Interstellar Extends Life as we Know it, Maybe

Interstellar 2It takes a while to get into the flow of Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s latest film odyssey. But that’s not a problem because with a running time of 2 hours and 49 minutes you don’t need to be in a hurry. Mr. Nolan combines a number of narratives and even more visuals into a celestial maze of chaos and hope that holds the survival of human life in the balance.

The story opens as Cooper, played with an easy intensity by Mathew McConaughey, is working his farm somewhere in rural America. It’s set in a world ahead of today and the climate, or blight as it is called, has infiltrated our atmosphere and has been systematically killing off all the food even as it grows in the fields. Things have become so dire that just about all that can be grown now is corn. Cooper lives with his son, Tom and daughter Murphy (Murph). Cooper was a pilot and I think an astronaut, but we don’t get a clear picture. He is a widower and relies on his father-in-law, Donald, played by John Lithgow to help raise his kids.

Murph is a bit of a prodigy and Cooper is an engineer; both are off the IQ charts. The space program has been shut down and funds diverted to trying to solve the food problem, so farms are the new “caretakers” of the future of human existence. Cooper turns his skills to making the farm equipment run autonomously with computer programs and sensors.

One day the field equipment goes haywire and they all head back to Cooper’s house and stop. This the first clue we get that magnetism and gravity will play a very large role in unraveling this interesting weave of a story. Murph claims there’s a ghost in her bedroom and indeed when a super dust storm comes through, a message is spelled out on her hardwood floor. Mr. Nolan has bridged us into an M. Night Shyamalan movie for a few moments. Common, everyday images and goings on, but very much askew. Quickly he moves on.

In a wonderful sonic transition we are launched into space with Cooper commanding the Endurance with three scientists on board, including Ameila Brand (Anne Hathaway). I have always been fascinated at how many people are not fans of Ms. Hathaway. In my opinion her performances are both fragile and strong, and she comes through once again. An interesting debate at a cocktail party might be who was the best space woman; Ryan Stone from Gravity or Amelia Brand. I know Ripley is seething right now. Despite a brief sidetrack, Brand, not unlike Ryan, finds herself being thrust into the role of keeping the mission on track, no matter what.

Interstllar 1

The Endurance mission is a follow up to the Lazurus Project, which years ago sent brave souls through a wormhole to investigate a number of potential planets on the other side for human colonization. Endurance was to also navigate through that same wormhole and then determine which planet or planets they should visit to see what their previous explorers had found. They are looking for a new earth. Their findings would be radioed back where Ameila’s father, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) could analyze the data. He was preparing to make something quite amazing happen.

Murph has grown up, now being played by Jessica Chastain, and has turned her intellectual skills to helping solve the larger problem of re-colonization. She has teamed up with Professor Brand and they feverishly and tirelessly work to make his theory real.

As you can imagine, a variety of events occur on the mission and a significant amount of time has passed. The Endurance flight members are caught in a time warp thanks to the physics of the wormhole. One minute on the planet they first explore is equal to seven earth years. Things become more dire on earth.

Writing much more would require a spoiler alert notation, which I am always reluctant to do because I prefer my readers see the films. So I’ll leave the story and subsequent details about the ending here with one additional thought. Professor Brand recites a poem written by Dylan Thomas as the Endurance mission breaks through the gravitational pull of the earth.

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.

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.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The technical aspects of the film are nothing short of astounding. From earth to space to the wormhole to the depths of the horizon of a black hole known as Gargantua, our eyes are transported to new worlds. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema has lensed a work of art. Mr. Van Hoytema brought us the deep digital look of Her last year and has now propelled film beyond escape velocity into a new dimension. One could compare his work to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The lights of the wormhole for example. Perhaps it was a homage.


The climax before the climax is fascinating. Mr. Nolan dips us into a condensed world. One where everything exists at all times. All realms of existence available in a single life moment. This story push makes us think harder while at the same time helping us believe what we are seeing. It helps us accept the core of the story.

Hans Zimmer’s score at times also evokes 2001, but he was challenged to score earth, space and a a third dimension wrapped in a dimension that already had five layers. It works, but the visuals overpower the score.

Highly recommended to those with a mind as open as the vastness of space and time.

Inception – Film Review

The firm I work for is now one of those companies that advertises prior to the feature movie in the multiplex (sorry, I hate those commercials more than you do). In appreciation, the media group that sold us the space arranged a free screening of Inception as a thank you. Now I was planning on seeing it on a paying ticket, but this turned out to be great timing. Free is good.

I have to get this off my chest. Can you believe the nerve of those Inception actors? They command millions of dollars in fees then show up to the set and sleep, yes SLEEP through their entire performance! Despicable.

Despite that little annoyance (I’ll try to maintain control), I was quite stimulated by this labyrinth of a picture. It has been widely discussed that Warner Bros. allowed Christopher Nolan to make Inception as a reward for delivering large box office returns on The Dark Knight. Many people in the industry didn’t believe Inception had big box office potential and late in the game even Warner execs are rumored to have suggested that Nolan also release a 3D version. Thankfully he didn’t go along, holding the line on his film in that 2D form factor, and, taking in gobs of ticket sales anyway thank you. Well played.

Mr. Nolan’s gift is rearranging time and space in such a way that both his characters and his audience are exposed to clues and experiences at the same time, which leads to a richer viewing experience. He is one of the few directors today that puts us inside the celluloid. In fact, he traps us there and we are unable to escape until the credits roll. And even then we are haunted for the next few hours. I hope they don’t let him design roller coasters. Nolan is more concerned about pacing and sequence and is comfortable letting some of the details dangle. For example, there is absolutely no explanation of that silver, hard cased luggage that launches everyone into a dream state. And I’ve never seen a film where more bad guys fired bullets and missed their protagonist targets. They even fire them in slow motion and still, nothing. I swear all of them have “Maggie’s Drawers.” Nolan doesn’t bother with such things. He doesn’t need to since apparently he has access to a time machine in the editing room.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a tough, smart dream hijacker for hire. He specializes in corporate espionage with a bit of a twist. He enters the dreams of his targets and steals their ideas for money. Dabbling in these dark arts can only lead in one direction, further down into an inescapable blackness. In a sense, Cobb re-engineers the process and tries to implant ideas (Inception) into people’s dreams that alters their thoughts when awake again. Who hires him and why is not as important as how Cobb assembles his band of mind robbers. There’s a chemist, a techie, a strong man and a rookie, played by Ellen Page, who provides a fresh perspective to the entire operation. It’s carefully planned, but completely unpredictable. An experiment all around.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb and Marion Cotillard as Mal

The acting is strong, but the real performance comes from Nolan, the production design and the pacing of the story. It’s quilted together in a rich tapestry of drama with a wonderfully wicked back story driven by romance. It seems Cobb has, had (I don’t know, you figure it out), a wife named Mal (Marion Cotillard). They spent years building a dream world, only to have it backfire on themselves and their children. All throughout the job, Cobb is haunted by Mal, and it puts the entire operation at risk. It’s another intriguing aspect to this complicated set piece that few people could pull off. Cobb’s motivation is fueled by his desire to return to America, and his children, but he’s a wanted man in the U.S. and would be arrested immediately upon setting foot inside the country. He is promised complete forgiveness by the powerful man who hires him to perform this inception.

The film requires more than one viewing to unlock all its complexities. But it does tire one out a bit, so by all means, rest up and clear your mind before you enter the world of Inception. Then make good on that promise to yourself to keep a dream diary. It might be more important than you think. Highly recommended.

The official Inception site, pretty basic, is here.

Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers