Interstellar is a missed opportunity.
Interstellar: Where it went wrong
You probably want me to get to the point. I’m going to get to it.
It feels like Interstellar went wrong in two key areas.
Interstellar’s first stumble – Call to adventure
The first significant stumble Interstellar takes is in the call to adventure section.
In stories, not all, the hero is usually called to adventure.
At first, the hero says no, but then they realise they have to go.
The best example of this is from Star Wars; Obi-wan tells Luke he has to come with him (call to adventure). Luke says he has to go home (refusal). When Luke returns to find his home burning and his family dead. Luke returns to Obi-wan and thinks he will go to Alderan (acceptance of call).
A good story has to have this sequence of events; I am not going to crowd this with examples, you are going to have to trust me.
Every story has to have this sequence – CALL->REFUSAL->ACCEPTANCE.
But Kieran, I hear you say, Interstellar has this.
Interstellar pays lip service to the call to adventure sequence.
Coop is asked to be the pilot on the mission. He returns home, says goodbye to his family then leaves.
It sounds like it follows the sequence, right?
Here’s the thing, elements are missing. There’s no refusal of call. When Coop returns home, there’s never a question of whether he’ll go or not.
There’s never a moment of doubt.
Coop never says or conveys that he might be making a mistake in going. It’s missing. Coop comes across as a selfish guy who ditches his family at the first opportunity.
You might not realise it, but because of this you have begun to dislike Coop. You’re divesting yourself from the story.
You’re tuning out.
Hope you’re not tuning out reading this. Here’s the next place Interstellar stumbles.
Interstellar’s second stumble – Coop’s choice (or lack of)
Towards the end of the film, Coop goes into the black hole. He ends up in the fourth dimension. More specifically, he ends up behind the bookcase in his daughter’s room. He’s sending the formula for gravity in Morse code to his daughter through a watch. As we all have. To be honest with you, I think this whole section is kind of dumb. How come he ends up behind the bookcase? It feels like ultimately it is because it says so in the script.
There is one interesting line that is said. As Coop watches himself in the past. leave his daughter to go on the mission, he says “Don’t let me go, Murph,” or words to that effect.
How is this interesting?
It implies there was something Murph could have said that would result in Coop staying.
But here’s the thing, we as an audience don’t believe him. We don’t think Coop means this because in the call to adventure section there was no moment of doubt there was no wanting to stay.
Can you see how the first stumble feeds into the second stumble?
If we thought there was a chance that Coop could have stayed then it would have made for an exciting choice.
As it is, there is no choice for Coop. He sends the coordinates through. Coop gets spat out into space near Saturn to get picked up by the surviving members of the human race.
The choice that Coop has is between saving the human race now or saving it later.
It’s not a choice as it ends with him saving humanity either way.
Another problem with this second stumble, this lack of choice, is the choice comes with no cost.
When Coop reunites with his daughter, now an old lady on her death bed, she is surrounded by family. We know that she lived a full, happy life and is surrounded by her family.
Where is the cost of the choice?
Every choice you make in this life comes at a cost. When it is not reflected in a drama, it leaves you a little cold to the proceedings.
Those two moments are my main issue with Interstellar.
What follows is me laying out the changes I would make to Interstellar.
There are some observations on the rest of the film, a kind of review, followed by a conclusion.
You can stop reading now if you want.
Interstellar: What changes would I suggest?
It’s easy to criticise.
It’s harder to offer a solution.
However, because I am such a wonderful person like that, I’ll give Christopher Nolan my notes, for free.
You’re welcome, lad.
First change – Get rid of the son.
The first significant change I would make is to get rid of the son character. Overall he doesn’t really add anything to the story.
In fact, Coop comes across as pretty insensitive in his treatment of him.
What I would do is change the son character to a next-door neighbour’s son. He would be interested in Murph, the daughter, but Coop thinks the boy is “beneath” his daughter.
While he might not be able to understand Murph. Maybe it is more concerned with being a good farmer. He is a steady pair of hands. He allows her to get on with furthering her career and developing the formula for gravity.
