On Nov. 14, visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan released his most ambitious and groundbreaking film to date — “Interstellar.” The film — inspired by the work of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne — raised a lot of hype leading up to its release. People were excited: a cinematic experience rivaling the greatness of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and the filmmaker responsible for “The Dark Knight” trilogy pushing his limits, going above and beyond to provide the most thrilling film experience in ages. Not to mention an elegantly well-rounded cast (or the fact that space is always awesome).
Every aspect of this film should make it the most popular cinematic experience in ages. Why then, my fellow humans, is “Interstellar” underperforming at the box office and being met with meticulous critique?
For those who are unfamiliar with the film, “Interstellar” is the story of NASA pilot-turned-farmer-turned-wormhole pioneer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) who leads a last-ditch mission to find a planet capable of sustaining life as the “blight” plague slowly destroys what is left of Earth’s crops. Leaving his family behind for the daunting mission of saving humanity, Cooper and three accompanying crew members travel through a recently discovered wormhole next to Saturn, which takes them to another galaxy containing three planets that could potentially serve as a home for humanity.
In case this isn’t yet clear, I loved it. It’s a film that not only delivered in terms of its scope and its epic subject matter, but also touched on a great deal of thought-provoking ideas. It wasn’t just a good film; it was a film experience unlike anything else I’ve seen. There was something about it that resonated well after its credits rolled. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is what films are intended to be. They’re supposed to be something you encourage everyone you know to see. They’re supposed to resonate with you. They’re supposed to make you wish they would never end.
I expected this film would be met with high praise and acknowledged for the masterpiece it is. These expectations were shattered after a quick examination of the film’s box office performance. Though it was recognized and reviewed positively by several critics, it was also met with a vast number of critiques, some even going so far as to shine a negative light on the film. Specifics aside, the most common critiques I noticed targeted the film’s plot holes, as well as the “cerebral” nature of Nolan’s filmmaking.
Reading these and thinking back on the film, I became disappointed. Not by the glass-shattering realization that this film won’t be met with the respect I expected, nor by the reviews (as some were accurate — harsh and unnecessarily meticulous at times, but mostly accurate). I’m disappointed that these reviews, in their disregard of all of the phenomenal aspects of this groundbreaking film, shine a light on the modern film audience and what its expectations have become.
The common themes I noticed in these reviews reflect a sad truth regarding the state of our film audience. People don’t care for the film as a whole anymore, nor do they care for subtleties. Critics didn’t care that “Interstellar” is the most ambitious blockbuster of our generation. Instead of relaying to the public what this film does to stand out and challenging other filmmakers to follow suit, they focused on the nuts and bolts. They didn’t mention its mind-bending manipulation of time. They didn’t acknowledge the strong emotional heart at its center. They took the Mona Lisa and nitpicked it.
Drastic analogy, I realize, but it’s important to put into context just how great this film is. Don’t get me wrong — it has its flaws, but it isn’t just the experience that makes it so great. It’s the film’s innovation and originality. I understand Nolan’s grounded approach to filmmaking attracts a lot of additional critiques, but it hardly seems fair to condemn him for working toward something greater.
Hollywood has gotten lazy, and we’re letting them. We as audience members are submitting our ballots and funding their couch-sitting and potato chip consumption. “Big Hero 6,” an animated superhero film, outperformed “Interstellar” in the box office its opening weekend, for crying out loud. I love my superhero films, but it’s also nice to have some variety and innovation. We’re getting over 40 superhero films in the next four years. I’m personally ecstatic about this, but at the same time, this is happening only because studios know they’ll sell. They trust in their superhero franchises because we let them get away with exploiting our predictability.
Is “Interstellar” too complex for our lethargic film-viewing audience? Is it suffering from a lack of explicit, straightforward storytelling? I think so. The reception the film has received thus far is a cinematic crime. We shouldn’t be talking about the specificities of what we personally didn’t like about the film. We should be talking about what it does to challenge the medium of film: the ideas it provokes, the masterfully shot, beautiful journey on which it takes its audience. At the end of the day, I believe “Interstellar” is one of the most important films of our generation, whether or not we give it the credit it deserves.