Interstellar: Lost in Space

Interstellar has blasted onto movie screens across the globe, and is going into orbit at the box office—$300, 000, 000, and counting. In addition, its critical acclaim seems to suggest that the movie event of the year has just landed. But, is it any good?

Well, before we splash down, let’s look at the background. The director is Christopher Nolan, who, for years now, has been riding high in box office success and critical acclaim, so, if there was someone needed to take on the whole of outer space then this was the man. He also wrote the script. Now, it is not a bad thing that a director writes a script per se, and produces, as well as directs, but not everyone is Orson Wells. The three key component parts in the construction of a film are also balances against any one influence, or person, dominating at the expense of all else, but if you’re arguing with yourself then that can be a problem. Well, that’s the theory; perhaps in reality it all boils down to who’s paying; in this case, the budget was $165,000,000, so surely this was a movie whose trajectory was only ever going to be ballistic?

If you haven’t seen the movie, either jump off now, or look to the end of this piece for the final summary, as there will be plot spoilers from here on in. And, for those interested, Interstellar is mercifully free of anything overtly offensive, other than the odd expletive here and there.

Earth is dying. Dust everywhere, although we only see dusty fields in the Dust Bowl, never a city of any size in sight. Also, the time we are in is unclear: like the best Sci-Fi, it’s somewhere in the future but close enough to look exactly like our present, except dustier. And, with all this dust comes starvation. Cooper (“Coop”), played by Matthew McConaughey, is a widowed farmer with two children, who are having problems at school—so far so normal. Then we hear what his daughter’s problems are: she believes NASA’s account of the moon landing. It seems in the future everyone else believes it was all done on a sound set in Burbank Studios, mainly to cause the Soviet Union to bankrupt itself in a later Space Race. At this point, I sat up thinking this was going to get interesting. I was disappointed, though, as this was the last we heard of all that. (Some day, somewhere, someone will make a good movie out of that plot line—Capricorn One, okay, but surely there is another to come?)

Interstellar Movie PosterAfter an hour into the movie, we were nowhere near space. Instead it was a rambling family tale with some hocus-pocus in the daughter’s bedroom—was it a ghost? No, it was some form of communication that leads father and daughter to a top-secret space project that just happens to be run by NASA. Now, this government agency must have shares in the movie such is the amount of screen time given to its logo and talk of all the good it does. Nothing at all about the federal taxes it has spent, or indeed, how this world on the brink can still afford an inter-galactic space mission—but this is “movieland,” so don’t look too closely.

It seems that our corn farmer, Coop, is also the best space pilot in the galaxy, and so, on account of the imminent demise of planet earth, they try to recruit him for a mission to find a new world. Why they didn’t just call him I’ll never know, it would have saved a lot of bother for all concerned, and an hour’s wasted screen time. So, at last, we are off into space, and things get duller by the minute. Now, I do love space imagery, but, there’s a limit, and it has all been done before, and better. Speaking of which, this film has more than a nod, or three, to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In fact, there are images and even themes here that would seem to be using that earlier classic as a template.

The problem is that Interstellar has none of the mystery, or hinted at mysticism, of the 1968 movie. We do have some faux “spiritual speak” of “beings” that watch over us in a 5th Dimension and that sometimes come to us in a 3rd Dimension—confused? I was—but then it turns out that they are really “human beings” after all, and have come from a “perfectly evolved civilization” sometime in the future. When there is talk of “perfectly evolved human civilizations” then you have lost me, in more ways than one.

In space, we have lots of talk of relativity and black holes, and even wormholes. Yes, I have heard of all of them, but like 99 percent of the audience have no idea what is being talked about, and I suspect that the 1 percent that do are squirming at the Hollywood physics. In short, you can tell us what you like, we are not going to disagree, but none of us turned up for a science lecture. I wanted a plot, and that appeared to be disappearing down a black hole, or, was the worm in the wormhole eating holes in it?

