Interstellar very nearly passed me by. I found the trailer a little dry, and wasn’t that attracted by the cast. Still, I found myself ejected from the office at 4PM on a Thursday, and having nothing better to do I thought I would check it out before it disappeared from screens.
I saw it at the Waterloo IMAX – which I have been meaning to visit since they were building the thing – and had a pleasing experience. Prior to the show a cinema official stepped out front with a microphone to boast about his whopping screen. It’s the largest in Britain, he said, and though we were watching a digital projection instead of film, we should be assured his digital team was among the best in the world. I liked them taking pride in their kit – it helped create a sense of occasion.
Anyway, some thoughts:
For a starving world, Interstellar’s United States is a very calm place. Its people are quietly dignified, indomitable farmers, fleeing a future dustbowl in SUV jalopies. Their plight is briefly noted but not investigated, as this film isn’t here to talk about the perils future Oakies might face on their travels across the blighted Earth – whether prejudice, starvation, or violence. Hints are made about the country having emerged from a period of conflict, but you see little trace of that.
The film whispers something about the wasteful old materialistic society that created the new wasteland, and wants to condemn its profligacy – yet propagates tossing away an entire planet as the solution. There is also no discussion of how man will treat its new home planet once established. It would have been nice if someone suggested that, in leaving Earth, we might want also want to leave behind the rampant capitalism that caused all this… but I guess that would be too un-American.
The film’s experience is wholly American, and that is a little strange for a film about humankind taking an evolutionary step. The existence of other nations is only acknowledged when Cooper chases an Indian Air Force drone through a cornfield. That whole sequence reeks of an America that feels reduced, or slighted: a world in which India can spy on the US is a world gone mad, and one that must be left behind.
But really, are we going to beat up Nolan for producing an entirely American fantasy? In some ways it’s a good thing – at least there is no drunken cosmonaut comedy relief, or token references to destroyed foreign nations. And what’s wrong with suggesting that a reawakening of the pioneer spirit might be a good direction for American ambition, now that the superpower thing is ebbing away?
Trouble is, pioneers tend to impose themselves on new worlds, as opposed to integrate. And so it is with Interstellar: here the plan for man’s great leap forward seems to be: transplant America to a place where people can’t hurt it, then reset and carry on playing baseball.
The colonisation of space doesn’t really change man – the film loves relativity and has fun with it, but can’t escape the pull of the (very familiar) father/daughter reconciliation story at its core –so it doesn’t get to explore any of the outer reaches that you find in great science fiction literature.
I could moan about all the wonderful books there are out there which have far more interesting things to say– but a part of me knows that Hollywood simply can’t work with those kind of materials. If Universal tried to make Revelation Space they’d almost certainly bugger it up – probably by dumbly tacking on a ‘relatable’ father daughter narrative. This at least is built on a Hollywood premise, and feels solid enough as a result.
Down to Earth:
In the end, I have to admit that all these thoughts came to me after watching the film – seated in the cinema I was with Interstellar, heart and soul. Despite all the questions, or maybe because of them, it’s an excellent production.
The design is superb. I am a particular fan of the splitting wardrobe robots, and each world is brilliantly realised. The action sequences are astonishing – the ‘crazy Damon’ hatch blow-out, and subsequent spinning dock sequence, drops the jaw.
Overall it is the best Nolan could have produced within the constraints of what seems like an increasingly conservative studio system. If it gets a few of us looking up from our phones to the stars, that can only be a good thing.
And if it does leave me with an itch, a sense that there are better stories in science fiction literature, why moan? Better to go to the bookshelves, select some likely looking treats, and accept that there are some things Hollywood won’t ever do as well as the written word.