Christopher Nolan’s big movies are overstuffed, wobbling shopping carts full of stuff that are always about to topple over. The Hitchcock and Kubrick shots, the frantic editing, the acting that varies between overwrought and flat, the plots that make less sense the longer they go on, but they’re still incredible to watch.
Interstellar is just that. A barely coherent mashup of 2001 and Contact, it’s a glorious mess that gets worse as it goes along, that, like most big Nolan movies could have been 40 minutes shorter, and that’s still the best science fiction movie of the decade.
In an age of CG cartoons, Nolan is still trying to make movies and it shows. Spaceships, robots and explosions are in every other movie, but Interstellar is actually based on a science fiction premise, instead of playing with scifi toys.
Interstellar self-consciously references 2001, but also humanizes it. Interstellar may be much looser and messier than anything Kubrick would have tolerated, but it also provides the audience with human stakes in its stories about multi-dimensional evolved humans, black holes and temporal variances.
It’s an optimistic movie about the importance of space travel and human potential. It’s a science fiction movie that is about the strangeness of the universe.
The plot of Interstellar is a train wreck, but Matthew McConaughey drags it along with him in overwrought scene after scene with extra ham on top. He embodies the passion of a messy project. His character and his performance is Interstellar’s rejection of abstract idealism in favor of specific human needs.
Michael Caine’s Professor Brand and Matt Damon’s Mann prove to be unreliable sociopaths whose speeches about the greater good cover for their selfishness. But Cooper’s selfishness is always front and center. He leaves his family behind, not to save the world, but because he loves the idea of flying a ship. And he wants to leave the mission to get back to his family. It’s his human needs that allow a transhuman future to connect to his world.
It’s a subversive message that challenges the authoritarianism of so many science fiction movies.
2001 showed people becoming inhuman. Interstellar humanizes even the robots whose design abandons the humanoid form, but whose personalities pick up human traits. Becoming less human isn’t the path to evolution. Embracing our humanity is. It’s a clunky message, but there have been worse messages in movies.
Interstellar is badly broken and yet its ambition and dysfunction is a breath of fresh air. It has little in common with the usual Marvel or Hasbro toy line movie. Instead it’s a science fiction movie about messed up people making mistakes in a universe with a limited tolerance for human error, but also a universe with amazing possibilities.
And that is what science fiction used to be before it became the background for brand merchandising movies.