I saw it late. I avoided the reviews. I wanted to come to it fresh. And I did. But much as I wanted to like the big swooping scenes of strange worlds, it was teeth-grindingly annoying. Moving in parts, exciting in others. But running through it was this rather unpalatable thread of 50’s bullshit.
The production clearly attempted to evoke a sense of underplayed realism, a feeling of the possible. Interstellar tips its hat to classic movies of the past, with visual references and thematic nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact (the book more than the film) and Solaris (both cinematic versions). No complaints there (apart from Contact, obviously).
But as for the rest of it? It’s got this weird gender dynamic. A male/female divide that’s corny at best. Weepy female astronaut that stumbles into mortal danger as soon as she does anything. Surly teenage daughter who’s too cross and sulky to say goodbye to dad when he’s off to save the world. Logical, stoic men (who mostly die because they’re bravely saving the women, or save humanity by nearly dying but then giving their last to get through to the clever but ultimately flouty teenage daughter).
The bad guys are a creepy, sneaky British scientist with a fondness for poetry. (And British people never play bad guys in movies). And a humanitarian-turned-muderer who confirms the paranoid right wing suspicion that if you selflessly give your life for your fellow man, deep down inside you’re evil. Sigh. But the female thread was the most annoying. Seriously, I was half expecting the female lead to ask the hero to unscrew a jar for her.
The sci-fi plot itself was solid but old hat, it felt a bit like it was straight out of an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation. Some of the scenes are truly epic, but the underlying tone of the piece is a well worn path of brave men and little women. It drags the whole thing down into the emotional depths normally plumbed by soap operas.
As a rule, when the female astronaut (a NASA doctor of space stuff, no less) breaks her cold, sarcastic demeanour and sobs like a jilted prom queen, it’s a bit of a cliché. Forgivable with a raised eyebrow and a tut, perhaps. But then announcing that the love she feels for her long lost boyfriend might be a more plausible explanation than science for the sublime mechanisms of the cosmos? Cliché turns into fortune cookie. And that same love should guide their mission to save humanity rather than logic or science? Come on! She’s got a PhD in astrophysics, not crystal healing… even the fortune cookie guy is throwing his hands in the air and shouting “The past is history, the future is a mystery, but a shit in a glossy wrapper is still a shit and therefore, a poor choice of snack.”
I was left feeling disappointed. My wife, on the other hand, also a scientist, was spitting with rage. My advice would be, unless you’re a fifth dimensional being for whom time is meaningless, avoid it. It’s an epic sci-fi movie that was written, it seems, to appeal to an audience who don’t like epic sci-fi movies and favour a more familiar action movie genre.
It’s a film that both lauds and debunks science and sci-fi. It’s bipolar. Hero-worship of boffins one minute lurches into hero worship of ordinary working folks, the soil-stained guardians of the soul those pesky boffins lost in their quest for knowledge. It’s a familiar theme, this distrust of clever people who, although we need their wonderful inventions, can’t be trusted to use them heroically (or even ethically) because they were the nerdy kids at school and the temptation to take revenge on the sporty kids who bullied them is too powerful to resist. The victim becomes the villain, the bully becomes the hero. And the girls become women, sexually mature but emotionally and intellectually not quite fully fledged, independent adults. What a fucked-up little narrative.
Your grandparents might look back on that sort of nonsense with a mixture of nostalgia and embarrassment. But I can’t. I’m just too… young (I’m 43).