I had been deferring my date with Mr Christopher Nolan’s latest offering Interstellar for close to a month now. However, curiosity finally got the better of me and I found myself watching this science fiction film, at times in awe, and at times, in trepidation, but always surrounded by a sense of reassurance. For, this wasn’t just another ambitious addition to the canon of science fiction. This was Nolan, marking a return to a seemingly inexhaustible genre of cinema that is used to being genuinely reinvigorated once every few years. Interstellar might not herald a paradigm shift in terms of how filmmakers approach sci-fi, but it surely marks a sea change in Nolan’s perspective of humanity and what it’s worth.
For starters, it was a delight to see Nolan flexing his funny bones, delivering more laughs in a span of two minutes than a rom-com can manage during the entirety of its running time. The gags are all centred on an artificially intelligent robot named TARS, which accompanies the film’s protagonists, astronauts Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Dr Brand (Anne Hathaway) on a mission to the farthest reaches of space.
TARS is a far cry from HAL 9000, the onboard computer in Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking sci-fi adaptation of Arthur C Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey , which had a positively homicidal streak to it. There are ample in-jokes in Interstellar for fans of Kubrick’s operatic take on space exploration, including one involving TARS threatening to kick the astronauts out of the airlock, which should send a sense of déjà vu down your spine.
The film is rife with homage to sci-fi flicks of every kind. From midnight screeners like Event Horizon and blockbusters like Avatar to pulpy big-star vehicles like Armageddon and even, existential sci-fi thrillers such as Danny Boyle’s Sunshine . Of course, one of the joys in watching a Nolan film is his steadfast insistence on relying on old school mechanics of storytelling. This means a significant rejection of the use of computers and mobile phones as storytelling devices to push the plot forward.
Technology in Nolan’s universe is treated only as a means to an end, and never the end in itself. It’s also why you’d be hard pressed to find sequences detailing the functioning of spaceships, extended shots of the machinery in question, 360 degree viewpoints of its aerodynamic chassis and so on. The explanation is simple: as a movie goer, all you are concerned about is what happens to those inhabiting a cinematic universe, whether it’s the Earth, space or even one’s own subconscious.
Among the numerous layers that comprise Interstellar’s narrative, the one layer that always shines above the rest is the humanity that Nolan brings to the storytelling. It makes you smile to see the persistent nature of a father (Cooper) inherited by his equally headstrong adolescent daughter (Murph). Despite being warned against joining Cooper on a catalytic road trip to an unknown source of radio signals, Murph manages to smuggle herself inside Cooper’s pickup truck, to be conveniently discovered only when Cooper’s driven off too far.
It’s a development that you, as an audience, have seen coming from miles away. But you revel in that little surprise, for what it really represents. When Murph, (shortened for Murphy) asks her father why her parents named her after a law which spells disaster, Cooper tells her it isn’t so. She was instead named after the notion that, “Whatever has to happen, will happen.”
Such nuggets of humanity make a Nolan film worth its weight in film , and not digital , for the purists among you. He can be excused for revisiting themes explored in Inception , where the subconscious can blur the line separating time and space. He can also be forgiven for harking back to Memento , for reminding us about the impermanence of memory, and telling us through Cooper’s that “Once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost of your children’s future.” The world certainly needs more of Nolan. I know for sure that I do.