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Entertainment Geekly Mailbag: 'Interstellar' rage

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Believable

Christopher Nolan made Memento, but he also made The Dark Knight Rises. Great filmmakers can make bad movies: This is not a particularly complicated equation. And Nolan’s new space melodrama Interstellar is not a particularly complicated movie. The science is elaborate and insane, but the emotional stakes are simple: Father loves daughter, father saves humanity.

But Nolan is one of our plottiest filmmakers. (Most films have three acts; Nolan’s movies usually have at least six, usually out of order and/or overlapping.) I attempted to explain the plot of Interstellar, but even I ran up against some impenetrable cosmo-logic. Some readers in the comments offered helpful suggestions. Some readers were angry that people didn’t like Interstellar, a transcendent visually stimulating three-hour odyssey. Some readers were angry that people liked Interstellar, a gooey three-hour snoozefest. Some heavy thoughts on Interstellar, is what I’m getting at.

Let’s dig into the reactions, shall we? (Warning: A million spoilers for Interstellar follow.)

No one ever explained how one woman (no matter how many embryos they have on ice) is going to have enough babies to rebuild humanity.

Dally

Like they mentioned in the movie, the first 10 babies would be grown as test tube babies. These babies when of age would in turn re-populate amongst themselves.

Aleepta

One of the most common misperceptions I’ve heard about Interstellar is the idea that Anne Hathaway would single-handedly give birth to a new race of humans, using the fertilized human embryos inside the spaceship. I believe that Aleepta is correct on this note. The movie’s “Plan B” would have seen a new race of humans born out of test tubes. I was under the impression that several dozen babies would be born, not ten. But either way, the plan was the same: Make new test-tube babies on Earth-2, let those babies grow to adulthood and then begin making new babies the old-fashioned way (or maybe use some of the leftover embryos).

Interstellar never really explains how this new race of outer-space humans would advance, culturally. If we’re to understand the central twist of Interstellar, this was basically the only plan for saving the human race. So if everything went according to plan, the new human race would have been raised by four people: The crew of the Endurance.

This actually brings up a whole host of questions. Like, did the NASA scientists try to social-engineer a perfect society of New Humans? What would that look like? Wouldn’t all the New Humans need to be taught very specific skill sets, so that the new human society had the right amount of farmers/engineers/teachers/whatever else is important for a society growing on a faraway planet? What is important for a society like that? Since the human crew of the Endurance would eventually die, wouldn’t this new Earth-2 society reach a point where the only remaining Original Citizen of Earth-2 was TARS the funny robot? Would TARS become a kind of deity? Would the New Humans even believe in any religion? What happens if one of the New Humans doesn’t want to spend their lives working in his/her assigned station? Hell, what happens if one of the women in the new Earth-2 society doesn’t want to have children? Would Earth-2 society force her to have children? Would Earth-2 have become a technocratic utopia or a communist-Jeffersonian agrarian society?

Interstellar doesn’t ask any of these questions. It does feature a scene where Matt Damon headbutts Matthew McConaughey space helmet-to-space helmet.

Just to straighten out one point: the dust storm doesn’t communicate in Morse Code, although Murph at first thinks it does. It communicates with lines that represent ones and zeroes, which Cooper immediately recognizes as map co-ordinates.

However, the question that is never answered is why the future is bothering with Cooper in the first place, since he doesn’t solve anything. The new cosmic home for mankind has already been discovered by others. He could have just stayed home and raised his daughter. It appears that Mr. Mxyzptlk’s main goal was to provide a movie for Christopher Nolan, the very movie we are watching (italics mine, if I knew how to do italics.)

Jay Stone

First flaw in your explanation (outside of the obvious joke from LOTR) is that the code is in Morse Code, Murph thinks it is in Morse Code, but it is in binary. Coop very clearly stated that. Maybe you were in the loo?

MeriMakr8298

The BOOKS falling off the shelves was morse. (the message that said STAY) Binary handles larger messages and requires more bits to send. A binary message was sent via “gravity” (?) through the watch and the dust patterns (to encode the geo-coordinates of the secret NASA location)

Feelzy Ink

Several people pointed out a mistake that I made. The magic gravity ghost beyond Murph’s bookshelf does not communicate using morse code, although Murph floats that as a theory; in fact, the magic gravity ghost communicates using binary. However, as Feelzy Ink points out, some of the communication does happen via morse code. So Matthew McConaughey uses morse code and binary code to communicate with his tweenage daughter.

