Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why the Movie Interstellar is in a League of it’s Own

Full disclosure: I’ve become the movie critic that I grew up thinking was completely out of touch with reality. You know who I’m talking about. The guy who can’t enjoy the cartoonish acts of violence and endless chase scenes because it makes no sense to him. The guy who abhors the continual releases of the “morally ambiguous superhero who punches the guy-who-wants-power into defeat” types and can no longer bring himself to watch them. That’s me. Although I prefer to think of it as an appreciation of the fact that philosophy drives art, and art drives culture. Movies are forms of art. If you don’t agree that movies send messages you won’t appreciate Interstellar as much as I did, so fair warning.

Having stated the criteria by which I primarily make a judgement, let me also acknowledge up front the problems with this movie, as a movie. There are two big failings: stilted characters and logical inconsistencies.
In the entire first act we witness people doing things not because their character would, but because they have to in order to advance the plot. That’s terrible, and combined with weak dialogue the characters don’t really get a chance to shine. They’re serviceable, good even, but not great.
Worse, at the close of the movie the audience looks back across the story and realizes that the already thin plot has failed completely. Earth has becoming uninhabitable thanks to a mysterious blight which kills all plants, yet for some reason none of our talented scientists could figure out how to beat it, even though our knowledge of biology is so advanced that we can put people into suspended animation and our physics is so complete that we can effortlessly move at near relativistic speeds. And rather than build domes on Earth where gravity is good, water is plentiful, and we have a decent shot at retaking the planet, a small group of impoverished government officials devise a plan to start over in another solar system. Eventually they settle on a new planet just like Mars orbiting a blackhole on the other side of a wormhole, which begs the question, “why didn’t they just settle Mars?” To which the only answer is, ‘you just invested three hours plus in a non-Lord of the Rings movie. Don’t go there, girlfriend.’ Far better had the explanation been that our sun was going to explode. 
Those problems are substantial, and to them we could probably add a few more minor ones, like a few senseless deaths and whatnot, but none of them are able to overcome what makes this is movie one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. So with that out of the way, let’s move on to a proper review.

In the first act we find out the movie is very much in the mold of 2001 a space odyssey in that it’s a romp through the void which plies at the meaning of human evolution. In the original Kubrick film we have the action taking place around Jupiter, in this one, Saturn. In that a killer robot, in this, a robot that merely jokes about spacing the crew. In that one, a magical obelisk which guides mankind, in this one it’s mankind themselves reaching back across time and space. In the first, good visuals, music, and clever technology, in this one the same but even better (the planet that suffers from the huge tidal waves was spectacular, as was the brief view we got of the black hole sun). The first act plods forward as a necessity in setting up the characters, the background information, and the meaning of their actions.

It’s in the second act the villains are revealed and enough of the pieces come together that the movie quits copying and starts shining. Nolan shows his hand to us, revealing this movie is really something like a treatise on what it means to be human right now. That’s why when Dr. Mann tries to murder Cooper by smashing his helmet while mouthing platitudes of manifest destiny I stood up and cheered for the boldness of it all.
You see Mann (who faked his data for the betterment of mankind, just like the real Dr. Mann of Penn state) is borrowed from Professor Weston in C.S. Lewis’ book Out of the Silent Planet. The pivotal scene at the end of that novel features the angel of Mars quizzing Weston on why he’s brought so much violence with him, and in response Weston says basically that, “To colonize other worlds we must pay any price.” The angelic rejoinder is, “To what end? You have no love neither for your own people nor mine, it seems the only thing you love is the idea of your own seed.” To this there’s no answer and so Weston throws up his hands in frustration, “I’m not a metaphysician here to chop logic!”
It’s the same character as Ghandi—someone who loves the idea of humanity, but cares nothing for the people themselves. It’s brilliant. Mann represents the single, unattached, and therefore selfish person, willing to do anything to advance his own agenda, even if that means murdering the few remaining people he’s with who can help him. He loves mankind but not people. And that’s evil. We see this in the lying old man Dr. Brand who set the scheme in motion. Although he has a daughter to temper his selfishness, he’s cut from the same cloth, which drives home the point that individual people have value and should be loved, and that anyone who avoids this fact will end up evil, even if they think they’re working toward a good end. Or as Cooper perfectly encapsulates this later as, “love is meaningless unless it’s focused, unless it’s directed toward a person.”
Mann and Brand may be likened to our selfish, childless, consumer driven society that builds beautiful buildings and stuffs them full of hardworking scientists engineers, to an ultimately loveless end. Or a politician. Or a socialist government.

