Danny Bowes

Film & TV critic and journalist, novelist, short story writer, playwright, screenwriter.

ON INTERSTELLAR

In structural keeping with Christopher Nolan's new film -- and one brief bit of the-world-done-changed SF world-building within it -- I would like to begin with a long introductory passage in which occasional pieces of information pop up that will be significant later. First, let's talk about Reggie Jackson. Although by the time I was consciously able to follow the Yankees they had progressed to the eminently frustrating Mattingly/Winfield era, Reggie had already imprinted upon me in a fundamental, primal, sub-rational way. He was a larger-than-life figure as a ballplayer, his every action more memorable than his contemporaries, good and bad. Reggie came from an older era of baseball in which working counts and drawing walks was not as prevalent a strategy as it is today, and as such when he would come to the plate he would start his swing from as far back as he could to generate the most possible force at his command in order to hit the baseball farther than the laws of physics permit under known circumstances. This value of force and gut instinct over rational precision and accepted limits of the physical universe led to Reggie striking out more often than anyone in MLB history, but it also led to some home runs that were, for lack of more refined adjectives, fucking amazing. When evaluating Reggie as a player, you have to consider that for every time he struck out with men on base in a clutch situation, or made a dumb defensive play in the outfield because he was dreaming on his next home run (which is what he was paid for, not defense), his defining moment will always be in the 1977 World Series, when in three consecutive plate appearances, he hit three consecutive home runs off of three different pitchers, the last of which came closer than any measured fair ball at that point had ever come to leaving Yankee Stadium the long way (for some context: that place was fucking *huge* and a whole lot of really strong dudes hit the shit out of a lot of baseballs in that place, but none of them were Reggie's third homer). When I was insecure about being left-handed when no one else I knew was left-handed, I derived strength from Reggie having been left-handed. When I started going blind and had to wear Coke-bottle glasses, it was okay, because Reggie wore glasses. He was, in the specific sense in which it was coined, my Patronus, and in the larger sense inferred by its Latin root, a Patronus confers the protection of the sort a father might, when not physically able to be there himself. And thus, for multiple reasons in the above paragraph, we come to Christopher Nolan, who swings for the cinematic fences in a similar fashion (whether or not it's wise to, and whether or not it works), and Interstellar, a story among other things about the metaphysical strength of a father's love.

Oh, and you better believe invoking baseball and with it Americana was deliberate, because Interstellar is the least self-conscious movie about being corny as fuck in like forever. Interstellar is a ball of corn so vast and with so much mass that it collapsed on itself and created a black hole. In fact, Nolan shot this movie on location at the fucking black hole that his quantum cornball made when it collapsed in on itself. And after he called cut, he probably sipped a cup of tea and with an amused grin remarked how droll it was that he'd violated causality in the same way his script had. And McConaughey probably took his space helmet off and went, "That don't matter, man, you can violate causality all you want long as you deliver the goods, brother." And Nolan probably took another sip of tea and thought to himself how wise it had been to cast McConaughey.

McConaughey is a great movie star for a number of reasons, but one of which is that the nature of his charisma derives from his singular quantum Zen surfer good old boy state of being. His charisma switch doesn't just have one setting: it has the "smarter than he looks and than anyone gives him credit for" setting, it has the "all is one and one is all, and every living thing is like the ocean, connected and interchangeable" setting that lets him shift between whatever necessary context requires him to McConaughey at a situation to triumph, and there's the setting on which you can put him on a back porch with a beer in his hand and everything he says is important because he's a guitar string that resonates at the frequency of America. Thus, it doesn't really matter that the script doesn't quite establish his motivation in any kind of properly organic fashion, because he's McConaughey and he needs to save the fucking world, and that's enough of a reason because he just gets that look in his eye and you're like "you're goddamn right this guy can save the fucking world, he's a proper fucking movie star, now shut up about your little literary inadequacies, we got a movie to watch."

The impressive thing about Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker is that he keeps growing and adding new tricks. He has his limitations; for all his much-bruited intelligence, he's civilian smart rather than visionary genius smart, which is another way of saying he has the kind of mind that can create and solve puzzles, but his flights of fancy have a ceiling, and the framework in which he expresses them can be a bit rigid at times. And yet, that's precisely why the parts of Interstellar that work do, he's bumping up against that ceiling, looking for a staircase to the roof, determined to breathe fresh air by hook or by crook. Which is not a backhanded compliment: if everyone in the world was a visionary genius we'd run out of drugs in about five minutes and better hope to hell someone invented an energy source powered by nervous breakdowns, otherwise the human race would be fucked worse than it is in Interstellar, which is pretty well fucked until McConaughey whips it out and dads his way to the solution.

Interstellar's casting is a huge part of what makes it work as well as it does (for whom it works), as everyone, even the one guy in the movie who isn't famous (who's great, by the way), papers over what might end up being sticky logical concerns or elided plot development with pure gusto. Say what you want about Anne Hathaway (and I say, "Hi, Anne! I think you're nifty") she can dial up that BIG EMOTIONS setting with the best of them. Chastain's a master; few actors working today have the ability to simply exist and do everything the character needs to do like she does. Michael Caine does his thing he does in every Christopher Nolan movie now, which is to show up and be Michael Caine and we're like "Yay, it's Michael Caine! Hi!" Wes Bentley, Topher Grace, and C-Fleck show up and lend a dimension to otherwise barely-there supporting roles, but the point is they do lend something.

All of that makes David Gyasi stand out more, because with the exception of kids and extras, he almost literally is the only non-famous person in the movie, and he's fucking splendid. There's a moment in the movie where he has to condense what would be dozens of pages in a novel into nothing more than physical posture (his face isn't even lit, denying him even facial expression to sell the moment) AND HE DOES. Welcome to movies, David Gyasi! I hope you get parts worthy of your talents, because you're a damn good actor.

As for all the science-trolling going on, I'm a firm believer in the symbiosis implied in the term "science fiction." The science can only get you half the way there. If you're bent out of shape because a person would die instantly trying to fly into a black hole or the frozen clouds on the Matt Damon planet are bullshit (oh, you better believe there's a Matt Damon planet, THAT'S FUCKING SCIENCE YA BISH) and don't have the proper cromulent vicissitude, or there's no such thing as a five-dimensional tesseract, you know what? I have a science experiment involving a dick going into a mouth you can assist on. This isn't to be confused with people who simply don't buy into the stuff about love transcending dimensional reality (Annie H. owns that speech, by the way) and the corniness and the slightly awkward Vulcan experimentation with emotional sense over logical sense. That's fine. But people like the Slate guy who got all in high dudgeon over the science being bullshit (who, deliciously, in turn got his own science wrong) need to spend a weekend with Beach McConaughey chilling the heck out and Zenning their whole shit up. Because, yes, *people* can't fly into a black hole without getting smushed, but *Matthew McConaughey* can, especially if he's wearing a space uniform with an American flag on it. Because science may not work like that, but movies do.

Anyway. Good talk, y'all. I'm probably (well, sure, ok, definitely) not being "objective" about this one (there's a whole other essay in that), but fuck it, I'm not on the clock. Sometimes, pro or no, you gotta go to the movies and just fucking Go To The Movies.

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