And Lo, Future You and Future I shall walk into a Future Bar, and we shall sayeth unto each other, “Let us work out a way of making past filmmakers and screenwriters incorporate ethics and philosophy into their films without attaching lead weights and dumbells to each other.” And we shall pause to think on how this might be, and then we shall sayeth, “You, know, I think Spike Jonze might be able to help.”
For Spike Jonze, with Her, remains the winner of the ‘Most Interesting Film about the Future of Humanity that has Ideas which are Subtlely Expressed’ Prize. With its charming yet melancholy romance, and willingness to let life be complicated, it basically trounces the more bombastic and unfortunately obvious Transcendence and Interstellar. Sorry, guys.
Anyway. On to the film: which is basically two films: A Big Silly Film of Utter Bobbins, and a Grand Space Opera. And they exist in the same time and space on film, because Einstein.
WARNING: HERE BE INTERSTELLAR SPOILERS
First: The Grand Space Opera. This film is biiiiiig. IMAX big. Ideas big. Drama big. Movie Star big. It’s super-pretty: JJ Abrams wishes he could do lens flare like Interstellar does lens flare, everyone wishes boys could do cheekbones like Matthew McConaughey does cheekbones. I might not think it does some of those things very well (specifically, the ideas, on which more later), but I would much much much rather have a big bold ambitious film that fails at things than a cynical by-the-numbers monstrosity CoughTransformers25Cough (you know it’s coming).
I also like that it’s a hopeful film. I mean, I worked out the plot arc fairly early on, because I’m afraid it was that obvious – and I could guess the tone that the ending was likely to hit. Nolan might occasionally like to be coy about the reality of his endings – I’m looking at you, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises – but, post-Memento, he has nearly always allowed for an optimistic reading, and, with the future of humanity on the line, he was only going to go one way. But this meant that I could enjoy the ride – and the emotion, actually. I was a bit worried going in about the possible sentimentality, because while I like a good dose of emotion in a film, saccharine does not cut it, and I take brown paper bags to Spielberg films nowadays. But no, I actually really liked the emotional beats the film was going for (even though, terribly written), even at the end. Actually, perhaps especially at the end.
Second: The Big Silly Film.
Basically – see above, but eat all of the cake, and then some more, and then put some whipped cream in the bowl and eat that too. I mean (a) it is predictable. That’s not necessarily bad, because it is stylishly and dramatically so, and the tension builds, regardless. But it is bad when it goes hand in hand with a bad script, and boy, some of the script is bad, like really unbelievably clunky-bad. WE ARE MAKING A BIG DECISION NOW, says the dialogue, IT IS TRAUMATIC LIEK WOAH (it’s a really capslocky script). It is at its worst when Matt Damon shows up, because there are all of these BIG REVEALS, and there’s an explainathon, and ohmigosh, just shut up already, we GET IT, it wuz all really hard, boohoo.
Matt Damon had me pining for Anne Hathaway trying to explain how Love explains the things that Science can’t explain.
Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.
Now, I’m one for getting giddy when people want to go in for a little emotional truthiness being important to the arc of the universe, but you gotta show it, mister filmmaker man. In the small moments, as well as in the big damn plot. That scene was painful, mostly because Anne Hathaway knew the dialogue was awful.
In some ways, the most interesting ideas in the film happen before we get into space. Here’s some things that grabbed my brain.
Once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost of your children’s future.
alert alert plot point alert
But aside from that – really? Is that all you are as a parent? You don’t have any value to anyone else, or as yourself? I mean, I know that this scene is both a plot point and an emotional driver for the film, and I don’t necessarily think that Cooper’s driving familial impulse is any worse an impulse than Mann’s survival of the human race driver – in fact, I don’t think that it is at all, but I think it deserves a better challenge than it gets.
And the innate worth of humanity and survival of the human race thing matters to this film – because of Plan A and Plan B. Here’s the thing: I don’t get the point of Plan B. That is, I get the point of Plan B – ensure future of human race. But I don’t get the point of why Plan B. Why ought we to be invested in the future of the human race, if earth is destroyed? Why ought anyone in the film? What is it, about humanity, that makes us worth going to such lengths to save. Brand (Hathaway) argues that nature is not evil, that we take that with us, as humans; Mann argues that empathy does not stretch much beyond our own immediate connections. Nolan isn’t making any argument for the existence of a higher power here, and that’s absolutely not a problem, but I do need more of a reason for the human race to survive than the fact that we’re human.
And then we get to Cooper’s line, before he leaves:
Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.
followed by Brand’s line:
We’re not meant to save the world. We’re meant to leave it, and this is the mission you were trained for.
Really? Weren’t we? Now, this is me, and this is a matter of faith. But I believe we are (now) meant to die here. And we’re not meant to leave it. If you’ll go along with my theology, for a moment – and we’re going here, because Interstellar is about the future of the human race – we are meant to be a part of saving the world, and there is a mission to be trained for, and none of that involves leaving the world. I think it’s about making it a better place for the future – eternity included. I’m not a heaven is a fluffy cloudy place that we drift off to after death person, I’m a the prayer ‘Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’ does actually mean something person. Here matters to me. We may not be the only created lifeform in the universe, and earth may not be the only habitable planet – I don’t know – but I think we were created here and belong here – and we don’t get to bail on that because we’ve screwed it up.
And leaving aside my theology – I’m not sure that the film really thinks we’re supposed to leave either. Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that good night is a constant refrain in the film, from a particular character, in a way that makes you question the use of it (it’s one of the best aspects of the script, actually, as, it goes from inspiring to chilling and some other emotions as well), but it is always, I think, used in reference to leaving.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
First Brand (Caine), and then film on the surface, both through Cooper and a part of the ending endorse that view: to fight to survive means to explore – and ultimately to leave. But leaving earth and rebuilding it again on a satellite station, that’s not raging. That’s building another cocoon, after the one we tried to build here on earth has failed us. It’s like building Elysium (in Elysium). It doesn’t want to embrace life, or take responsibility for the mess we’ve made of it. There’s a little bit of me that says Coop’s son Tom, in his desire to stay on his farm, might have something right that the others are missing.
And also – doesn’t it go against the grain of the Thomas?
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Just because we fight death, doesn’t mean we’re not mean to die, that it mightn’t be wiser to allow that. To be fair, Nolan kinda gets at that at the very very end (the emotional beat that I like), taking his new pioneers out beyond the cocoon. But it’s a weird moment, as the film tries to have it’s cake, and save the human race, and eat it, arguing that life is about more than the science of survival, it’s about the ‘rage’ of love in the face of death. And the two characters – Brand, who quotes the poem, and Coop, are on different sides to such an extent that the film cannot quite manage to allow the two to hold together in tension (it might, if it had a better script…) So it feels a little bit like the ultimate finale makes the bit beforehand pointless (why save all of the human race, if…) and like the first bit of the ending (saved humanity! yay) drags along behind the second. Like the rest of the film, it both works and doesn’t, at the same time. Yay for Einstein.