There is, of course, a more direct point to make about this whole binary/morse thing:

Of course, if he was talking to Murph in binary, they probably had quite a lot of time to discuss all matters of things. He certainly had time to tap out “Hey Murph, it’s Dad.”

slothen2

This is almost certainly one of the biggest problems with Interstellar. Nothing Matthew McConaughey does inside of the tesseract really makes any sense, unless you think that he was specifically trying to communicate in the most confusing way possible. I guess you could argue that he was just trying to maintain the consistency of the space-time continuum by literally following in his own footsteps. But you could also point out that “trying to maintain the consistency of the space-time continuum” is a pretty big leap for a guy to make, when he’s just fired himself into a black hole and discovered that the inside of the black hole contains a chronal window into his daughter’s room.

A serious question for everyone: Were you surprised by the final revelation that Matthew McConaughey was Bruce Willis all along? Because throughout the first act of the movie, whenever Murph talked about the ghost in her bookshelf, I thought two things: “Oh, that’s definitely Matthew McConaughey in some kind of future twist,” followed by “No way, that’s too obvious.” Much attention has been paid to the fact that Christopher Nolan tells twisted stories, but those stories always twist back on themselves. And frequently, those backtwists are energizing! In Batman Begins, Batman’s mentor is also his greatest villain. The Prestige begins with Hugh Jackman drowning in a water tank and ends with Hugh Jackman dead in a water tank, although everything we understand about the notion of “Hugh Jackman dead in a water tank” has been bent in a hundred different directions. In Memento, everyone is lying to Leonard Shelby all the time, including Leonard Shelby.

All of which is a lead-up to saying: Didn’t we all know there was going to be some kind of “twist” with the ghost in the bookshelf? And given how the entire first 45 minutes of the movie only happens so we understand that Matthew McConaughey loves his daughter—indeed, given that every single other subplot in the movie plays second fiddle to Matthew McConaughey loving his daughter—didn’t it naturally follow that Matthew McConaughey’s love for his daughter would somehow explain the gravity ghost?

BTW, there are two bigger problems with Interstellar. One is the name “Murph,” and one is the fact that the whole Matt Damon sequence of the movie is a boring remake of this:

If you look at all the vehicles on Earth they appear to be current day models, including the Dodge RAM truck that Cooper drives. How did they then develop super spaceships to travel to the stars but they can’t solve the food crisis on Earth? Also, why doesn’t their hair float upwards in zero gravity? Why does Cooper’s daughter appear to age but the NASA scientist does not appear to age at all and is wearing the same clothes years later? I know he’s an engineer but even they change clothes sometimes. Also, why do I give this movie any credence and give it any further thought when it was a waste of my money and is total junk?

Gregg Schoof

Now, let’s just go ahead and toss out the whole “hair floating upwards” thing. All “realistic” science-fiction movies ultimately run up against the basic problem that “realistic” science-fiction is impossible and probably boring. Like, I love 2001—love the movie, love the book, love the book sequels 2010 and 2061 and even 3001, which in my memory is basically just a guided tour through a super cool future Earth where humanity invented space elevators for some reason—but the whole central conceit of 2001 is that there is a race of super-aliens who control the universe using large black rectancular rocks.

As for the rest of Gregg’s question: I think there’s an argument to be made that Nolan and his collaborators made the purposeful stylistic choice to root Interstellar in less of a “realistic” time and more of an infinite vision of mid-century America, a land where everyone is a farmer/pilot/engineer and NASA still has great funding.

But there is another theory, and boy is it a doozy:

Sort of wacky pet conspiracy theory here, and I’ll need to watch the film a second time to really grasp its possibility, but I was thinking that maybe the “Earth” that Cooper and the rest of them come from is not actually [our] Earth, but rather just another colonized planet in a solar system similar to our own, with a population grown from embryos… making Brand’s Plan B just another successive step along the way to colonizing the stars (thus the title).

It would certainly explain the oddness of the weather patterns (random momentary dust storms), the complete disregard of city life, the social pressure against any career but farming and environmental engineering, and the fact that they’re told the only people alive in the world are Americans. Even the drones flying around feel oddly big-brother. (Why would defunct Indian spying drones still be flying around after India was wiped from existence years ago?)