Now, plots need characters, and here we come to the second gaping hole in this extravaganza. McConaughey is likeable enough, but didn’t quite sell it to me as the scientific genius who does some farming as well: famer, yes, spaceman, no. Saying that, there is something refreshingly old fashioned about his screen presence, and he would not look out of place on a horse riding into town, as another man named Cooper was wont to do. Here, however, we had neither horse nor town; instead lots of space-helmet wearing and lights on a control panel. And, far too much talking, especially, from the rest of the cast who are largely wasted: so few characters and yet even less characterization—all lost in space. The “baddie” space man, interestingly called Mann, was not really up to the task, and seemed to come and go relatively—non-scientifically speaking—quickly. I mean, even I know enough science not to open the escape hatch in outer space when the computer tells you not to. As an aside, at this point, I did wonder why that far out in space the astronauts were still using what seemed to be rather cheap looking laptops—perhaps on account of cut backs in future NASA budgets?

Bizarrely, the Dylan Thomas poem, Do not go gentle into that good night is recited by at least three different characters. Never fear, this film has no chance of going anywhere quietly. Like most modern movies, they have either minimal sound, or over-blown gigantic scores. I’ll leave you to work out which one runs along with this. That said, the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is the best thing in it. It is at times moving, but also moving faster than the dialogue and characters, both of which struggle to keep up.

Let it not be said that when it comes to cinematic ambition this movie is not firing on all engines, but, just like McConaughey and his crew, it over shoots; and, therefore, misses the landing zone. By all means, make a blockbuster and tell a good yarn, or make a deeply philosophical film, but beware: to do both takes something, and that something isn’t here. Of course, there is the briefest of briefest well-worn Sci-Fi notions of “bad earth” versus “good far away star”; earth dying, new life and a fresh start elsewhere … yawn. It does, however, get somewhere near there at the end, but, by then, its logic had defeated me, and I was struggling with my own time/relativity issue—that the movie was way too long. Nearly three hours in length, for heaven’s sake: we could all have gone to Saturn and back in that time.

To sum up, I tried to keep track of the plot and failed. I really tried to keep up with the science explanations and failed. And I tried to engage with the characters and again failed—dismally so, even hoping for aliens to turn up as at least then the audience would have someone to identify with. By the end, I decided this movie had tried too hard, and for far too long, and, in the end, had only ended up trying my patience.

K. V. Turley

By

K. V. Turley is a London based freelance writer and filmmaker with a degree in theology from the Maryvale Institute.

  • samnigromd

    The press and media are all FICTION or FRAUD…perhaps brief uplifting entertainment at best…rarely worth more than a quick review…otherwise it all is NON-BEING…the creation of which is the definition of EVIL….all we get is what the satanic editor wants you to believe as he does and how he believes it….

  • Thanks for the review. This seemed like the latest white-washed tomb movie, and review seals the deal.

  • Penelope Wincett

    You’re trying too hard; not everything has to have a deep inner meaning. Watching 2001: A Space Odyssey back in college, considerations of plot were entirely secondary; it was enough to get stoned and watch the fourth act. All I want from this film is images that expand my imagination – like a wave the size of the Willis Tower – which is why I want to see it in an Imax theater.

    • St JD George

      “Stoned” … what happened, did you commit adultery (ha)?

  • TERRY

    Thanks for the review – I saved $7.50 not going to see it. $4 for the flick (senior rate) $2 for the small buttered popcorn and $1.50 (up from $1) for a small diet pepsi.

    (I know what you’re thinking – where oh where is this possible? At the Narrow Gauge Theater in Farmington Maine.)

    Recommended reading – ‘Voyage to Alpha Centauri’ by Michael O’Brien. Ignatius Press. Give yourself at least a month to read it – read and savor, read and savor.

    P.S. – I like McGonaughey’s Buick commercials.

    • Tony Down

      Smarter then me, Terry. This flix was worse I’ve seen in years.

