Some thoughts on Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Nolan.

It’s baffling to know that a filmmaker—Christopher Nolan—who was once so interested in basic human conundrums chose to be so indifferent to space. Because isn’t intergalactic space—the unfathomable vastness, which can’t be distilled or explained—the most profound experience? Why? Because it borders on transcendence. Because once you have reached your limit—or, the limit of entire mankind—it squashes you, because you don’t have the answer to, “what next?” How could have Nolan remained so oblivious to the most fundamental human curiosity? Why did Nolan become so fixated on telling a ‘story’? I didn’t care for Cuarón’s Gravity a lot but, boy, did that film make me feel insignificant; did that film tell me that we are ultimately and fundamentally, in the larger scheme of things, alone.

I have found most Nolan films to be quite moving, even though they are riddled with their own unique problems: expository dialogues; a rather simple plot rendered complicated; the externalization of pathos. However, with respect to Interstellar, it’s not that Nolan has morphed into a different filmmaker—he’s pretty much the same guy, the only difference is, here, he believes poignancy can be only sought through human beings. Humans who talk a lot. Humans who talk all the bloody time. Humans who don’t internalize but verbalize their loss. And that’s the most glaring—even unforgivable—flaw of Interstellar: the fact that Nolan refuses to recognize the world his characters are trying to inhabit. If you have seen Inception, you would know that Nolan is great at world building. Sometimes a fantastic setting—one that gleefully toys with the world’s mundane rules—can tell its own story.

The most frustrating bit about watching Interstellar is that, at most times, you are aware that you are watching a film. Compare it to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—I hate comparing movies, but I can’t help in this case—and you will understand at one point in the film, Kubrick stopped giving a fuck about how people were going to respond to his film. I didn’t understand either 2001: A Space Odyssey or Interstellar completely, but I have gone back to 2001 to engage with its universe, I don’t think Interstellar interested me enough that I want to visit the film again. But who am I kidding? These reasons don’t make sense. The main reason I keep going back to 2001 and won’t go back to Interstellar is rather simple and devoid of intelligence: Kubrick didn’t give a fuck; Nolan does. That’s all there is to it.


One thought on “Some thoughts on Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Nolan.

  1. I basically agree with your analysis. On a certain level, Nolan is about the most brilliant 16 year-old filmmaker one could imagine- technically awesome and certainly thought-provoking, but quickly revealed as still immature and a bit overwhelmed by his own emergent thought-trains. I loved Interstellar- as 3/4s bubblegum movie and 1/4 potentially evocative on a more sustained level. He’s got some good themes going but like all of his other recent works (the 2nd and 3rd Batman movies and Inception) he’s seduced by the idea of saying something REALLY big and unsurprisingly ends up making a bit of a fool of himself to a discerning viewer.

    The ways that the vastness and immutability of the physical universe overwhelm human relationships and transcends humanity’s self-destructive impact upon this planet, even as our species struggles to creatively survive are worthy themes, glinted at in Interstellar, and nicely evoked by the cinematography. Nolan’s surface narrative, however, turns it on its head, by positing that love transcends ALL. While metaphorically this may be true at the psychological level- one can say that the way that our deepest experiences of love are rooted in our developmental unconscious, beyond the limits of our rational narratives, makes it seem to our naive awareness that the feeling and bonds of love transcend the physical universe- there is no evidence for this belief beyond a subjective slant. In other words, while love can certainly be a wonderful and awesome part of our lives, it’s just conceit to believe that it somehow transcends and binds the universe together- that’s just Hollywood and adolescent pretense.

    While Interstellar as a narrative starts out on a muted, mature, and relevant level, and continues to charm the eyes and the heart, its thinking matter quickly degenerates into mush. It’s a film that I loved seeing, but don’t particularly respect on a deeper level.

    Kubrick’s 2001, plus his other films, are both awesome, thoughtful, and respectful, because, as noted above, he’s not cravenly playing to his mass audience. This makes them much more lasting than those of Nolan- and certainly (even more in Kubrick’s case) technically awesome.

    For a merger of the Kubrickian and sentimental elements that does work, I’d suggest watching A.I., by Spielberg, which appears cravenly sentimental, but consistently reveals itself upon a more careful analysis to be a sly critique of the narrative tendencies to which Nolan falls head-first.

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