Christopher Nolan’s films are “smart” blockbusters, meaning they can require a considerable amount of thinking relative to most other extremely popular films nowadays (see Marvel). Because Inception, The Dark Knight, The Prestige, etc. are packaged so sleekly and intelligently, and because there is undeniably technical skill on display in each of his films, we might forget that what we’re watching is nothing more than grand entertainment; it exists almost exclusively to inspire awe and rake in millions of dollars. How much more thankful of Nolan we should be for making Interstellar and distracting us once again.
Many have pointed this out about Nolan: He has a reputation now as the one filmmaker on the planet whose films consistently open to $50-$100 million-earning weekends and yet who also consistently releases original (co-written with his brother) and visually, emotionally, and intellectually striking work. Perhaps it could be said that he is the heir to Spielberg, but Spielberg’s films rarely lead to the level of anticipation or ticket sales that Nolan’s do.
I doubt I have to explain the popularity of Nolan much further. Chances are that you have seen most of his movies. I remember earnestly anticipating Interstellar in 2014. Disappointed by how simple the story of a father leaving home seemed and yet how long it took Nolan to tell it, the experience felt ostentatious and surprisingly dull. After recently seeing Interstellar for the first time since its opening weekend, I found much more to enjoy. It is wonderful how exhilarating it can be to revisit a film with adjusted expectations.
Interstellar should not be limited to its melodrama or scientific theorization. Both can make Nolan’s ambition easy to dismiss. Yes, it is only entertainment. It’s long and slow and the Nolans write dialogue which sounds only like movie dialogue. But all are tolerable imperfections considering all that the film has to offer: philosophical and scientific implications, visual wonders, a powerful score, a genuinely moving human story, and an experience of highly concentrated imagination that uses the size of the theater screen to stunning effect. Despite any negative elements stands the star-studded blockbuster to end all blockbusters, a rumination on the end of mankind on earth and even the blockbuster film itself. Inevitably, it concludes that both must adapt to survive.