Dreams of Distant Worlds: ‘Interstellar’ and the Value of the Cinematic Experience

By  · Published on November 7th, 2014

Paramount Pictures

The experience matters. Perhaps it has a lot to do with living in the bubble that is the Austin movie scene – where we’ve got “no talking” policies and an assortment of opportunities to Quote and Sing-along with movies on a weekly basis. Perhaps I’m just a purist. Either way, I believe that there are some movies, good and bad, that provide a unique and unmissable experience in a theater. There are some movies that just aren’t the same in your living room. Last year, Alfonso Cuaron gave us such a movie in Gravity, an exceptionally crafted roller coaster ride that was best seen on the biggest format with the loudest speakers.

This year, Christopher Nolan follows with a similarly themed, yet remarkably different ride in Interstellar. In an attempt to be both thoughtful and thrilling, Nolan has created something divisive. It’s ambitious and spectacular, emotionally moving and schmaltzy. The TL;DR version: it’s awe inspiring, but it’s also a mess. Yet while its complexity and ambition will drive the conversations we’ll have after seeing Interstellar, there’s no avoiding the fact that in the moment, in a quiet theater with a giant screen, it’s one hell of an experience.

At its surprisingly swift 169 minute runtime, Interstellar isn’t just one thing. We all want to be able to easily and often hyperbolically place it somewhere along the spectrum of movies. Is it good? Is it bad? Fresh or rotten? Is it the greatest movie of our generation or has Christopher Nolan created an expensive, over-wrought turd?

Here’s what it isn’t:

If we’re going to really give it a fair shake, we also have to look at what it is:

I found myself connected with its characters, bought into its story and at times, I was moved when the film wanted to move me. Matthew McConaughey is wonderfully emotive, keeping the core of the movie grounded while even the most fantastical things are happening around him. Anne Hathaway is equally as strong.

An easy argument would be to say that Interstellar trades ambitious spectacle for smart storytelling. That’s true in many ways. But it’s impossible to overlook how good this movie feels in the moment. It’s easy to get wrapped up in it, swept away by it and propelled into worlds unknown. Then somewhere well across the two hour mark, it takes a sharp dive into a wormhole and becomes a spiritual brethren of 2001: A Space Odyssey. For better or worse, Nolan never eschews the abstractness of space and time. Some of this weirdness might feel trite, but it does fit with the movie’s narrative. There is a cohesive, accessible story here that might not be overwhelmingly original, but it doesn’t get in the way of the experience being entertaining.

When we go to the movies, what do we really want? Escapism? Escapism is defined as “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.” Interstellar is escapism in its purist form. Plenty of movies in this era are made to be entertaining, but few are made to deliver this kind of experience. There’s value to that kind of experience. We want to be wowed. Like Cuaron last year, Nolan hasn’t just made a movie, he’s created an ambitious ride. It’s a ride worth taking and one we’ll be talking about well after its over.

Before deciding whether or not to see Interstellar, ask yourself this: “when is the last time I was really blown away by a theatrical experience?”

Wouldn’t you like to have the opportunity to make that happen today?

Thanks to Christopher Nolan and all his ambition, you do.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)