In the third act the protagonist drops into a blackhole and the movie appears to go screwball unless you’d figured out by then that the whole thing was really a story about love. Being human means loving. (No, this movie is not about science. The movie has science in it, but don’t be confused—just because the secular humanists who worship Science as their god rushed out to write reviews praising their idols it doesn’t change the fact that this movie is about love. Love is the hidden formula, love is the key to every puzzle, love is gravity, love is science. It draws people together, it distorts time, it reaches across space. Love is at the center of the universe. Love is the laws of thermodynamics. As Cooper says, “to get somewhere you’ve got to give something up,” and what he physically demonstrates is Newtons third law, but what Nolan is hitting you over the head with is that to become loving we must we leave behind our selfishness. The concrete expression Nolan has in mind here is children. We love by having children and giving up our selfish lives and start taking care of someone else. Again as Cooper said, we’re not called to be caretakers (of ourselves), we’re called to pioneer. He uses love like gravity to send a message to his daughter and saves her.

And just when you think that the whole point of the movie was to show us that we become great and noble when we have kids and sacrifice for them, the penultimate scene has Cooper leaving his dying daughter to show that love for your offspring isn’t the chief end of love. It’s love for your spouse. That’s the fountain. Children are merely the fruit of a love between a man and a woman, the result of it. So Cooper leaves the floating space station to start a new life, an adventure, with the woman he loves. (Incidentally I’m convinced the reason Coopers daughter has the prominent spot is because Nolan was making this movie as a message as advice for his daughter. “Get married, have kids. Love your neighbors, love your people, but most of all love your husband. Love them, and in so doing you’ll learn to be selfless, and that’s will lead to nobility, virtue, wisdom, and purpose in life, which are the best things. Want to know how we’ll grow as humans in the future? Want to know what evolution really looks like? It looks like growing in love.”

Once it came to a close and I grasped that I was not only not surprised to see Interstellar was snubbed for awards, I’m amazing there weren’t boycotts over it. Hollywood praises perversions. If you have a movie that promotes gay marriage, or the struggle for transgendered youths to use the bathroom of their choice they’ll cheer and hand you medals and trophies. Praise an abortion doctor and they’ll hand you piles of money. This movie said to that philosophy, “You people know nothing of love and enjoyment. You’re the kind of hypocrites who would kill your own friend on a foreign planet because he saw you for what you were. You want to know real joy? Be a dad to your daughter as she grows up and love her mother. You take your multiple genders and gay marriage and cram it all.”
All I can say to that kind of boldness is wow. I forgive you for the plot holes, the too loud music, the silly explanations for things like wormholes and the notion that we are evolving into 5th dimensional beings because you stood against the tide and admitted the God of the Christians is right. Hallelujah, someone gets it!

One more thing: did I as a Christian think the idea that love will make us into gods is blasphemous? Well yeah, obviously. Would I liked to have a bit at the end about Jesus being our perfect example of love and how we find love only in Him? Again, yes. But nonetheless look at it for what it is: a piece of art by a secular director which repudiates completely the spirit of the age. In so doing it’s come a significant distance toward our philosophy while at the same time packaging his message in a way that the secular world imbibes without even realizing it. And really, this is far more Christian than most Christian movies themselves (Fireproof, I’m looking at you).
So I jump for joy. Everyone should watch it. 10 out of 10.

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