Sci-Fi Fridays, Episode 39: How well did ‘Interstellar’ answer my 5 questions?



A few weeks ago, I posed five questions pre-film that I hoped Christopher Nolan’s science fiction blockbuster would answer soundly. Now that most everyone has seen Interstellar, let’s open up my time capsule of sorts and take the ambitious man to task if need be. I’ll first start off by reposting my questions, followed by an official answer as paraphrased by yours truly. Fair warning, this is most definitely a spoiler-heavy article so if you haven’t seen Interstellar (and if you don’t live near an IMAX theater, I imagine this nearly 3-hour film might not be the one you immediately run to) I suggest you kangaroo jump out of here. Let’s begin.

Q1: Are these “Spielberg meets Kubrick” rumors really true or just a load of reductive noise?

Answer: The only thing that rides in proximity to Kubrick is the film’s groundbreaking visuals, which might be the best of its kind for cinema purists. The wormhole sequence is right up there with 2001’s opening shot as the most exhilarating cosmic event in film history. That’s where the Kubrick comparisons die, for better or worse. Kubrick’s movie was much more concerned with symbolism, themes and the evolution of humans as a species – 2001, unlike Interstellar, isn’t interested in their capabilities in space. Interstellar is much more of a Spielberg film, going full throttle when it comes to its central father/daughter relationship. Expect loads of tears and sentimental music cues aplenty, with an arguably hokey plot device tying Cooper and Murph together despite being galaxies apart. But what separates Interstellar from many a Spielberg film is its obsession with the science of the entire space endeavor. A Spielberg film is content with just being an entertaining, crowd-pleasing Saturday matinee flick with the promise of fun for the whole family. Yeah…no, Nolan’s Interstellar is no cuddly time at the movies.

Q2: Is Matthew McConaughey the Oscar contender we didn’t see coming?

Answer: Just like Sandra Bullock last year in Gravity, McConaughey might easily have had a much better chance at an Oscar if he didn’t already have one on his mantlepiece. Committed, vulnerable, able to sell somewhat bland dialogue, McConaughey might give the best big screen performance of his career (it’s either this or Killer Joe) in Interstellar. When he sees his children on video, aged twenty years in a matter of several hours for him, his reaction and subsequent breakdown is by far Interstellar’s most impactful scene. McConaughey conjures up the floodworks like no other, proving once and for all that just when you think the McConnaissance has ended or is slowing down, the man works his cowboy magic and shows an entirely new side to his craft. Bra-Freaking-Vo, MM. That being said, voters didn’t spread the love to two-time winner Tom Hanks last year for his work in Captain Phillips, where he also had a memorable scene that no one could stop raving about. If Tom Hanks couldn’t make it for Captain Phillips after a slew of strong precursor showings and his involvement in a film that’s much more in the Academy’s wheelhouse than Interstellar is, MM has almost no chance to break into the Top 5, especially in such a competitive “Best Actor” year.

Q3: Will Christopher Nolan solve his “Female Problem”?

Answer: Whatever flaws this film may or may not have, one thing you can’t accuse Interstellar of is dropping the ball with its female characters. The relationship between father and daughter is never gender coded, nor does Murph require a long exposition scene explaining how she came into her high-level science position or why she’s smart enough to crack the code that will save mankind. The film never condescends or patronizes Murph, and the closest thing to a male love interest she has is in the form of Topher Grace’s Getty, but even he feels more like a fellow collaborator than anything resembling true love. As for Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand, Nolan gives credibility to the notion that love and emotion and trusting your gut are oftentimes more beneficial problem-solving methods than thinking with your head without any sort of instinctual drive guiding that decision. With Amelia, Nolan underlines the male-female dichotomy that’s been a part of our culture since the dawn of civilization, and stands firmly in the camp of those unafraid to follow their hearts.

Q4: This epic space quest really can’t be a predictable as it seems…can it?

Answer: Most assuredly not. Other than a Spielbergian ending post-Close Encounters of the Third Kind, all of the events and twists that occur in Interstellar are unexpected and drive home the point that this space adventure is no simple walk in the park. Whether it’s friends who turn into bitter enemies, the fate of our most intrepid heroes and heroines, or the solution required to “save the planet,” Interstellar keeps you guessing, wondering and shocked from start to finish. Answers posed at the beginning that make zero sense will be resolved by film’s end, but how they reach finality is where the surprise lies.

Q5: The most important question of all is: WILL THERE BE ALIENS?

Answer: No, there are no alternate forms of sentient life depicted in Interstellar, though the early belief held by Cooper and Murph is that aliens from above are attempting to communicate with them and point them to destinations that will eventually lead to a meeting. That meeting never takes place, as Cooper discovers the ancient beings of the stars are a fabrication. It’s Cooper who has been communicating to Murph this whole time as her “ghost,” and it is humankind that developed the space sanctuary that allows its species to send messages to their loved ones across time and space. Sorry guys, you’re better off looking forward to Prometheus 2 if you want your alien fix.

Well, my conclusion is that Nolan went beyond giving concrete, simple answers, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Interstellar is many things, but one thing you cannot claim is that it carefully stepped around the tough questions I threw at it. Nolan addressed his past weaknesses as a filmmaker while potentially creating some new ones, but give the guy some credit for absorbing criticism and learning from it. Comment away, readers!