Rant by Nate
These next several paragraphs are going to deal specifically with the ending of the new Christopher Nolan film Interstellar. If you have not seen the movie I strongly recommend you not read this as it will reveal some major spoilers.
You have been warned!
So, for those of you that have seen the film: Welcome! I hinted at some problems that I had with the ending in my original review: “I’m not entirely sure it goes all the way through; and we’ll leave it at that.” Well, let’s discuss it now, shall we?
Towards the end of the film, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) performs some awesome piloting maneuvers to save the Lazarus from total destruction (because Matt Damon is and always has been a snake), except now everyone is slowly being dragged into Gargantua’s gravitational pull. Faced with this inevitability Cooper sends Amelia off to another habitable planet and flies into Gargantua to measure its event horizon. Something about sending quantum info back to Murph (Jessica Chastain) to complete the science necessary to get a space station off Earth and cruising towards that habitable planet to save humanity. (I’m exhausted just typing all that!)
Once Cooper falls into Gargantua he quickly discovers himself floating in what can only be described as my own Inception-style dreamscape. Endless amounts of books and shelves are arrayed in such a peculiar manner that suggests he is no longer moving through three-dimensional space. Now, time is expressed spatially such that Cooper can float through different moments in time centering on his daughter’s bedroom back on Earth.
Let me just say (and not to brag) I already knew from the first few minutes of the film, that Cooper would be his daughter’s “ghost”. I don’t know if it’s because they spent too much time dealing with the strange occurrences of books falling or messages being received but it was blatantly obvious to me that Cooper was the one trying to communicate with Murph at the beginning of the movie. So my first small issue with the film is that it was predictable. I did not know how it would all work out, I just knew that Cooper was the ghost. But that’s dealing more with the beginning of the movie. This rant is really about the ending; and my main concern with it is related to Cooper’s time travel to the past.
Now, you might be saying, “Wait a minute, Nate! It sounds like you didn’t have a problem with the wormhole but now you have a problem with time travel! What the dealio??” Well, I suspended disbelief with the wormhole because it seemed to me to be an essential device to get some of the main characters to habitable planets without being horrifically older than Methuselah. A mysterious explanation of a “they” that “placed” the wormhole where it appeared raised my right eyebrow; but I was able to go along for the ride. However, the time travel to the past and Cooper’s interacting with objects in such a manner as to change the past was a bit much for me. Without getting into A-Theory of Time and the problem of the Grandfather paradox or Lorentzian Relativity as an alternative to time as a fourth dimension, let me just say that I don’t think time travel is possible.
But, okay, I’ll concede it for the sake of discussion. So, if time travel to the past is possible, why is Cooper concluding that the “they” that “placed” the wormhole in our galaxy as well as plucked Cooper and TARS out of Gargantua and “placed” them in Earth’s past is actually a “we” that evolved and “helped ourselves”? How is that even possible? Remember, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) explains to Cooper that humanity’s extinction is only decades away. So then how does humanity survive long enough to evolve? Maybe I’m missing something here but, in order to change the past, humanity would have had to evolve beyond its own certain death, which means they would not have been able to evolve! They would have died!
It’s as if Hamlet’s father gets ahold of Doc Brown’s Delorean Time Machine and sends his son into the past to stop his own murder. But, wait, if his father was murdered, who sends Hamlet into the past? The answer is: Nobody! Unless we’re going to open the door to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (which it does not appear Interstellar is doing), then none of this makes any sense.
Also, grown-up Murph’s epiphany that five-dimensional Cooper is her ghost seems tacked on at the last second; as if Nolan was nearing three hours and needed to wrap things up. I would not necessarily be opposed to Murph slowly realizing that her father is still alive and trying to communicate with her; but getting her to realize all of that while suddenly violent Tom (Casey Affleck) could come back at any second just felt too rushed, too canned, too pat to be taken seriously. And, excuse me, but how did a team of NASA scientists working diligently for years on a missing quantum equation not figure out what could essentially be expressed in a secondhand on a wristwatch? Remember, Cooper figures out that he can communicate the missing quantum information NASA needs through the wristwatch he gave Murph when she was a child. And somehow all of that can be communicated through a broken secondhand ticker? I don’t think so.
And then, what was that final reunion between grandma Murph and Cooper all about? Cooper had been crying and moaning about being separated from his family for so long and he spends less than three minutes with his daughter before running off to be with Amelia? Again, that felt more like Nolan was trying to wrap up then deal with real human relationships.
I suppose this brings me back to a question I asked in my original review: Can Nolan successfully develop human/emotional connections while retaining the grandiose tale of a space odyssey? I do acknowledge the Herculean task of developing those two aspects while keeping a movie relatively short. And I’m sure that this rant has seemed rather acerbic as I went through some of the problems I had.
As I mentioned in my original review, I think the movie mostly works at the human level as well as the space exploration level. (Definitely more so with the space exploration.) There were several moments Cooper shared with his family on Earth as well as some moments where he expressed his love and sorrow for leaving his family that were very touching. So the human element of the film (while vastly more developed than, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey) is ultimately a mixed bag of some really great scenes and some pretty poor ones. I will say that I am a huge Chris Nolan fan; and when he gets something right, he knocks it out of the stratosphere (pardon the pun). So these problems that I have laid out only take away enough to bring my rating down to a 3.5 out of 5.
I am curious, having seen the movie, what did you think about the ending?