    • Bill

      Terry, I agree. Michael O’Brien is among the finest, if not the finest Catholic writer writing today. All his books are worth reading. Looking forward to the sequel to “Father Elijah.”
      Stay warm up there, Terry.

      • TERRY

        Sometimes I think we’re living the sequel.

    • JefZeph

      Oops, I guess McConaughey’s commercials aren’t all that effective, even to those who like them. He’s actually selling Lincolns.

      • TERRY

        JefZeph – Would a simple, heartfelt “whoops” suffice?

        • JefZeph

          It’s not even necessary Terry. My “oops” was aimed at Lincoln and McConaughey for their failure to effectively brand.

  • TERRY

    I just had a flash – PIGS IN SPACE!! PIGS IN SPACE!!!

  • St JD George

    It may be age or where I am in my faith, but I find so little of interest that comes out of Hollywood these days that even when something that does get good press I barely take notice. The exception being Roma Downey, and even some of Kirk Cameron’s efforts. Nothing against Mathew McConaughey, he seems like a grounded enough fellow but what do I really know about him. To me it’s almost like the current administration, after being lied to so often I have a hard time trusting anything they say even though a few things may be true. I know there must be some good movies, but so much filth is produced that I have lost interest in figuring out which few might be worth my time and money. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the luxury of time to read for pleasure, it’s something I’m rediscovering and find I’ve missed.

  • gfazzari

    The parts of this movie are better than the whole. There are several sub-plots and fascinating quotes that are very good. But it ultimately lacks a soul. Ambitious – definitely. Spectacular – in some ways yes. Satisfying – not even close.

    • stpetric

      Thanks–that sums it up nicely. “Interstellar” is too long, but there were enough good (even spectacular) bits to keep me going. Nevertheless, at the end it still hadn’t come together.

      • Tony Down

        Thank you, thank you. For a while I thought I was the only one who didn’t follow this absolutely stupid plot of a movie.

  • Tony

    The tenth best movie released in 1939 might well be a greater work than any movie that Hollywood has produced in the last 20 years. Read that sentence again, carefully.

    A selection of movies released in 1939:

    Gone With the Wind
    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
    The Wizard of Oz
    Stagecoach
    Drums Along the Mohawk
    Ninotchka
    Bachelor Mother
    Goodbye, Mr. Chips
    Midnight
    Union Pacific
    Another Thin Man
    The Hound of the Baskervilles
    Dark Victory
    Beau Geste
    Young Mr. Lincoln
    Destry Rides Again
    Four Feathers
    It’s a Wonderful World
    Gunga Din
    Of Mice and Men
    Wuthering Heights
    The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    Common features of such films:

    They are based upon excellent works of art in themselves (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Wuthering Heights, Of Mice and Men, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Goodbye Mr. Chips)

    They celebrate the moral integrity of an ordinary man or woman in a fallen world (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Young Mr. Lincoln, Stagecoach, Destry Rides Again)

    They celebrate extraordinary virtue, especially in someone attempting to redeem himself (Four Feathers, Dark Victory, Drums Along the Mohawk, Gone With the Wind)

    The main actors are immediately appealing as men and women: Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Hara, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, Olivia De Havilland, Judy Garland, Claude Rains, Laurence Olivier.

    There are actors and actresses these days who COULD HAVE been a Claude Rains or a Myrna Loy, in a better time; but it isn’t a better time.

    • St JD George

      That’s “progress” you cab believe on … we’ve regressed so far it’s startling, except of course in our ability to produce amazing special effects.

  • somebigguy

    I’m waiting for the Christmas release of Unbroken. Hopefully, it will be an inspiring story that conveys the truths of our faith.

    And, of course, Penguins. We could use the levity.

    • St JD George

      I forgot about Pixar, and must be demented to find them interesting at my age, but my favorite recent movies have been Cars and Toy Story.

