Was really looking forward to this one, and just a tiny bit disappointed; not entirely sure it’s OK to say so, since so many others have such strong opinions, and lots of people really like it.
It’s visually arresting, though not as much so as other Nolan films. The audio was murky, though this might be my declining ears (I find myself saying that more and more) or even the crappy sound system at Muswell Hill Odeon. Whatever the reason, I missed some of the dialogue, though this didn’t seem to matter all that much. It’s a film of images and themes. The images are striking enough, and they function as visual cues to call up reserves of associations and feelings.
The dust bowl is one. The film begins with documentary-style talking heads, people talking about the wind-blown dust. Actually, they are real documentary talking heads, from another film about the 1930s dust bowl. There are shots of American climate refugees who look just like the Oakies of the 1930s, down to the trucks – explained by the fact that the climate crisis, and a population crash, means that everyone is making do with retro technology.
And maybe it’s just me, but I thought that the space suits – particularly the helmets – looked more like the ones worn by Soviet cosmonauts than American astronauts. That wouldn’t fit with the overall story line, which is about the ultimate triumph of the American way of life – Old Glory on the surface of planets in other galaxies – but it does help to give the space effort a sort of battered retro look.
Another visual cue is the film 2001 A Space Odyssey, to which this has sometimes been compared. I saw 2001 when it was already old, and I don’t have the feeling of reverence for it that some people seem to have. I can still recognise the scenes which evoke the earlier film, though – some of the shots of the ring-shaped array of docked spacecraft, the sequence when they pass through the wormhole – and the overall theme of humans being curated by a benevolent external intelligence.
It’s more about the themes than anything else. The plot and the narrative drags a bit. The dialogue is not important, and the characters are mainly uninteresting – apart from Matt Damon’s character. But there really are lots of big themes. Ecological crisis, climate change, and future food shortages. The relationships between parents and children, and what each owes to the other. The role of science and technology. General and special relativity, and the way that the physics of space travel would impact on the relations between the generations.
Others have commented on the underlying politics of the film – the message that it doesn’t entirely matter that we’ve fucked up the planet, because science and technology will be able to build us an escape route to other worlds, and that anyone who says we need to fix this planet because it’s the only one we have is a misguided liberal – and a dishonest conspiracy nut too, prepared to spread the lie that the moon landings were faked if it serves a purpose.