I just got back from seeing Interstellar, and even though I think I actually experienced some form of relativistic time dilation within the movie (i.e. it’s really fucking long), it actually was not as terrible as I thought it’d be.
From the moment people started talking about Interstellar, I said to myself, “I bet I know exactly the way that this movie will be terrible! I think it’s going to be one of those movies that has all the trappings of an interesting and thoughtful movie–a movie that goes through the motions of character development and imagination–but turns out to be fundamentally pretty empty in the end. Other examples of movies like this: Avatar; Captain America 2; and Lucy. There’s basically an entire genre called “pseudo-intellectual science fiction movie.” Arguably, almost all science fiction movies (at least all the ones that take themselves at all seriously) will veer towards pseudo-intellectualism. And it’s never a good thing. Even in fiction–a form much more capable of conveying complex ideas–there are very few novels that actually succeed in being thought-provoking in terms of their content. The best novels, I find, are the ones (like The Magic Mountain or Invisible Man) that don’t take the ravings of their intellectual characters very seriously: the ones who hold them up as figures of ridicule, and then go on to say, “See. People in the world exist who are like this. Their thought tends towards this general tendency. And this is the result of that sort of thought.”
Movies almost never do that. They contain too little of a sense of irony. Pictures are too definitive. When you see a person saying something, it’s hard to believe that it’s not the movie saying this thing to you. Except for Boyhood. Did you guys see Boyhood? That was a film that did pseudo-intellectualism right. It was actually a magnificent performance. The main character went off on these long and very serious intellectual tangents. And while you didn’t precisely want to laugh at him–because these were obviously a very serious attempt to think about his place in the world–the movie also never let you take them seriously, because it alway subtly undercut and ridiculed the protagonist.
Anyway, Interstellar is moderately pseudo-intellectuatel, and that aspect is terrible. Not only does this movie attempt to explain its own messages (in words) to the audience, but I’m also pretty sure that its explanations are wrong. Like, is this movie really about how love is a mysterious force that makes shit come out right? No, because that’s stupid. I mean, that’s how it works in the movie, but…argh, I mean, I just can’t go into the actual messages of the movie.
So, in the end, why am I reluctant to say that Interstellar was a vapid movie? I don’t know. Maybe because of the sections on Earth, which were really thoughtful in the way they handled this slow-moving apocalypse. It wasn’t a world where civilization had collapsed and there was no government or electricity or medicine. It was just an impoverished world. A world where every country had become third world. A world that was slowly degrading. Or maybe in the way the children were characterized, particularly the older son, and their reactions to the father’s disappearance. Maybe it was in the dad’s ambivalence towards his family: he wanted to be there for them, but he also really wanted to go into space. There were lots of little moments. There was something there in this movie. There was a mind at work here, animating this movie. And that’s why we go to see movies: it’s not so characters can speak some truth at us. It’s so that we can read the truth for ourselves in the way that the parts of the movie fit together.