      • somebigguy

        Demented? Not at all. I consider such work the finest of art. My wife, who I met many years ago when I was a humor writer/illustrator at Hallmark Cards, however, disagrees; when I wax nostalgic on the virtues of Looney Tunes, she simply rolls her eyes, lamenting my prolonged childhood.

        • Catholic pilgrim

          You worked as a Hallmark illustrator?! How awesome! My favorite Pixar movie (which I love almost every single Pixar movie) is “Ratatouille”. It shows me the goodness of God’s creation, friendship, & unexpected nature of grace. Plus, the late Peter O’Toole was on it. “Monster University” & “UP” are very close seconds. And “Finding Nemo” makes me cry (father-son/daughter love story, like Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks”).

          • somebigguy

            Among my favorite are “The Incredibles” and “Despicable Me,” though they’re all good.

            I grew up on Warner Brothers animation; Chuck Jones and Fritz Freleng were geniuses. One of the fringe benefits at Hallmark was the opportunity to meet such people; they’d bring in Jones and other celebrated creative types to stir us up. I’ll never forget sitting across from Joey Bishop in an office cubicle with just a few others one afternoon. We were supposed to do some serious brainstorming with him, but we never had a chance; the entire hour was spent bent over, laughing till our sides ached. All you had to do was give the guy an opening and the show was on! Like Vegas, but very intimate– and we got paid for it.

      • Catholic pilgrim

        If you’re demented for enjoying Pixar movies, then I must be institutionalized as well. “Ratatouille”, “Monster’s University”, & “UP”. Wish they made more of that type.

  • Randall Ward

    After 60 years of watching movies, it is amazing that I can look for a good new movie and seldom find one. The line in “Little Big Man”; “they have no center” applies, I believe.

  • Aristote Stagyrite

    Well, there is a fine antidarwinian twist in the plot : the fate of real people is deemed as more important than the fate of the “species”.

  • Objectivetruth

    Saw the movie in IMAX, the special effects alone are worth the price of admission. And Mconaughey and Chastain do a credible acting job.

    And don’t try and look to much for some great meaning. For crying out loud, it’s just a movie, not some new gospel. My take away ending is love and the saving of the actual humans on earth are the winners.

    But definitely see it in IMAX, that alone is worth the $15.

  • Tony Down

    Mr. Turley’s article on “Interstellar” was the best review I’ve read. These people who claim the movie is so moving, so awesome in it’s story telling are simply hiding the fact that they don’t want to admit they had no idea what this movie was all about. I’ve been accused by these people that my IQ is not up to following the storyline. Actually, my IQ was insulted because I sat there for 3 hours watching, why I did, of such a b.s. movie with a storyline/plot that was completely out the window one hour into the flix. I am a big movie buff. In the last 5 years I’ve seen hundreds of movies and hated a lot of them. None as worse as ‘Interstellar”. This 3 hour long piece of crap ended with my mind a minute away from a deep coma. Words excape me as to how much I hated this movie. Terrible. If a man like Turley can’t put together the story how can the average movie goer do so? I can’t believe the money this movie is taking in. The plot and storyline in this epic is absolutely the worse I’ve seen in many, many years. Mr. Turley’s review made me feel that at least I too was not the only one that wasted my movie going money and three hours of my life.

    • Objectivetruth

      Boy, pretty strong….it’s just a movie. I’d hate to be your waiter at a restaurant if you didn’t like the soup.

