But while Inception is about dreams, its presentation bears no resemblance to, say, the vaguely similar Dreamscape from the '80s, in which Dennis Quaid must enter the President's mind to protect him from a dream assassin. In that film, there is a distinct break between the real world and the M.C. Escher dream world.
Dream scene from Dreamscape. Not pictured: Kate Capshaw's sensational breasts.
Ah, there we go.
Anyway, without going into the whole layered and protracted plot of Inception, it's fair to say that the dreams get increasingly complex, until the viewer feels they are in a dream within a dream. Furthermore, Nolan chose real world locations that could also mirror surreal dream states, until the viewer reached the ending uncertain if the protagonist was alive, dead, or still dreaming. If the audience is asking these questions, then they too were part of that experience, unsure which scenes they saw were meant to represent hard reality vs dream states. We do not just watch a movie about a man becoming lost in the dream; we too become lost, and debate reality and fact versus fiction, which makes the protagonist's decision to stop caring about parsing reality and simply embrace his children more significant.
Presents Science as the Action, Making the Star Our Surrogate Student [CONTAINS SPOILERS] [/subtitle]
I loved Interstellar for many reasons, and unlike some friends of mine who said the film left them cold, I bawled through most of it. It took me a while to figure out why, but basically, Interstellar was a Doctor Who episode, but instead of being about a Time Lord who enters his TARDIS to save humanity, it's about an ordinary man who learns to be a Time Lord to save humanity. Cracked has previously described Interstellar as "Batman in outer space," but I feel that overlooks the learning portion of the film, which is at the forefront. Indeed, knowing what Nolan can do with action scenes if he wants to (Batman), the action in Interstellar is incredibly muted, and for a purpose.
For example, you can hardly see the giant space lizards in this clip.
Interstellar tells the story of an Earth that's quickly losing its ability to generate food and is suffering massive population loss. Society has embraced only the practical -- farming in place of science. Cooper, a former pilot/engineer, now a farmer, stumbles upon the remains of NASA, which asks him to go into space to find a suitable planet on which humanity can repopulate. While in space, he is relying on NASA to finish calculations that can solve the gravity problem, allowing vessels large enough to carry the remaining humans into space.
Nolan based the Interstellar script on the theories of physicist Kip Thorne. That was his starting point: science. And he actually never leaves it. Theory, not Cooper, is the star of Interstellar. The first act of the movie is dedicated to outlining theories of time and space and the potential to see gravity as another dimension that can be manipulated in our three-dimensional world. Yes, it establishes our hero, Cooper, but his main traits are that he believes in science and will take any chance given. We see him repurposing army robots as farm equipment. He is naturally curious and a staunch defender of science, and he passes those traits on to his daughter.
The rest of the movie plays out immaculately, as Cooper bravely battles not monsters, or even nature, particularly, but resistance towards his attempts to acquire more knowledge, until he literally throws himself into a black hole to acquire data. That is the heroic act of the movie: learning. And Nolan never takes the focus off the pursuit of knowledge. Even in the scene where 100-foot tsunamis bear down on our heroes, resulting in one character's death, my pulse barely moved.
Calm before the storm, but, y'know, even the storm was kinda calm.
That's not a complaint. If you've seen Inception or The Dark Knight, you know Nolan knows how to entice and excite an audience. Here, Nolan pulls back from the obvious bells and whistles of a space adventure to put the focus on theory. Cooper is a hero not because he battles a foe or even because he's exceptionally brave. He is our hero because he never loses faith in science, and we are exposed to the same science, learning it with him and seeing it executed in a way that eschews cheap thrills. He is our student surrogate.
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