Monday, November 24, 2014

#778. How is there a better film this year than Interstellar?

Interstellar is the best movie of the year.

There's no way there can be serious competition.  This is a filmmaker at the height of his powers, the culmination of everything Christopher Nolan has done so far in his career.  How does he top it?  That's the only question here.

Interstellar is Nolan challenging an entire generation, asking all the biggest questions mankind has ever had, and coming up with conclusions.  Time and time again, he's challenged audiences and then left them to come to their own conclusions.  Interstellar is different because this time, he presents his.  He wants to know whatever happened to the idea of human ingenuity, human ambition.  In some ways, only Darren Aronosky's The Fountain, a film that didn't offer answers, has ever even approached the scope of Nolan's achievement.  You've no doubt heard a parade of critics present 2001: A Space Odyssey as Interstellar's natural predecessor and obvious better, but that's exactly the idea Nolan is completely rebuffing in his film.

2001 came at the height of the era Nolan is addressing in the movie.  It was originally released in 1968, a year before the moon landing (a crucial plot point in Nolan's vision), and represented not only the high point in writer Arthur C. Clarke's career, but also, arguably, director Stanley Kubrick's, an experience that completely redefined "scope" in storytelling in any medium.  Its conclusions, though, were muddled, "cosmic" if you want to be generous.  Interstellar is littered with echoes, and so that certainly made the job of those critics easier, and their conclusions were easiest of all: critics always prove conservative.  They went with the older model.  They're exactly who Nolan is looking to refute.  In 2001 a mysterious monolith appears and leads to a journey into the unknown, and the unknown remains the unknown, which is certainly a message in itself, but has no real scientific impetus behind it.  It is instead a symbol of all the hope of its era, when everything seemed possible.

We know, however, that all that hope led only to one disaster after another.  The Cold war continued.  The Vietnam War continued.  Nixon resigned the presidency.  Race relations remained unresolved.  Politics only became messier.  The Middle East exploded.  You name it.  And science has been reduced to the toys you play with instead of interacting with other people.  We've become increasingly self-centered.  And we have no ambition.

The next time films had an epic vision, it was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, another film that left the ending somewhere in the viewer's imagination.  Which is fine.  Spielberg returned to aliens with E.T., and then his grandest ambitions in A.I., a movie that was dismissed as his poor imitation of Kubrick, who'd initially conceived the project.  I never agreed with that assessment, but it does acknowledge how Spielberg failed to nail his ending.

Terrence Malick, in The Tree of Life, and Duncan Jones, with Source Code, delivered a pair of game-changers, mind-widening wonders that were generally overlooked.  J.J. Abrams is the next filmmaker ready to take a crack, but so far his greatest projects have been on television, Lost and Fringe, the latter of which was something like an answer to its predecessor, the one disgruntled fans were looking for but failed to follow.  Super 8 was called a Spielberg film.  After Star Wars, what else can Abrams do?

Nolan, meanwhile, has been tackling one epic vision after another, starting small and always branching outward.  From Memento to The Prestige to Inception, and his deepening of superheroes in the Dark Knight trilogy, he sought to challenge himself and his audiences, help each other grow.  With Interstellar he's finally delivered his thesis.

Interstellar is about ambition and love, about science and about progress, about the past and the future, and certainly the present.  It's a human adventure most of all.  He wants to know why we stopped being explorers, started letting setbacks get in our way, and why we no longer embrace big stories.  Gravity was the last time we went into space at the movies, but it wasn't about the possibilities of space at all, but about its tragedies, like Apollo 13.  Ridley Scott turned the Alien franchise back to its origins with Prometheus, but was scoffed at when he left the story unfinished, another Matrix where humanity is left to fight yet another battle, look to settle another score just when it seems victory was already attained, that happy ending found.  "They" in Interstellar is "us."  This is what M. Night Shyamalan has been trying to say for years but never found the words.  Nolan did find them.

Interstellar does what Source Code only did if you figured out what really happened.  Nolan has done away with riddles.  And he does it with gusto.  Great acting.  Great visuals.  Great storytelling.  Great music.  And a conclusion.  Not an implication.  A statement.

Any serious observer, any real movie fan, will admit that Interstellar has done the impossible.  Sometimes the best films are intimate journeys.  This time it's truly epic, in every sense, what filmmakers have been trying to do from the very start.  Give us a truly magical experience.  Many have tried.  Nolan succeeded.

It's the best movie of the year.

5 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

2001 is a lot less mysterious if you read the book.

The Armchair Squid said...

I am intrigued by Interstellar but it will probably have to wait for video for us. Don't think the kid's ready for it.

Tony Laplume said...

Pat, I'm pretty sure I mentioned I'd already read all four books when you were saying you read them, what, earlier this year?

Squid, maybe definitely a movie to watch as a family in a setting where you can discuss it as appropriate.

mshatch said...

I can't wait to see Interstellar. Excellent review :)

The Armchair Squid said...

Gotcha.

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