Brief Examination: Interstellar


interstellar-featAlong with Citizen Kane, no film has been more deserving of a brief examination then Interstellar. It is not only because it is a spectacular film that demands repeated viewings, but also because one can imagine that it will stimulate the imagination and discourse for years to come.

The area that cast the most substantial impression on first viewing was Christopher Nolan’s meditation on time. In prior pictures, Mr. Nolan has used time as a methodology in the way he constructed narratives. Memento being the best example of this where two narratives threads were established, one representing the past and the other, the future, until they both converged at the end of the film. Time is not just an exclusive concept that Mr. Nolan deals with in his pictures.

Earlier this year, Richard Linklater presented a fleeting portrait of the concept in Boyhood, which depicted a child growing up from age 7-18. Mr. Nolan responds to this ephemeral picture in an emotional and harrowing scene when protagonist Cooper comes back from a mission and realises it has been twenty three years since he has been gone. As a result, he has video messages backlogged from two decades and we witness his reaction to his children growing up before his eyes.

The sequence is simultaneously interesting for its moving content but also for its social commentary of showcasing how we do see people grow via social media and through a non-contact basis. But also like last year’s Gravity it shows the hardships of space, that along with an intriguing plot point at the beginning of the film, further crushes the idealistic 1960s American image of space.

Time in Interstellar aside from the aforementioned context is also critical to the plot. Many of the characters speak of how to evade it, due to the difference of it on Earth, versus where they are currently.  Mr. Nolan has stated in interviews that if there were an enemy in Interstellar, it would be time. The statement has a lot of weight and is true in many regards.

Hans Zimmer’s score uses the counter-intuitive primary instrument of an organ. Its use against images of space seems strange at first.  But if it is thought of as the musical identity of time then, its value is elevated, due to making the concept sound ominous, majestic and eternal.

In the third act, Time is presented at its most potent in an ambitious sequence where Cooper is perceiving the concept in a physical dimension. Within this space, he can see his memories in many shifting windows, in an environment that looks like an abstract, fading silvery library. The scene as a whole, while harkening to 2001, also serves as Mr. Nolan’s best use of the concept. It is showcased in the form of a story point that loops around itself and the effect is emotional and awe inspiring.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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