fans hoped that Interstellar would be Nolan’s first shot at a Best Picture nomination, but the film was snubbed. It was criticized for being too exposition-heavy and overlong, with inconsistently written characters and an ending that completely disregards the scientific accuracy that marked the previous two hours. However, the visual effects were nominated, Hans Zimmer’s score was recognized, and the sound mixing and editing also have a chance at winning.
Interstellar is far from perfect, and many of its critiques are justified. The dialogue is clunky (the “It’s impossible. No, it’s necessary” line still makes no sense), and some of the characters are very poorly fleshed out (when did Casey Affleck’s Tom become a psychopath?). With all this being said, the film still deserved a nomination. The Academy has never been kind to science fiction movies, despite the fact that the genre has produced some of cinema’s best achievements (2001, Blade Runner, Star Wars, to name a few). It’s time for that to change, and Interstellar would have been the best place to start.
(Disclaimer: Spoilers from here on out. If you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you.)
The brilliance of the film lies in the fact that Nolan elevates the genre to new heights. Gone are the tired clichés, such as tropes like the “evil robot” or the “huge corporation with an evil ulterior motive.” Humanity’s technological advancements, represented by the robots TARS and CASE, play an integral role in helping the heroes succeed. TARS may even be the best character in the film, and lacks the evil machinations expected of a character so reminiscent of 2001’s HAL 9000. Instead of including a twist in which NASA sends the expedition for some nefarious underlying purpose, Nolan reveals that Michael Caine’s character lied in an attempt to save the human race–a difficult decision made by a conflicted character. The ensemble lacks a ridiculous human villain–only Matt Damon’s Doctor Mann, who understandably goes insane after years of isolation and attempts to save humanity by betraying the protagonists. Damon’s appearance in the film has drawn accusations of stunt casting, but the entire set-piece involving his character serves as a stark reminder that we are watching fallible human beings doing what they believe is best for each other. Even the ending subverts Hollywood cliché by choosing to focus on an emotional bond rather than an explosion-filled finale.
Few other directors could anchor such an ambitious story about the future of humanity with a simple tale of the bond between a father and his daughter. Nolan does so brilliantly, and fully addresses anyone who criticizes his work as being cold and unfeeling. The beauty of science fiction is that it has the potential to represent everything that humanity can achieve; unfortunately, too many films prefer to reflect a hopeless outlook on humanity’s future. Nolan dares to assert that our best days lie ahead of us, and that we have the ability to achieve greatness. The final twist that the mysterious “they” who placed the wormhole by Saturn in the movie are actually humans from the future reinforces this theme: Humanity has the ability to transcend its current conflicts and work towards the salvation of the race.
Few movies are as optimistic as Interstellar is. There’s plenty in the movie to like, from lengthy explanations of the film’s science to gripping set pieces (that docking sequence will never get old) and Hans Zimmer’s incredibly epic score. The film’s pacing flaws, minor plot holes and inconsistent characters are all swept away by its daring to dream of a brighter future. The Academy should have recognized that although the film may not check all the boxes required of Best Picture nominees, it still merits recognition as an unconventional blockbuster that has connected with audiences across the world. Nolan is part of a dying breed of director that value creativity and authentic filmmaking over digital effects and an endless stream of prequels, sequels, remakes and reboots. If Nolan’s genius is not worthy of film’s most prestigious award, then I don’t know what is.
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