  • Desmond

    “It seems in the future everyone else believes it was all done on a sound set in Burbank Studios, mainly to cause the Soviet Union to bankrupt itself in a later Space Race. At this point, I sat up thinking this was going to get interesting. I was disappointed, though, as this was the last we heard of all that.”
    I have not seen the movie, so I have nothing other than author’s comment to inform my opinion. However, I will suggest that the quick line about the mindset of those in the future indicates that the seemingly inexorable creep toward totalitarian government staffed by those sympathetic to the “cause” of the Soviet Union succeeds. “Progressive” or whatever one wishes to call those ideologically persuaded that tyranny is the best mode of government for Man are in charge in the film’s dystopian future. That would indicate that it is they who have pushed the world to the brink of self-destruction and not, say, those of a conservative or traditional comprehension of the world.
    Given the filmmaker’s other movies, I would say that he is attempting to make a point without upsetting the mainstream viewer and commentator. One might even consider it a prudent technique that enables him to subtlety suggest teachings contrary to “elite” and popular positions without knocking the revenue stream of the film. After all, Christopher Nolan will not get to pursue his passion of making films if he gives explicitly conservative messages. Hollywood funding, critical derision, and a population easily influenced by those in the media will render him persona non grata.
    I admit that it asks a lot of an audience to pick and parse what he is saying (if I am correct, mind you), but that is, unfortunately, what a conservative must do in the aggressive and censorship prone culture we inhabit.

  • When I saw the movie in the theater, I gave it 8.5 out of 10.

    A week later, after having had time to digest it further, it was down to 7 out of 10.

    Today it may be a bit lower.

    SPOILERS AHEAD, FAIR WARNING

    THE GOOD: In some respects the film rekindled what only the best science fiction film do: A sense of sheer WONDER. I felt it most during the flight from Earth to Saturn and through the wormhole … ESPECIALLY when going through the wormhole, which was visually quite impressive.

    The production values and attention to detail were equally impressive. The science FOR THE MOST PART was done well; it’s nice for a film like this to take science seriously. I think this was the first movie to touch on time dilation in any kind of meaningful way.

    There were also a couple rather touching moments involving our connections with family, but then again what would a blockbuster like this be without a few heartstrings pulled? Interstellar was, in some respects, the Titanic of sci-fi movies.

    THE NOT-SO-GOOD: When it was suggested that some sinister, near-future power structure was “correcting” textbooks to erase the accomplishments of the Apollo program, I kinda winced; I just can’t accept that such a thing could happen now or any point in the future.

    The movie was awfully LOUD at times, but that’s a personal quibble from someone who is just trying to protect his hearing. If I had been the director, I would have requested the volume be evened out a bit.

    I was disapointed that there was no hint of extraterrestrial life anywhere. Sure, there were only three planets extrasolar planets visited during the film, and of course the main task was to somehow relocate humanity or at least preserve our species on some vaguely terrestrial rock elsewhere. But it would be nice for a filmmaker to explore “First Contact” is a truly realistic way: Not with insectile monsters or slender, bug-eyed humanoids, but something existentially DIFFERENT from the life we know.

    From very early on the film it became apparent that the characters were responding to some kind of “message” … but from WHAT, exactly? An alien civilization? As mentioned above, there was nothing of the sort. Human beings in our own future, perhaps? Well, here’s where I get kind of annoyed at the temptation among directors to be a little too clever for our own good. On the voyage through the wormhole, Ann Hathaway’s character “touches” some spectral lifeform, and of course by the end of the film the audience is thinking, “Oh, so THAT’S what that was!” Yes, how CLEVER. Similarly when Matthew McConaughey is caught in some kind of Escher-esque, higher dimensional Hall of Mirrors, trying to send the aforementioned “message,” I thought that maybe the film was biting off more than it could chew, and at one point I even rolled my eyes a bit.

  • Aldo Elmnight

    “with some #$@(($@* in the daughter’s bedroom”
    Please don’t use that phrase:
    http://senseofthesacred.blogspot.com/2014/08/demonic-expressions.html

  • kam counts

    Is the american market that dull they can be sold this???? it is getting some positive comment in the states, guess will wait for dvd to see how successful it is. thanks for saving me over 3 hours of my time.

  • Paul

    I disagree with Turley’s assessment of the movie, Interstellar. Rather, I think it was a wonderful and reasonably good treatment of story that hinged on some fairly advanced physics.