Then you have NASA, who has supposedly reduced to a small group of scientists in the middle of nowhere. Note that they look relatively unsurprised by Cooper’s Gravity-is-talking-to-me explanation of how he got there. In a way they seem less like NASA engineers and more like science clergy — keepers of the colonization efforts/faith passed down through the generations.

To add to the relevance of the theory, I think that the idea that everybody’s being lied to (aka the Unreliable Global Narrative) is a theme that seems to reprise at various points in the film: from the teacher’s explanation of the Apollo missions, to Michael Caine’s lie about his equation, to Michael Mann’s transmission that his planet was habitable, all the way to the Old Murph’s lie to her fellow citizens that her father was an enthusiastic farmer.

If correct, this theory might also suggest that the wormhole wasn’t put there by humans from the future as Cooper assumes, but simply by humans from the past. Like I said, I’ll have to see it again. I think I remember a moment in the movie when Cooper looks down on the planet from space. If obviously recognizable continental formations are present (Africa, Americas, Australia) then most of this theory goes down the drain. But it still would have been interesting if the Nolan brothers took it in this direction.

M Brewbaker

Like all insane theories, this is both completely unlikely and arguably much more interesting than anything in the movie proper. I give even more credence to M. Brewbaker’s theory because he decided to unilaterally give Matt Damon’s Dr. Mann a first name, “Michael,” thus giving the best part of Interstellar the same name as my favorite Hollywood filmmaker.

If wheat died several years ago, what beer is still available for Cooper to drink?

Andy

I don’t know, but I’m sure the fifth dimension is involved somehow. (Clearly, McConaughey was drinking Umqombothi.)

Why is EW on a mission to destroy this movie’s opening weekend gross?

Who’s pulling the strings behind EW now? This is, like, 3 damning articles in a row, within 24h of the movie’s public release. I don’t remember you guys giving Transformers this hard a time. Was that more believable?

Cue the smart-alec know-it-all who somehow finds a way to argue that Transformers is more believable, in 3… 2… 1..

Guest

Who the hell cares what a movie grosses? Some of the best movies ever made barely made any movie; hell, some of the best movies ever made actually lost money. Box office results don’t tell us anything about a movie. That’s especially true now, when plenty of major Hollywood productions make most of their money abroad. Frankly, I think it’s an intellectually lazy argument to imply that someone dislikes a movie because they’re on some sort of “mission” against it. It’s possible to dislike a movie just because you don’t like it.

For what it’s worth: I give Transformers a hard time whenever I can. Transformers: Age of Extinction is one of the worst movies ever made. But Interstellar does not get extra points for being more believable than Transformers. Although I would love to see that rave on a poster:

Micah Sloat, Katie Featherston, ...

Its a shame that someone who takes the time to make a rich and complex movie that challenges its audience to think and dream outside the box, can have it instantly reduced to meaningless drivel by some snot nosed writer fresh out of U Penn looking to make a name for himself on the internet.

Andre

Wait, U Penn? Where did U Penn come from? I didn’t go there for school, but I’ve heard generally good things. I mean, it’s ranked number 8 by US News and World Report. Now I just want to know what happened to make Andre hate U Penn so much.

So people have a problem with the logic in this film but were totally on board with the logic of Looper and Inception? Not to mention countless other Sci-Fi movies with their own nonsense logic. If you’re a fan of Sci-Fi movies you learn to let these things go. This movie was exciting and boundary pushing. This is the definition of epic and should be experienced on a huge Imax screen.

Joe Ramirez

There’s an idea here that, if you accept Ludicrous Plot A of Looper, you should also accept Ludicrous Plot B of Interstellar. Disagree with this entirely. First and foremost: Movies are not their plot. Movies are acting, staging, directing, set design; movies are moments that take whatever was on the page and expand it, infuse it, transform it into something higher and lower at the same time. Higher, because movies are cosmic and infinite, things that will live on long after everyone involved in making the movie is dead; lower, because any movie that came from a screenplay takes the idea of the story and transforms it into something potent, human, concrete.

Inception is much less “logical” than Interstellar on a plot basis, but everything about Inception is better. Interstellar is based on a very simple relationship: A father loves his daughter. Inception‘s central relationship is much more complicated: A husband loves his wife, but he also fears his wife, and that fear corrodes the love until his wife’s image becomes a specter haunting his imagination. For my money, the most moving moment in any Christopher Nolan movie comes towards the end of Inception, when Dom tells his dead wife that she isn’t real:

“I wish you were. But I couldn’t make you real. I’m not capable of imagining you in all your complexity and… perfection. As you really were. You’re the best I can do. And you’re not real.”

