17 July 2015

Interstellar

1.  Tonight I watched Interstellar, the Christopher Nolan hit from late 2014.  I am about 8 months late in reviewing it, and I have basically stopped writing film reviews.  Nonetheless, here I am.

2.  There were off notes from the beginning of the film.  McConaughey's accent clashed with his father in law's—this was acceptable (in terms of plausibility), but annoying.  I preferred John Lithgow's acting.  The line about the drone needing to learn how to adapt was silly.  The vagueness of the global crisis made things implausible.  No MRIs, but automated combines and drones flying for years on end? Vague dust problems? Perhaps I missed something.

3.  The trick with the books was too convenient.  It was so much of a just-so connection between the science/exploration wing of the plot and the paternity/love wing that, while it solved all the internal problems admirably, it gave nothing to the viewer to take away.

4.  The deathbed meeting at the end was barren and gross in the same way as the ending of Kubrick/Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence, in which the robot boy whose sole desire in life is to be loved, is granted a simulation of his wish for a single day by aliens who have carved him out of the frozen Atlantic.  Nothing in the satisfaction of Haley Joel Osmond's desire in that movie was pleasing or edifying to the viewer.  Instead, it was horrifyingly hollow, and would have been tragic except that one has a hard time attributing tragedy to robot drama. As a result it was a hollow simulation of the fulfillment of the desire of a hollow simulation of a person—perhaps fitting, but if one had any sympathy for the boy, it was horrible. In this case, the reunion at the end would have been tragic, except that it was perceived as a happy moment for both parties.

5.  The film is fundamentally about paternal abandonment.  It deals with this question in an unusual way by glorifying the father's departure because he is supposedly serving the interests and needs of humanity.  And in the end I think we are supposed to admire McConaughey's heroism.  But if we strip away the just-so resolution of the story, with the black hole and all that, the remaining story (father abandons children on noble mission; mission fails; children are orphaned and slowly die from plagues) is simply tragic.

6.  Paternal abandonment is a timely theme, for us in the United States.

7.  The most painful scene, and the best scene, was of McConaughey viewing the transmissions from his son after the 20 year interval.  I found this deeply moving, in part because of the pain the son must have felt speaking to an absent father, and then because of the pain the father feels witnessing this in his child, but mostly because of the love and fidelity the son shows, especially in the midst of his own difficulties.  Twenty years of growing up and suspending judgment of the probabilities and possibilities of the father's return is a long time to keep making contact.  What would it be to have so much love and faithfulness, not to simply move on?  Jessica Chastain's character has none of this fidelity, and her love shows itself mainly in resentment.

8.  McConaughey's character does not seem to be a man of ideas.  He's a skilled pilot with a good sense of where he wants to go at present, and a strong commitment to returning to his family. I did not find his struggle to be very sympathetic, since he effectively left on a suicide mission when he took off. Amidst the dishonesty of Michael Caine's character, the bitter mania of Chastain's, the irrationality of Hathaway's, the cynical darwinism of Matt Damon's, and the blandness of everyone else, I think the son's character is the one genuinely redeeming moral excellence of the story.  I was disturbed by the way he was treated at the end, as a sort of pawn to Chastain's reconciliation with her ghost-father, and then dropped.  They did not do justice to this fellow's character.