Let me preface this by saying that regardless of how I feel, or heck, even regardless of how you may feel about Interstellar, I definitely urge you to see it on big screen, IMAX if possible. It is an astonishing cinematic experience on an astounding scale, fantastically scored, powerfully acted and with gorgeous cinematography. Large, sweeping landscapes of alien planets, hauntingly desolate and utterly spectacular. Outer space, recreated in all its breathtakingly wide and frighteningly empty splendour. It deserves to be seen, it’s begging to be seen on the big screen and it’s worth it alone just for that. It doesn’t really matter if you end up liking the rest of the movie or not, because when Interstellar takes you across the stars, it’s a trip you won’t soon forget. It’s also a trip that ended up really pissing me off, which I’ll go into more detail in a bit. First of all, SPOILER WARNING is in order. Anything and everything under the line will discuss the plot and ending of Interstellar in copious amounts of detail, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know about that stuff, you may want to stop reading.
Okay, so here it goes. SPOILERS from THIS POINT ONWARDS.
It’s not that good of a twist. Really, it’s not. In fact, when it comes to time travel plots, it’s the most basic, rudimentary twist you could go for. Oh, time creates itself, it’s an endless cycle, bla-bla-blah. The thing is, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me that much if the movie didn’t act like it was a big, clever twist. It ended up spending so much time explaining, hinting and building it up, that it sidetracked exploring the far reaches of the cosmos for habitable planets – you know, the absolutely stunning and far more interesting part of the movie? I mean come on, it’s not nearly complicated enough to warrant that much attention, I figured it out from the first five minutes. The first time they mentioned ghosts, I suspected. the second time they mentioned them, I knew. He’s the ghost, he leaves the messages. Great. Whatever. Take me to space! Even the movie knows it’s not that clever of a twist – just look at how hard it tries to make you ignore the obvious hints. Oh, Dr. Brandt just held someone’s hand as we were travelling through a wormhole, a hand that reached out from outside and passed through the wall? That’s neat, let’s ignore it and not bring it up until the very end, when it turns out ZOMG IT WAS COOPER WHO DID THAT. Same with the messages at the start. Rather than try and figure them out, NASA and Cooper are perfectly willing to attribute them to “They”, non-specific beings of unlimited power – works for us, apparently, taking it for granted and not talking about it until the end, when it turns out it’s kind of important. Also, why does Cooper even send the STAY message? He was there. He knows it doesn’t work. He knows he doesn’t believe his daughter. Had it been “he’s sending it to complete the cycle” or whatever, it would have been fine, but he acts as if he doesn’t know exactly how it would play out, even though he was RIGHT THERE. The characters have to be reduced to idiots sometimes, simply so that the twist would look smarter by comparison. It happened to Doctor Brandt, when she gave her little speech about love. It was clunky, stilted and awkward, filled with scientific terminology to make it sound good, but it didn’t help. In the end, the twist ending is not that complicated and it’s too well telegraphed and that makes it a boring twist, and ultimately, a boring ending. I knew exactly how it would end, beat by beat and that’s not interesting or exciting. Speaking of well telegraphed and an overall lack of subtlety, the rogue doctor who ends up betraying them and acts as an allegory for the survival instict of mankind, is literally called Dr. Mann. MANN. Are you fucking kidding me, Nolan? Well, it’s spelled with two “n”-s, so I guess it’s not that blindingly obvious that he is an allegory. Now, the character himself is fine. There’s nothing wrong with him whatsover. In fact, he’s quite fascinating and realizing that being left alone on a desolate planet with no chance of survival pushed him to the breaking point is both understandable and thought-provoking. I just wish they named him something other than Dr. MANN – every time they called him that, it felt as if the movie was taking a sledgehammer and hitting in my face, shouting GET IT? Same with the poem. Look, “Do not go gentle into that good night” is a great poem, it really is. The first time Michael Caine’s character read it, it was meaningful and kind of haunting, even. The second time, too. But by the third, fourth and yes, FIFTH time it was either being spoken out loud or showed to us in text, it was getting unintentionally funny. No, worse, it was getting annoying. It’s like a small child shoving its drawing in your face and yelling LOOK AT WHAT I DID. I don’t care if it’s the Mona Lisa, don’t gouge my eyes out with that thing, please. Let me appreciate it from a distance, at my own pace.
There are some many things about Interstellar that I love and they all have to do with the exploration bits. I mean, come on, an ocean world with waves the size of mountains, or another world, so cold that even the clouds are frozen in the air? That’s just amazing. The scene where Cooper comforts a fellow crew member and lets him listen to his recording of an ocean during a storm, so that he could cope with travelling in space was simple, to the point, and very powerful. What about Cooper listening to 23 years worth of recordings from his family all in one go, only for the music, that’s been steadily building up the drama throughout, to suddenly cut completely after the final message? Gutwrenching in the best way.
Earth, slowly being overtaken by dust, as the human race whithers, starves and suffocates was a harrowing reminder to how big the stakes were. Cooper trying to dock to a station that’s spinning out of control, because it’s the only way to save not just himself and Brandt, but all of humanity, was as tense and gripping as you can get. The robots were amazing, quite funny and with a fairly unique design.
All of these things, and many, many more were absolutely, genuinely spectacular and you know what they all have in common? They had nothing to do with the time travel part of the movie. It was about exploring outer space, which is all Interstellar should have been about. I mean, sure, the visual of a threedimensional space created in a five dimensional realm was creative and trippy, but I would have dropped it and the time travel stuff alltogether if it meant the whole movie would be just about trying to find a new planet to save mankind. Seriously, the current ending relies both on the power of love and the help of interdimensional beings that would some day evolve from humans to work, when it needed none of those things.
There’s a really good movie hidden in plain sight in Interstellar. Heck, it’s probably possible to recut the whole thing and just make it a proper space exploration epic. Drop the time loop ghost messages and just have Cooper working with NASA from the start. I think it would be a significant improvement. As it stands, it’s certainly a wortwhile big screen experience, and a great piece of cinema – but it’s not really that great of a movie. The time travel twist ending was unnecessary and poorly handled and because it takes up much of the movie’s focus in the third act, it ends ups undermining the grand scope of the space exploration, which is where the movie worked best.
P.S. If you want to make a time travel plot that really screws with your head, just get Steven Moffat and Grant Morrison and lock them in a room until they agree on a script.