People accuse Christopher Nolan of being a chilly, unemotional director. But I think that’s a misrepresentation. Nolan’s best movies are about chilly, unemotional men who are struggling to express their own emotions; usually, they’re only capable of understanding how much they love someone after they lose them. There’s so much beauty in that line, and the way DiCaprio reads it: The revelation that the Mal who has been haunting him is not his wife, but rather, is just the image Dom creates of Mal. In a sense, Dom is the protagonist and antagonist of Inception. (In another life, Christopher Nolan bred snakes who subside by devouring their own tails.)

Interstellar is simple and sappy by comparison. Looper is too, actually: It comes on strong as a hard-boiled noir movie, but it ultimately believes that the horrors of the future can all be solved by a mother’s love. I guess maybe you can buy that simple, old-fashioned logic. I prefer the emotional complexity of Inception, or of Solaris, or of any movie which dares to suggest that love is a complicated, dangerous thing.

Two things I loved about Interstellar:

1. Topher Grace gets punched in the face really hard.

2. Dr Mann was stricken with SPACE DEMENTIA, just like Rockhound in Armageddon which everyone made fun of.

Finn

Poor Topher Grace. Between this and Spider-Man 3, he’s been in two of the biggest movies ever made, and it still doesn’t quite feel like he’s ever going to make it.

Nolan is the best mainstream filmmaker working today. He’s not pretentious, he just trusts his audience a little more than usual in an age where things are rapidly dumbing down. You don’t need a chart to understand Interstellar or Inception, you just need to pay attention and be engaged. It’s not such a big deal if you miss a plot point here and there. You can always watch the film again if you liked it, or visit the convenient Internet for an explanation, like the one above.

Nolan is using his clout to get offbeat original scripts made. If you love movies you should buy a ticket to Interstellar, because when a film like this fails, it’s one more reason for Hollywood to concentrate on the sequels and remakes.

Guest

I love original movies. By and large, I don’t like sequels and remakes. They can be good—they can occasionally be great—but especially on the megablockbuster level, they all feel so painfully safe. (X-Men: Days of Future Past might kill off half the cast, but only because the movie is going to resurrect everyone.)

However, I never like the idea that you should support a movie just because it’s “original.” For one thing, originality is a fuzzy concept. The last half-hour of Interstellar is either a direct homage to 2001 or an inadvertent ripoff of the end of Disney’s The Black Hole. There’s at least one scene taken directly from Event Horizon, although some people claim that Event Horizon took that scene from A Wrinkle in Time. Hell, the whole idea of Interstellar is rooted in nostalgia: for the space age, for mid-century America.

Conversely, I didn’t love Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to a prequel which rebooted a franchise that already had one reboot after four sequels. But Dawn of the Planet of the Apes feels like an essential snapshot of our moment: The post-apocalyptic paranoia is really just a reflection of our own post-recession paranoia, of an era when most parents just want to make sure that they don’t completely destroy their kids’ world. Interstellar touches on that, too, but it can only conceive of its characters as symbols; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has genuine characters, even if half of those characters are people wearing performance-capture suits upon which digital apes are projected.

Also, everyone knows that if you love original movies, the only movie you have to see this month is John Wick.

This wasn’t a review. It was an inept screed filled with plot spoilers.

But it was full of snark and so, most probably, Mr. Franich is a disgruntled democrat still smarting (can that word actually be applied to dims?) over the elections on Tuesday.

I know because I’ve seen his kind of political sarcasm before, from the elites who, lacking any clues to governance, muddy their intellectual (can that word actually be applied to ProRegressives?) waters to appear deep, claiming they’re doing one thing (review) while doing another (sarcastically spoiling the plot).

Bottom line: Go enjoy the movie. Or not. Like everything else, you’ll get from it what you take to it.

Bill Kleinsturn

Does that mean I like John Wick because I’m a Democrat?

Although a supermassive could certainly have a tidal gravitational force of only 1g at the event horizon, as you penetrate inside and approach the singularity this increases to infinity and tears apart the protons and neutrons in Matthew Mc’s body.

Guess those 5th dim beings were giving ol Matthew a bit of a hand so that humans could “solve” gravity and thus create their future 5th dimensional selves who could then give him a hand, and so forth.

mtbwalt

Not every black hole is supermassive. Also, what happens inside a black hole is still only theory. Since no information gets out of one, we really have no data. There’s a new theory that a singularity doesn’t actually occur at the center of a black hole because its spin causes it to blow out like a big bang. In that case one wouldn’t be torn apart, but rather find oneself in a new universe.

Cosmic Dust

“Not every black hole is supermassive” is my new “not all squares are rectangles.”

Sorry you didn’t get it. Go watch The Fast and the Furious again.

Commodore Schmidlapp

NOW WAIT JUST ONE MOTHERF—ING SECOND, MISTER COMMODORE.

“Movies are not about what they’re about, they’re about how they’re about it.” That’s a quote by Roger Ebert, one of the great thinkers of our age. You can interpet that in several different ways, but one interpretation applies particularly well to Interstellar: Just because a movie is about important things doesn’t make it important. This is most clearly true with historical films and biopics, which almost always take Important People or Important Events as their subject, and which are frequently ruined by hackneyed storytelling. One of the best-worst recent examples is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a movie that takes as its subjects one of the most horrifying events of all time and treats it with a devastating mixture of sappy simplicity and postcard-vanilla emotions.

Interstellar is “about” more important things than the Fast & Furious movies. This does not mean that Interstellar is more important than those movies—and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s better. Fast Five is a movie about big biceps connected to humans who drive cars, but every action scene is shot to tell a clear story; Interstellar is a movie about humans trying to save humanity, but every action scene is hacked to pieces, so it’s frequently impossible to tell what is happening, or why it’s happening. (There’s a moment during the Big Wave scene where Wes Bentley is clearly right outside of the spaceship, but he doesn’t get on the spaceship. Why? Was his foot stuck? Could he not pull himself up? Why didn’t the robot with magical octopus robo-arms pull him along?)

Importance is not the same as self-importance. Complexity is not a virtue in and of itself. Fast Five is one of the most joyful action movies ever made. There are few scenes in the Fast & Furious movies as bad as the scene in Interstellar when Anne Hathaway—playing a brilliant scientist on a mission to save the Earth—has to give a long monologue about love. Nothing that happens in Interstellar is as goofily unfiltered as this moment from the Furious 6 trailer:

Am I saying that Fast & Furious is “smarter” than Interstellar? Or that Vin Diesel is a better actor than Matthew McConaughey? Or that Jason Statham makes a better villain than Matt Damon? Nah. But I despise this whole elitist notion that just because someone doesn’t like Interstellar, they didn’t “get it.” Love conquers all, and IMAX makes things look cool: What else is there to get?

This plot overview is far better constructed and far more interesting than the film itself. Nolan is taking the same path as M. Night Shyamalan.

Nelson Bond

Very kind of you to say the first part, but I disagree about the second part. M. Night Shyamalan’s mid-2000s flameout was so complete and utter that any defense of Shyamalan vibes insanely contrarian now. To my eyes, Shyamalan had two and a half legitimately good movies: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and everything that happens in Signs before the last twenty minutes or so. Nolan’s run has lasted quite a bit longer: From Memento to Inception was ten years and six movies of basically unbroken excellence.

The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t up to that standard—and anecdotally, it feels like the last two years have seen people turn against it more. I don’t like Dark Knight Rises, but I respect the film’s kooky outline: I don’t think we’ll ever get another superhero movie that so badly doesn’t want to be a superhero movie. And I really didn’t like Interstellar.

But this isn’t Nolan’s Lady in the Water—the movie that confirmed that Shyamalan had started getting high on his own supply. I think/hope that Interstellar is more like Nolan’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou: A movie where a director gets overrun by his own fascinations, where the mixture of a massive budget and the clear mission statement to make a deep point about humanity while also making a fun far-flung adventure conspire to turn the finished movie into a curiously static, earthbound production. After Life Aquatic, Anderson made the throat-clearing Darjeeling Limited, before releasing a run of movies (Fantastic Mr. FoxMoonrise KingdomThe Grand Budapest Hotel) that combined his early-career tropes with a new maturity and a sharper narrative.

What I’m saying is: If Nolan ever gets around to making his adaptation of The Prisoner, I will be the first person in line. Hell, whenever Nolan gets around to making another movie, I will be a person in line.

(But it might be time to let somebody else write the screenplay.)

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