Britishmisk's Blog

Category: Movies

Film Review: Interstellar

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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.

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Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

So here is another one of my rare film reviews, this time for the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s excellent Batman trilogy. There are minor spoilers, but nothing that cannot be found in the trailers or the synopsis.

According to Nolan himself, the theme for Batman Begins was fear, The Dark Knight was chaos, and for The Dark Knight Rises it’s pain. The film starts with Bruce Wayne still struggling with the pain he incurred from the previous film, both physically in his body, and spiritually in the loss of Rachel Dawes, the only woman he ever actually loved. As the film progresses we find many of the characters also having to struggle with the issue of pain. Gary Oldman’s excellently portrayed Comissionar Gordan still carries the burden of having to lie about what really happened to Harvey Dent in the previous film. Michael Caine arguably gives the best performance of the entire film, he carries on being the voice of reason in Bruce Wayne’s life, but eventually he finds himself burdened with the possibility of losing Bruce and failing in his promise to his parents. And then there’s Bane, much in the same way The Joker symbolised the theme of chaos in that film, Bane personifies pain in this one. Both in his brutish strength and dark, excellent back story, he challenges everything Batman has to offer in his strength and intelligence, but where he has the upper hand is how he uses the pain and suffering from his life as the cornerstone of his power, much more so than Bruce Wayne is able to use his for Batman. As a result Bruce Wayne must overcome the pain he suffers at the hands of Bane, both physically and spiritually, and then ‘rise’ to meet the challenge he faces.

The film starts quite slowly, as both Bruce Wayne and Batman have retired from the world, there’s not much that happens for a while after the great opening scene, Nolan starts off by introducing all the characters and getting the pieces into place. But once it gets going it’s an epic piece of cinematic brilliance. As expected from Nolan you have great action set pieces backed by an ethereal story that revolves around deep three dimensional characters. Hans Zimmer’s original score is one of the best I’ve heard and adds a real dimension to the intensity of the film, that by far warrants an oscar on its own.

The big question I suppose, is it as good as The Dark Knight? The problem is is that this film had The Dark Knight to contend with in the first place, if it didn’t have to, this film would have nothing to compare with and would have arguably been one of the best films ever created. Personally, I would say it’s just a level below The Dark Knight. Heather Ledger’s The Joker was in a class of its own, not just in the portrayal, but the sheer genius of his plan, how he attempts to create chaos and destruct everything that Gotham holds dear. The corruption of Harvey Dent was one of the most profound story lines in film, almost Shakespearean in its complicity and depth. The Dark Knight Rises has certain elements of that but it doesn’t have anything to match. That doesn’t take anything away from Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane, given he has no facial features to work with, his body language and dialogue bring across the ferocity and intensity of his character. This is still a great film, and a worthy conclusion to the trilogy, it has everything we hoped for and I personally cannot wait to see it again.

The Alchemist of Happiness

Full documentary on the life of al-Hujjat al-Islam Imam al-Ghazali. Enjoy.

EDIT: I also remembered there was an interview by the film maker with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf regarding the impact and significance of Imam al-Ghazali in Islamic scholarship, well worth watching with the documentary:

Trailer – The Blessed Tree

This is the trailer for a new documentary about the rediscovery of the blessed tree in modern day Jordan, where the Prophet (SAWS) rested as a child and where Bahira the monk recognised him as being a Prophet of Allah. Looks very interesting.

Inception: ‘Islamic’ movie review

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This will be the second of only two movie reviews I have done for this blog. The fact that I can be bothered writing about it should be testimony to how good the film actually is. First of all I’ll just give a general review and at the end I want to add some insights I had when watching the film. This will contain brief spoilers:

Christoper Nolan made his mark with Hollywood after Batman Begins, from there he’s slowly risen through the ranks of the industry’s elite and can now safely confirm his spot amongst the very best filmakers they have. Given the popularity he has achieved with the Batman franchise, he’s been able to express his artistic freedom in his own solo films and have an audacity to go where very few American films would dare to go. His films have added new meaning to the term ‘plot twist’, where many films have now lost that surprise element by reusing the same old conundrums at the end (The good guy is actually the bad guy/The protagonist is the culprit of the crime etc.) Nolan does away with the cliches and comes up with fresh and original ideas that few in California would have the brains to come up with.

