In the last couple of weeks I have been thinking of love and loss. This comes from developing those topics in my university classes for the purposes of teaching English to international students.
It’s not that I have this morbid fascination with grief. It’s just that materials I have created in the past on these subjects illustrate how to define difficult terms. As one of the pieces says, it’s almost a cliche that no one can define love.
Since both love and loss comes in many forms we can attempt to define them.. For example, one recent news source I used in my classes dealt with the assisted suicide of a vibrant 29-year-old American woman who had plenty to live for. It was heart wrenching to hear Brittany Maynard and her family talk of her impending death and the life and people she was leaving behind.
So when I ventured into the local cinema to see “Interstellar”, my schema lent itself to viewing the film through that lens. I didn’t plan on becoming emotional over that theme, but cognitive psychology wants what it wants.
Indeed, “Interstellar” has been criticized for having no themes. It is getting plenty of rave reviews, but these have come because of the movie’s fantastic cinematography and how it stirs the emotions due to technical wowie zowies.
I concur with the critics who have praised the picture because of its wizardry and roller coaster trips through space. There are times when the film is simply stunning.
In some instances I felt I was riding along with the astronauts as they rocketed into space and zipped through and around wormholes and black holes. I literally held on to my seat during these scenes.
But the story, supposedly a weakness of “Interstellar”, has not been given its due.
As is common lately, it focuses on an Apocalypse. In the not too distant future, the Earth is on its way to extinction due to a blight on its food supply. Cooper (Matthew McConnaughey) is a widowed farmer trying to make due with his two kids and father-in-law on a farm even though his heart is clearly not into agriculture.
But he loves his kids and he especially has a close relationship with his 10-year-old daughter Murph (MacKenzie Foy). When her brother teases her with a reference to Murphy’s Law, she complains to her Dad about the name.
“Murphy’s law doesn’t mean that something bad will happen,”Cooper tells his daughter affectionately. “It means that whatever can happen, will happen.”
This statement foreshadows the events to come in the film.
Seeking to find the location of some coordinates they found in a dust pattern in Murph’s room, Cooper finds a hidden NASA facility housing a rocket meant to explore planets on the other side of a worm hole located near Saturn. These worlds have been explored by other astronauts and some are deemed to be candidates for a relocation of humans from Earth.
NASA scientist Professor Brand (Michael Caine) tells Cooper, a former test pilot, that he is the one man trained enough to pilot the craft through the wormhole, but the latter is reluctant. He doesn’t want to leave his family.
However, Cooper eventually relents to the chagrin of Murph, who becomes beside herself with grief at the prospect of not seeing her father for years and perhaps never again. She refuses to send him off happily.
At this point the story moves into outer space. “Interstellar” shows dedication to scientific accuracy here, including the potential effects of space travel on aging. In fact, Cooper good naturedly tells Murph before he leaves that he might be her age when he returns, a thought that does nothing to assuage her sorrow at becoming separated from her father.
This ongoing dysfunctional relationship between Cooper and Murph, two people who clearly love each other deeply, and the effects of their separation give “Interstellar” something more than just the special effects common in flicks in our computerized world. It gives it the film conflict, the element required in any good story.
The movie still have plenty of glitz, including a star-studded cast (Anne Hathaway and Matt Damon, for example). I was especially drawn to Michael Caine’s role as Professor Brand. Caine seems ageless, which is appropriate for a film which has references to space and time in its repertoire. He could have come out of a wormhole himself.
“Interstellar” isn’t perfect. While the pictures of space and the happenings there are quite unique, some scenes are reminiscent of other movies and television shows. For instance, one closeup of McConnaughey in his space suit passing through an anomaly is rather hokey. It seems like something out of “Buck Rodgers”. McConaughey has never been one of my favorite actors. Yet in this film I give him credit for his attempt at portraying a caring father. Where he fails is trying to pass himself off as Harrison Ford in Star Wars. Furthermore, as one news clip I saw noted, the movie is so loud I could not understand the dialogue at times.
In addition, it is sad that in a film about loss, this viewer got lost. There were scenes where I couldn’t follow the plot. I think Interstellar’s three hour run time and the aforementioned garbled English had something to do with it. In any case, I had to read WIkipedia to fill in the gaps in the story.
Even with these weaknesses, I want to see “Interstellar” again and perhaps again after that, viewing it from different angles, including the scientific and sci-fi fantasy aspects. I think by the time I’m done I’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland.