Saturday, November 8, 2014

Interstellar: Christopher Nolan's Wrinkle In Time

Interstellar - Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
W atching Christopher Nolan's new time twister, "Interstellar," one will find themselves engulfed in a cacophony of ideas, images and concepts that within the first half hour begin to form into a symphony of beauty and wonder. In this Science Fiction-Adventure film, Nolan takes, scientific concepts, and stunning visual effects, intertwining them with a compelling character story about love for humanity that transcends both space and time. Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey (“Contact,” “Dallas Buyer’s Club”) stars as a former test pilot who must leave his family in order to find hope for humankind. Anne Hathaway (“The Dark Knight Rises”) joins McConaughey and two other scientists as they travel through a space-time anomaly that magically appears orbiting Saturn. They must search for a new planet that will sustain the human species as life on Earth is ending. John Lithgow, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain ("Take Shelter," "The Debt," "Mama"), and Michael Caine, co-star in a film where Christopher Nolan pushes cinematic ideas of time and space further, rather than looking into the subconscious, this time he looks farther out into the reaches of space. Be prepared for an almost three hour cinematic event that kids over 13 and adults will enjoy.
"We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt." ~ Cooper
Although no one mentions the timeframe for "Interstellar," one can probably surmise that the opening of the film is taking place somewhere in the second half or near the end of this century. In a sense, this is a post-apocalyptic film where the horrors of worldwide famine have ravaged the population to a more manageable number. War is no longer an issue, and the United States government no longer has a standing army. The screenplay by Jonathon and Christopher Nolan introduce us to the former test pilot, and now a reluctant, and failed farmer played by McConaughey who only goes by his last name, either Coop or Cooper. Perhaps Nolan named him after Gordon Cooper, one of the seven original astronauts in Project Mercury. Coop is the father of two children, a 15 year-old boy by the name of Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and a 10 year-old daughter named Murphy or Murph (Mackenzie Foy). Perhaps Christopher Nolan is referencing Capt. Ed Murphy of Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert. As some allege that, the adage is named for him.


Interstellar - Timothée Chalamet, Mackenzie Foy), and Matthew McConaughey | A Constantly Racing Mind

The kid's mother is dead, and they live with Cooper's father in-law Donald, played by John Lithgow. In the first thirty minutes, Christopher Nolan works to establish the family dynamic and the world they live in. We find that a benevolent “ghost” haunts Murph by knocking books off her shelves. Books in this film are the key to the knowledge of the universe. Cooper is a scientist and only accepts facts and not superstition. We learn quickly that in this world, in order to quash any hope, or the funding of exploring space, society denies that the Apollo moon missions ever took place and was just a grand hoax. At Murph’s school, they have corrected books that explain that the United States never went to the moon, but faked it in order to, "cause the Soviet Union to bankrupt their economy and waste it on building rockets." I believe Nolan added this as one of his many tributes to the famed director Stanley Kubrick. Conspiracy theorist contends that Kubrick shot the Apollo 11 moon landing while filming his space epic. Also, that Kubrick's reason for not following Stephen King's original script for "The Shining," was that he filled it instead with Easter eggs crying out his complicity in the sham. In this world, the government shut down NASA about 10 years prior. The people of Earth are now a “caretaker” society. They focus on finding crops that resist blight, as wheat and rice, and now okra are gone. Corn is the last crop left, and that too is dying. Blight is a term that the Nolans, use to describe a world that is out of balance and nature has turned against humans. 
"We're not meant to save the world. We're meant to leave it," ~ Prof. Brand
The ever-present dust and frequent storms reminds me of "The Grapes of Wrath," and for a few minutes, I was sure I was watching the Ken Burns documentary "The Dust Storm" with interviews of elderly survivors of the new depression caused by famine and drought. The film is however, about how some unseemly interference by a other worldly presence, allow Murph and her dad to discover that humanity hasn't given up on saving the world. After following some clues left in the dust, they start on an adventure that reunites Cooper with his former mentor, Professor Brand (Caine). Cooper and Murph discover that deep in the former home of NORAD, NASA survives. We also meet his lovely daughter, Amelia (Hathaway) who and a group of scientist who have been training to explore space for a world to colonize. Like the use of Cooper, as the name of the main character, the Nolan brothers prefer to stay with aerospace pioneers they refer to Amelia Earhart. Prof. Brand convinces Cooper to join a group of scientist including his daughter, who will follow in the footsteps of 12 astronauts who entered a space-time anomaly (wormhole) and exited on the other side to a new galaxy. The Lazarus mission identified three habitable planets. All his life, Cooper feels that he has a greater purpose beyond what he does now. The mission is to enter the wormhole orbiting Saturn, locate the planets where Lazarus mission astronauts, Miller, Mann, and Edmunds have sent positive feedback for sustainable life, check out the planets and report back to Earth.


Interstellar - The Black Hole Gargantua | A Constantly Racing Mind
“Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.” ~ Prof. Brand
Both Nolans explore the emotions of separation and abandonment. Cooper must make a decision to lead the mission and leave his children behind in order to save humanity, or to stay and die and fight for survival with his family. As Brand tells Cooper, "We must confront the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us." He further ups the ante and tells him to, “...get out there and save them. We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species. We must confront the reality of interstellar travel." Brand has two plans to save humanity. Neither of them are efforts to save Earth. Plan A is to build a gigantic Torus that the refugees from Earth can travel in and follow through the wormhole. Plan B is the reseeding of a new planet with the fertilized embryos that they hope will multiply exponentially. The acting of the major characters in this film is exceptional. McConaughey, Hathaway, and Caine lead the cast in an emotional and visceral experience. The ones they love motivates each one of these three. Throughout the film Caine’s character, Brand, recites a Dylan Thomas poem, like a mantra, or a litany in hopes that someone can forge forward where he can’t. It is during the first half of the film where Mackenzie Foy ("The Conjuring") shines as the young Murph. She embodies the wonder and the hope that children have, and when Cooper leaves for space, almost at a moment's notice, Foy displays a range of emotions on the opposite side of the spectrum – those of hurt, abandonment, and despair.  
"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." ~ Murphy’s Law
Space is fraught with danger, but as Amelia Brand says, "there is no evil." Nature isn’t evil, but humans are. We will see the truth of this philosophy later. Disaster is what the four humans and two robots find out there. Two of the four humans are Red Shirts, there is no other way to put it. Nolan, for the most part keeps to the no sound in space rule. Instead, Han Zimmer's epic score at times sweeps into strains akin to György Ligeti's version of "Lux Aeterna." Throughout the film, Zimmer's score resonates with emotion that accentuates but doesn't over power the narrative. Astronauts Romilly (David Gyasi - "Cloud Atlas") and Doyle (Wes Bentley - "The Hunger Games") join Cooper and Amelia as they launch into orbit to rendezvous with the spaceship Endurance. Adding to the cast in a most spectacular way are the two robots TAR and CASE voiced by Bill Irwin ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit") and Josh Stewart ("The Collector"), respectively. If the homage to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey " isn't apparent to you, then the monolithic structure of these two robotic life forms should make it apparent. In addition, they also capture the essence of HAL but in a more cheerful and happier type of Artificial Intelligence. Programmable with truth and humor spectrums, both TAR and CASE are essential to the plot. 


Interstellar - Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey | A Constantly Racing Mind

For me, the big surprise was Matt Damon as Dr. Mann. Amelia proclaims that he is "the best of us." I don't want to spoil the film so I will say no more about him and the planet he is on. I will say that both of the planets that our explorers visit are amazing cinematically. Nolan displays many of his influences throughout the film, like having Matthew McConaughey play a man of science whose story arc moves him closer towards a more spiritual outlook. We remember McConaughey, as Jodie Foster’s love interest and a man of faith in the 1997 film “Contact,” telling Foster’s character that science can’t prove everything, like the concept of love. As in "Inception" Nolan plays with the relativity of time. Because, as we know, the closer one gets to a black hole, time has a tendency to stretch. For example, as our group of intrepid explorers travel closer to the first planet, for every seven years spent on the Endurance as it orbits around the planet, the people down below spend only an hour. So for some of our characters, they age differently than others. Jessica Chastain plays the older Murphy, who takes on the weight of saving humanity after Brand dies. Like Meg in “The Wrinkle in Time,” she becomes the hero of this story as she searches for her missing father.

This is a big movie filled with grand concepts of ecology, cosmology, metaphysics, humanism, and sacrifice, but ultimately this is a love story. The love of a parent for their children, the love between a man and a woman, and a man’s love for all humanity. Christopher Nolan knows that it is ambitious to reach for galaxies far, far, away, but to not do so, sells himself, and his viewers short as well. Behind the camera in place of Nolan regular Wally Pfister, is the Dutch cinematographer Hoyt Van Hotelman ("Let the Right One In," "The Fighter," "Her"). Nolan is a proponent of using real film, rather than high definition video in his work, and it shows. The camera work is more utilitarian rather than sweeping and grandiose as in the works of David Lean. However, Nolan’s visual effects crew did more than an outstanding job in creating the black hole. California Institute of Technology’s (Caltech), Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist and the inspiration for “Interstellar” had a direct hand with the mathematical models that Nolan’s effects team used to render “Gargantua.” The effects are more in line cinematically with Stanley Kubrick, but perhaps a bit more comprehensible. There is a lot of exposition in "Interstellar" as the characters talk about loss of hope, loss of family, loss of courage, and plans for humanity's future. But don't worry; if you want action, there is plenty of it. From visiting a world covered in water, to an icy frigid planet, to the boundlessness of space, Christopher Nolan keeps the pace moving, he even adds a disaster on the Endurance, to up the drama and heighten the tension. Unlike Alphonso Curon's "Gravity,” we only have a few minutes in space with intimate contact with our main character as he tumbles through the void. For the socially conscious, Nolan features an ecological disaster that prompts visions of the apocalypse for the metaphysically inclined. I would be lying if I said that "Interstellar" is perfect, it isn’t. Nevertheless, those minor imperfections uplift this story of dying and renewal to stand as one of Christopher Nolan's masterpieces.

Related



Movie Data
Genre: Action, Adventure, Mystery, Sci-Fi 
Year:  2014
Staring:  Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy 
Director: Christopher Nolan
Producer(s): Christopher Nolan, Lynda Obst, Emma Thomas
Writer: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 169 minutes
Release Date: 11/7/2014