For Your Consideration: Interstellar

by: Michael Shields

Across the Margin makes its case for the best film of the year with Interstellar…..

Interstellar-Ending-Explained-Time-Travel

Like any proper cinephile, I have poured over the selections for Best Films of 2014  with zeal. In an effort to ensure that I am up to speed on the finer offerings, and to certify that the films that I was touched by were present and accounted for, I meticulously sought out and inhaled the opinions of those supposedly in the know. But far too often I found myself  running into one unimaginable and bothersome complication: the notable absence of my pick for the best film of the year, Interstellar1.

Interstellar is a loaded film, and inasmuch as many might view this as a problem, it is in this cinematic bounty where the film has the ability to take your breath away. On its surface, and throughout its opening chapter, Interstellar unfolds as a story about a family facing the hardships of a ruined planet. Immersed in a toil against a world stripped of the essential resources to sustain life, an obvious and poignant nod to the struggle humanity now faces with Climate Change, Interstellar’s director, Christopher Nolan, draws us into an introspective tale where the inhabitants of Planet Earth stand at the precipice of extinction. But this is literally the tip of a mammoth iceberg, the jumping off point to an awe-inspiring odyssey through time, space, and the human psyche.

It is daunting, and even a little intimidating, the expanse of topics vehemently explored throughout Interstellar. During the course of an alacritous two hours and forty-nine minutes, Nolan challenges the viewer to contemplate ideas about black holes, singularities, relativity, and fifth dimensions. The film boldly references advanced theories refined by sapient minds such as Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Kip Thorne2. But wherever Interstellar takes us, from a ravaged Earth unto planets light years away and back again, it may be the most grounded of all of Nolan’s films. For Interstellar is about sacrifice. It’s about family. And it’s about the gut-wrenching junction where these two ideas periodically face off.

It is the emotional intensity of one moment in particular that embodies the affectivity of Interstellar. In the far reaches of space, Cooper must, to his dismay and protest, explore a planet that experiences a time dilation. Due to the effects of a nearby black hole, time progresses far more slowly on this planet than on Earth. For every hour Cooper spends on the surface of this exotic, water planet, seven years passes back on Earth. When he returns to his ship in orbit high above the planet, Cooper is forced to deal with this stunning loss of time. With much urgency he sits down to watch a series of video messages from his children, watching as over two decades worth of change ages his children in a span of time that only took three hours to unfold for him on the planet’s surface. This moment acts as one (if not the) most affecting scenes of the year, as Cooper watches his beloved son and daughter grow up and then surpass him in age. The emotional wallop of his life accelerating without him understandably overwhelms Cooper as the consequences and reality of this multi-decade space travel sets in. Nolan’s ability to capture Cooper’s crushing heartache is engrossing, heart-rendering film making at its finest. And in this devastating realization we behold the depth of ability of Matthew McConaughey, whose enactment of the reaction to the loss of time and opportunity with his character’s family cuts to the core, inciting tears like the ones that drench Cooper’s anguished face.

Unquestionably, one of the finer films of 2013 was Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. But in hindsight, it is easy to look at Gravity as the appetizer for the grandiose meal to follow that is Interstellar. This is not meant as a knock on Gravity, but to add perspective to the scope of film we are dealing with here. Interstellar is an overwhelming, immense epic that finds a way, even while volleying the viewer about a bevy of complex issues, to always remain grounded in its own catastrophic reality. In this way Interstellar somehow manages to balance the head and the heart.

Within this cosmic behemoth of a film, stimulated by cataclysmic events, Nolan summons to life an incredibly intimate story of human connection. It is easily understood, aesthetically, why Interstellar is compared time and again to 2001: A Space Odyssey3, but where it differs from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is that this expedition is powered by emotion and the human heart.

The absence of Interstellar on countless Best of 2014 lists, along with the eggregious snubbing by both The Hollywood Foreign Press and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, confounds me. Maybe the media has tired of Nolan and his legions of fans. Maybe the unsatisfying conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy still lingers. Maybe it’s the complexity. Maybe the film pivoting around concepts such as extra-dimensional time travel was too heady for some. It was a film that employed as one of its driving forces a layer of dust trapped by gravity upon the floor that was deciphered as a sort of code, as binary directions to a secret facility. But getting caught up in the science4 is missing the point.  Because Interstellar boils down to that age old dilemma of whether personal loyalties outweigh the needs of the many. What sacrifices must be made for the sake of something that’s meant for the entirety of humankind? And in the end, Cooper must embrace the philosophy that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. And it is in that sacrifice, and the results that follow, where we are taken to another dimension altogether throughout Interstellar, but not of space – of the human heart.

  1. Best of Film lists Interstellar is noticeably absent from:  Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, BBC, Grantland, The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter, Time, Village Voice, The Washington Post, RogerEbert.comPeople, etc., etc. []
  2. Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicists, served as an advisor and as an Executive Producer on the film. []
  3. Nolan even offers his own spin on Kubrick’s HAL 9000, TARS – the unlikely comic relief of the film. []
  4. Which is a wonderful aspect of the film I must add, and the filmmakers display an uncanny knack for making complex physics accessible to laymen. For example when illustrating a cross-galaxy wormhole for Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Romilly (David Gyasi) folds a piece of paper and pokes a hole through it. []

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