Film Review: Interstellar
FIlm reviews on my site come along as often as a new Christopher Nolan movie, probably because his films are the usually the only ones that warrant a review to be written, and hence I’ve decided to keep with tradition.
As is expected with Nolan’s films, Interstellar requires you to think. The entire premise of the film rests on Kip Thorne‘s theories of wormholes (who is also the executive producer of the film), tied in with the story of a man who makes a sacrifice in leaving his family behind for the sake of humanity, the vast majority of the film can be separated into the two different aspects. Both work well, but not perfectly. A lot of people will struggle to follow the the science of the film, most of it was OK for me personally but I did specialise in Physics at school, I have a mild interest in astronomy, and a knowledge of a little Sufi metaphysics doesn’t hurt either, not everyone will have those things on their CV. But by the end I still had questions that required to me read over the synopsis on Wikipedia, for example what is Michael Caine’s character’s equation all about, and if it is all about gravity, how have the characters managed to get around weightlessness on their space station? What’s the difference between a wormhole and a black hole, (both of which make appearances in the film and up until this morning I thought were the same thing), what’s a singularity? What’s the fifth dimension? And so on. But my main gripe with the film comes with the ending (which I won’t mention here for anyone who doesn’t want spoilers), but you will know what I mean when you see it. For me it felt too much like Nolan wanting to leave behind his trademark “fantastic story grounded in reality” style just so he can make an existential homage to 2001.
Criticism aside, it’s a highly enjoyable film. I visit the cinema on average just twice a year (this will go down after the last Hobbit film next month), and when I do go I will usually watch a film at the BFI IMAX at Waterloo. As per Nolan’s previous works, he’s filmed a number of scenes using an IMAX camera, and it makes for an immersive experience. The film can be quite tense at moments and it’s further exacerbated by having the scene completely filling your vision with the tremendous audio that goes with IMAX technology. Despite the fact I would begrudgingly call myself a “Nolan fanboy”, I will readily admit there are flaws with the film, but I would still recommend it.
As Nolan’s non-Batman films tend to be existential in nature, for me I subconsciously tie the ideas being expressed with my religious background, while some may see this as a gimmick on my behalf, it shows an appeal for a film in how it can tie in with different people’s backgrounds, (for example parents will most likely reflect themselves with the connection between Matthew McConaughey’s character and his daughter). Early on in the film the characters believe that some type of beings that transcend spacetime have sent a wormhole to our solar system. Although this theory is replaced with another one at the end of the film, in its initial stage it reminded me of the concept of angels in our tradition. Matt Damon makes an appearance in the middle of the film, and his character brings about the question of self-sacrifice and morality in the face of utter desperation. Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey’s characters discuss the nature of love and how something abstract and sometimes irrational can have bearings on our otherwise rational environments, though really this scene truly shows how scientists can take non-rational ideas like love and spirituality and turn it into something really dry. All in all the film is largely an attempt to take some of the most abstract, far flung scientific theories that can be proven, and make them into tangible ideas to be reflected on. As I mentioned Sufi metaphysics previously, a lot of the ideas that can be found there are a way to help us expand our understanding in real physics, particularly the work of Ibn Arabi (Although not a direct example in this particular case, see Oludamini Ogunnaike’s paper on Ibn Arabi and Inception to get an idea of what’s achievable). Theories like wormholes and interstellar space travel are ideas gleaned by physicists from science fiction, and then have had “science fact” placed on top of them. There’s no reason why we can’t use metaphysics as another source of exploring our understanding of the universe. Take for example the statement of the Prophet ﷺ regarding his heavenly ascension that when he returned he found his bed was still warm, alluding to what we now call time dilation, which also plays a significant role in the film. Unfortunately as Muslims have come more closely intertwined with culturally Christian Europe, we’ve taken on this idea that science and religion are at odds with one another. Rather as Iqbal argues in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, new discoveries in science should help us to further our understanding of our faith and vice versa. But as long as both Muslims and militant atheists approach the Qur’an as some sort of literal science textbook to be either believed or disproved we won’t get anywhere.
So in conclusion, the fact that a film that runs in at just under three hours caused me to come up with these reflections is a testimony to it in itself. By no means his greatest film, I would say Mr Nolan has done it again.