Interstellar was more interesting than good. I enjoyed the use of music, which some people found annoying. It showed a bit of ambition in an otherwise standard film. I’m tired of seeing films in which music, lighting, etc. are used to shape our experience of dialogue rather than as significant modes of artistic expression themselves. Nolan has the capacity to be inventive (Following and Memento were both pretty good), but Interstellar relied a bit much on Nolan’s reputation and the draw of Matthew McCongaughey offering pseudo-profundities. His Cooper comes off as an inverted Rust Cohle. Both are protagonists whose heroism relies on a kind of willing self-destruction, differing only in whether this self-destruction comes from a place of optimism or pessimism (though of course we ultimately discover that Cohle’s nihilistic ranting is rooted in the hope that the light will push back against the darkness).
The most interesting point in the film comes near the end. Cooper sacrifices himself by flying into a black hole. He finds himself in a reality in which time has become a dimension, allowing him to drift through a series of moments in the past. He’s not able to speak to either his past self or his daughter, but he’s able to communicate by knocking objects off a shelf.
I wasn’t sure that this scene made sense, but the real trouble came in Nolan’s effort to explain what was happening. Cooper comes to understand his situation while talking to a robot that entered the black hole at about the same time. Cooper thinks that a future humanity has interceded, creating this reality so that he can provide his daughter with the information necessary to save humanity from the crumbling planet.
This was the part that annoyed me. Most people are familiar with the expression ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’. It’s a great irony that this expression, originally used to describe an impossible task, is now a command central to the American experience. Nolan is effectively undercutting this irony by showing that it is possible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Or rather, when we’re struggling to pull ourselves up, future humanity will give us a hand.
The film’s humanist optimism contrasts with the final scenes of 2001. I know there are multiple readings of that film, but I’ve always been partial to an anti-humanist interpretation. I don’t know what the giant floating space baby represents, but there is something disturbing about the final scenes. The future is rich with possibility, but it isn’t the possibility of humanity saving itself. Kubrick’s uncanny conclusion says something more profound about humanity and the future than Nolan’s implicit trust that we’ll figure everything out in the end.