The film centres around Leonardo DiCaprio’s character who can enter people’s dreams to steal their secrets. One day after a failed attempt at one of these jobs, a Japanese businessman played by Ken Watanabe offers him a deal to plant an idea into someone’s head (inception), and in return he will give him the ability to enter back into the United States from where he has been barred. What results is a complicated plan to pull off what could be described as ‘metaphysical espionage’. The real highlight of the film is the idea Nolan has come up with regards to different levels of consciousness within dreams. The team of ‘dream hijackers’ have an ability to make the victim of their crime believe the dream is a reality, and within that induce the dreamer to sleep again and go into another dream, and therefore enter into deeper levels of the person’s consciousness, they then do the same process to get further down into the person’s mind until necessary, so that when they awake the person has absolutely no idea that an idea has been planted. The real eye candy of the film is when you have multiple realities taking place at the same time and how they effect each other through the different levels of consciousness. What results is an intense mental ride that will have you amazed and looking on in wonder at how such a cinematic feat was achieved. An example: At the first level of the dream, a car is reversing backwards over a bridge, as a result in the second level gravity has been lost, one of the characters is struggling to prepare to wake the rest of the team from their sleep, where they are in a dream at a third level of consciousness. Meanwhile in reality, all of this is taking as the characters are asleep on a plane during a 10 hour flight between Sydney and Los Angeles. It has to be seen to be believed.

Now the ‘Islamic’ part: Islam has a lot to say about dreams, some of them, particularly before the dawn prayer, may have a certain degree of revelation from heaven in them. Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an:

“Allah takes the souls at their time of death, and (also) those that have not died yet – during their sleep. Then He keeps those for which He has decreed death and releases the others for a specified term. Indeed, in this are signs for those who reflect.” 39:42

Our souls, to a certain extent, leave our bodies during sleep. They enable us to travel from the lower physical realm of the world ‘Alam as-Shahada to the intermediate sensory world ‘Alam al-Latif, and then finally to a realm where ideas are in their purest form ‘Alam al-Jabarut. Now where does this tie in with Inception?

In Inception, Nolan has come with an idea in his plot that the further one travels into consciousness, the further time expands. So for example within a 10 hour flight, traveling down into 3 levels of consciousness, results in one feeling as though they have been there for around 10 years. Now this I found interesting. In the Qu’ran Allah (SWT) tells us a day in heaven is like a 1000 years on earth (32:5), take that into the context of the idea that dreams enable the spirit to travel between the earth and heaven. Traveling between the different spiritual realms also entails getting closer to Allah, moving past the 70,000 veils that He has placed between Himself and His creation. Moving closer and closer to the Infinite, letting time continually expand until it has no end and you reach the realm of the ultimate reality (al-Haqq), where Allah resides, the place where place no longer has any meaning, where time and space become nothing. This was the reality of the Prophet’s (SAWS) ascension to heaven, where all the veils were lifted and he experienced and saw Allah.

Now before we get carried away, I’m not implying this is what Christopher Nolan intended with his film, it is at the end, just a film. But in my crazy little world this was what was going through my head contemplating on the ideas of consciousness presented within it. And something I wanted to share with other people.

To finish with that, those who have seen the movie have wondered whether the entire thing was all part of DiCaprio’s dream. Well one could argue, if it was, then his spindle would have not fallen over during numerous points in the film, as by the end of it we have reached the (apparent) highest level of consciousness throughout the entire story. On the other hand, his totem is not his own, it’s his wife’s, also take into account that at then beginning of the film, Ken Watanabe’s character holds it, which as DiCaprio’s character pointed out in the film, defeats the purpose of the object being your own personal totem. At the end, I think only Christopher Nolan will know the answer, and I have a feeling he himself may not have decided whether or not it was all a dream…

Avatar-3D: Review

Something completely different from what I’ve done before, a movie review!

The reason why I’ve decided to review this film on my blog is simply because I haven’t felt like the way I did when I watched this movie, since seeing Jurassic Park in 1993 as an 8 year old. This is a groundbreaking film that has taken cinema to another level.

This was the first 3D film I had seen and it is definitely worth paying extra and going out of your way to see it in 3D. This film defines the term ‘eye-candy’, your mind and eyes are taken on a journey that you have never been on before, the visuals, character design, set pieces are extremely realistic and you feel you are actually there.

The only downsides to the film are the length and story. At over 2 and a half hours I get uncomfortable sitting in the same seat, plus the 3D glasses can give quite a few people a headache after a while. The story is not very original, a guy who feels he is an outcast finds solace in a people who are completely different to him. Add into that the battle between technology and nature, the west vs native indigenous people, you get the idea. But to be honest the unoriginal story didn’t concern me too much, it’s how that story is delivered, which is something James Cameron has no probably in doing. (He is pretty much the only director in Hollywood’s history to make two decent sequels, which speaks for itself).

So go and see this movie if you have any appreciation for cinema at all, and take your kids to see it, they’ll love it. The violence isn’t too bad and the only risque scene is a bit of CGI alien doo-daa, which most kids today will find pretty tame.