    Turley admits that his does not understand the much of what is going on in the movie and that may well be the problem. Imagine a color blind man trying to appreciate Decent from the Cross by van der Weyden or a partially deaf man only able to hear the cello score in a Vivaldi piece. Turley may well have suffered disappointment due to his ignorance. Why then, was he so eager to negatively criticize it? I find that problematic.

    Turley’s criticism was superficial and he incorrectly presumed that “Hollywood” made poor representations of the essential mechanisms that carried the story. Turley is wrong. The imagery of the gravitational lensing, and time dilation, was fantastic and they followed consistent rules, though somewhat imprecise. Nolan was careful to keep the image of Gargantua consistent with POV of the astronauts and the audience.

    Ghosts. There is quite a bit about ghosts in this movie. Nolan’s assertion that ghosts may be literally “timeless” beings projected into our 3D world. Nolan is right. It isn’t as Turley dismisses “hocus pocus”. (see Hoc est corpus meum). Contemporary thinking in science is that our visible and physical universe is a projection originating from the boundaries of creation in the big bang. (see Leonard Susskind and The Blackhole War) For those of you who may not know, the big bang was invented by a Belgian Priest and Physicist named Fr Georges-Henri LeMaitre in AD 1923. Everyone made fun of him too, except for Einstein.

    There is much in Catholic literature and the bible about other creatures that exist in creation. There is very little in science that deals with it. Thomas d’Aquinas attempted some discussion on angels but I think Nolan has revealed attributes of the broader realm of creation that are pretty close to being correct and consistent with the “Standard Model”. Contrary to popular belief, catholics love science, and love to use it to help describe the beauty and workings of God’s creation.

    In God’s universe we are at least 5-dimensional beings. That is a fact. Our limitations in not being able to feel and perceive the broader image of creation is the problem that Nolan tackled. I think he did a splendid job!

    In essence, the movie absolutely hinged on good physics, contemporary understanding of gravitation influences on information as well as matter, and how gravity works through the other 2 dimension we people have trouble with (time-space) and the 5th.(I don’t think it has a name)

    Turley did NOT get it. You may not either.

    However, many of us did get it. Many of us are both Catholic adherents and professional scientists.

    God is proliferated through the movie in a new way. Remember, Interstellar is a sci-fi movie, not theology.

    Look around our world. Where is God? Where is the Divine Body? Where is the Holy Spirit? They are all here, maybe not in a churchie sense by definitely in a Churchly sense. How does the great “I Am” relate to us? Through the rules of His creation, of course, as well as the bible and divine tradition.

    [SPOILER] I loved the moment in the movie when Coop was reaching for Brand through time and space inside the black hole. It was an obvious allusion to Michelangelo’s Creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. That God used his attributes of time-space-gravity-and quantum mechanics to create us.

    Nolan also reveals a Luciferian antagonist figure in the character of Matt Damon. In the movie he is referred to as “the brightest among us” yet is the most hopeless and selfish.

    Don’t allow yourself to be abused into thinking that because Nolan did not give 10 minutes to explicit Catholic exhortations, God is not in the movie. The opposite is true. The movie was about little else. Just as the garden of eden was only where God initially placed humanity, so too may be this earth.

    So in summary, Turley is wrong, only because he is ignorant. The plot was intricate, and clear. Coop was going to save the world, because he alway did and his daughter always help him. Turley missed that recursion.. completely.

    Interstellar is full of hope, love, metaphysics, physics, action, a spectacle.

    Zimmer’s music is great with swellings of pipe organ choruses and dead silence. Casting was very good. Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway were perfect.

    It is almost 3 hours long and it felt like one hour to me.

    Well done Nolan and Nolan.

    • MattMartelli

      Well said, Paul: you nailed it. I couldn’t agree more. “Interstellar” is a tour de force that communicates God as a Being capable of using His universe and His creatures however necessary to transform hearts and save souls. Keep viewing art with a critical eye AND open heart. Thank you!!

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