Second change – Make Call-Refusal-Acceptance clearer.
Another change that I would make was having some kind of conflict when it came to the left on the mission.
If anything I would have it that Murph is the one pushing him to go into space. I’d reverse the conflict.
Coop wants to stay, but Murph tells him to do it. He doesn’t want to go, but she tells him that he has to, for the good of mankind even if it means she misses out on having a father.
Third Change – Give Coop an actual choice
The last significant change I would make is him in the tesseract section or “behind the bookcase” sequence.
In the film, as it is, there is no real choice, so I would have to give him a more challenging choice.
In one option Coop doesn’t leave on the mission and stays with Murph on Earth. They have a good life together on a dying Earth with family.
The second choice would have that Murph discovers the code for gravity but dies alone. Yes, she saved humanity but at the cost of not having anyone to be with her.
What Coop would choose is entirely based on the moral you would want to convey. Is the individual more important than the group? Or does the individual sacrifice themselves for the group? What I like about this question is that it’s difficult to answer without being contradictory.
Anyway, those are the changes that I would make. Obviously don’t expect you to agree but it was a fun exercise.
What follows is a few more points, you don’t have to read on, it’s background information.
Some thoughts on Interstellar
Rewatching Interstellar, I realised it’s not great.
When I first went to see it in the cinema when it came out I was kind of like “Am I missing something?”
Somehow Interstellar has got worse over time.
It feels like it might be Nolan’s worst film. Now you’ll probably think I’m just hating for the sake of it, trust me when I say I’m not.
Wouldn’t say I’m a massive Nolan fan, but I appreciate his work.
Nolan one will go down in history as a guy who one of the most significant hot streaks in cinema history. From Batman Begins through to the Dark Knight Rises, you will never see a consistent set of films.
He was on top for longer than most. It feels like Interstellar took him off the top. Then again, what do I know?
Still, I felt like the film has aged worst out of all of Nolan’s films. Here are a few of my takeaways:
- The score is fantastic, how Hans Zimmer incorporated ticking clocks and organs is terrific.
- The film still looks great; however, some of the conceits don’t make sense or hurt the movie. Having the “GoPro” cameras on the ship makes it hard to work out what is happening in some of the suspense sequences.
- The acting is all over the place. McConaughey mumbles. Ann Hathaway gets all the clanger lines, and she does her best with what she has was given to work with.
- The famous scene of Coop watching the videos from his loved ones fell flat. Why? Because it was mainly with his son who he has no real relationship with.
- Around the halfway point the film turns into complete gibberish, and I have tuned out by this point.
- I really dislike how old Murph tells Coop to get out because she wants to be with her family, is he not family too? He’s a great great grandfather. I know filmmakers don’t want to get too bogged down, however it could have been handled more sensitively.
Those are some of the points I wanted to make.
Interstellar has some good points to it.
Overall it’s Nolan’s weakest film. Insomnia and The Prestige are, for my money, his best films. Dunkirk has improved with time.
As for similar but better films, there is Arrival which speaks more about how we fail to communicate with each other, it has time jumps that are better implemented than Interstellar.
If you want sci-fi with Matthew McConaughey dealing with father/daughter relationships, try Contact. Be warned about Contact, while it uses a sci-fi setting it is more a melodrama about reason v belief.
Personally, I love Contact. Highly recommend you watch. Contact is up there with Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit for Robert Zemeckis’ great films.
Interstellar isn’t great. It feels like the filmmakers had a release date and an idea before they had a concrete script. If they focused more on the writing, it could have been a classic.
If you are wondering why am I taking all this time just to dump on the film it’s because I like to be able to say why I do or do not like something. Rather than just saying “I don’t like it” and not questioning why.
Remember when you are telling your story:
- Have a call to adventure, refusal of call then acceptance
- You have to give your hero a choice at the end, and the decision has to matter.
Hope you enjoyed and thank you for reading.
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