Monday, November 24, 2014

Interstellar (2014)

I've always been fascinated with space exploration; it began when I was introduced to the possibility of going to an outer space colony and using bubble gum as a plug for holes made by tiny rocks floating in space, colliding with the space ship. That fascination was even more strengthened when I started learning about the NASA test pilots who pushed the limits by going to the Moon and back... with the most dramatic of them all, Apollo 13, being my favorite story.

And so I was very curious about Interstellar, a film starring Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, and Michael Caine (among others) and directed by Chris Nolan. Of course, one motivations to see this film is Chris Nolan... I'm a fan of his works (his Batman trilogy, Inception, The Prestige...).

It began with a very bleak worldview, very similar with Transcendence, as I understand it: the world is going back to its less high-tech roots. In the case of Transcendence, it's about going off the Internet grid; for Interstellar, it's all about people going back to agriculture. I had the impression that people, in the Interstellar context, were facing severe food shortages due to plant diseases so farming became a highly valued career but an extremely difficult one. The situation was so bad that space scientists, driven underground by lack of funding, decided that the most viable solution was to establish human colonies in planets that appear to have conditions conducive for human life. These scientists had sent a few individuals into outer space to explore various planets and transmit data to Earth. Because the trip to these planets took years, the scientists designed a hibernation system to prevent the explorers from getting old too fast. Test pilot Cooper (McConaughey) and biologist Amelia (Hathaway), among others, then had to go to the most viable of these planets and awaken the explorers up. Of course things didn't go as planned and they risked their lives in inhospitable otherworldly conditions... in an effort to save themselves, Cooper ended up in an extra-dimensional space where gravity could be used to communicate with his past self (and his daughter thought that she was feeling ghosts), where time was a physical object (in the form of strings), and which was believed to have been made by aliens. Amelia continued on with the mission of establishing colonies in one planet while Cooper was somehow brought back from this strange dimension into an established space station. His daughter, who became a scientist, was older than he was when they met one last time, thanks to space travel being equated to time travel....

As always, impeccable movie... signature Chris Nolan. A visual masterpiece, I think. The music was composed by Hans Zimmer but it was so different from the style he maintained for the Batman series and for Inception that I didn't recognize his work. Unbelievably otherworldly genius!

I am amazed at how Interstellar affected me mentally and emotionally; I needed some time to process what I saw before I can make opinions about it. It's very rare to get a movie do that to me... but Nolan has done it three times! I felt as if the story wasn't over... there's something more but it was going to happen after the last of the credits has rolled off-screen. 

First off, I was thrown off with how quiet outer space was... in contrast, space scenes in Apollo 13 (the movie) was mostly filled with chatter between Houston and Odyssey (or Aquarius). For me, the silence in Interstellar was almost like the peace and quiet of being underwater in a swimming pool... Knowing, however, that sooner or later, this quiet would be shattered because I need to take a breath... The peace and quiet of outer space was definitely broken when the spaceship entered the wormhole; when the astronauts landed in the inhospitable planets; when a scientist, bent on completing the mission, became willing to sacrifice his colleagues' lives.

Then there's the food security angle... after all, I have ringside seats to see the best rice scientists work at getting enough food to the table despite increasingly challenging conditions. I was in disbelief with the idea that agriculture is not dynamic---that people think that it's a field that has little scientific input. It is scary and outrageous to think that humans, who (I assume) would've been permitted to use genetic engineering and precision crop breeding tools as a last resort to prevent famines, failed to use the best of science and technology to develop food crops that are disease resistant. I'd understand the situation if it's food shortage related to a catastrophic event which is one-time, sudden, and severe. But crop susceptibility to blight?!? My heart felt for the people living in such difficult state, wishing that it will not occur to anyone in real life if science can help it and politics can make things move. My brain, on the other hand, was screaming: Come on!! What were all the crop breeders in the public and the private sectors doing?!? There's a market for disease-resistant crops and these people weren't planting these crops!!! I might have missed something in the narrative at the very beginning of the movie, though. I was dumbstruck, but was forced to accept the scientists' approach to this food security problem: establish colonies in outer space (where there's even less chance of surviving). 

Connected to this was the movie's take on the future of education. It was backward and with a lot of denialism. Apparently, in the Interstellar world, teachers claimed that the Apollo space program really didn't land men on the Moon. That, I think, kept students' dreams grounded... except for Cooper's kids, of course. It's one thing to have a different interpretation of information; it's a different matter altogether when historical facts have been twisted to match some invisible propagandists' world view. If space exploration was basically denied in the curriculum, it's not a far stretch to think that these educators had also denied the usefulness of science and technological advancements in crop breeding (if it was being practised at all in the Interstellar crop fields). Tsk. If this happened in real life, say hello to homeschooling, kids! 

The thing that struck me most in the movie is this: Love came into the picture, seemingly out of the blue. Amelia described the astronaut she loved as remarkable, as an excellent scientist, as the most courageous man she knew. Seriously?!? It didn't sound like she's in a relationship with the guy... it's more like she admired him from afar and that they didn't know each other. I couldn't grasp how someone could describe his/her significant other in such impersonal terms. Even Temperance Bones, who is so logical at her most romantic scenes in the tv series (hence, my favorite tv scientist), still shows warmth when her husband, Agent Booth, is in the scene... or is the topic of conversation. This gave me pause: if I were in her shoes (because I'm also in the sciences), how will I describe the guy I'll end up with (when I'm asked about him)? Hypothetically speaking, he'll be the guy who'll make me smile and make me feel at home and safe... like I'm drinking steaming hot chocolate milk with marshmallows on a really cold morning. But who knows?

I'm sure I have missed quite a few details on my first watch. I ought to see it a few more times before I understand parts of the movie. It's certainly very different from Armageddon: no heroic guy sacrificing himself to save the world from an oncoming asteroid. No epic end-of-the-world romance. No moving music by a rock band to increase the movie's impact to the audience.