Last night, I finally got to watch Interstellar. I also found out why people have made the comparisons between it and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ll say right up front, I didn’t really care for 2001. When I was a teenager, I watched it, didn’t get it, and may have fell asleep during it. In the past year or two, I watched it again thinking that a dumb teenager probably wouldn’t understand the work of such a brilliant director such as Stanley Kubrick. The second viewing wasn’t much better than the first, however, I really do appreciate the opening sequence. The movie has long stretches of nothing happening. The ending was left, intentionally, ambiguous for the viewer to interpret what they will. A good understanding of this intent can be found at the appropriately titled Wikipedia page: Interpretations of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Interstellar shares some themes with 2001, including aspects of the ending. Interstellar’s final act gives more clarity to the viewer through exposition, while 2001 tries to utilize mise-en-scène to allow the viewer to interpret, for themselves, what the meaning and purpose of what is being viewed.
Last year, I saw, and loved, Under the Skin. The movie is nearly a silent film and I can recall no exposition through dialog, only through what the audience could observe through visuals. Under the Skin nails openness and intentional ambiguity. The story is specific enough to give a strong framework for the audience, but enough room to draw conclusions without having the filmmakers hold the hand of the audience completely.
Interstellar is nearly at the opposite end of the exposition spectrum. Cooper, some sort of experienced pilot, has to have wormhole theory explained to him with a 1st year physics student’s analogy, for example. This is done entirely for the audience, who may need this information, but the character should either have already known that or should have asked about this long before kissing his kids goodbye and getting on a spaceship to go to the wormhole. The concluding scene, which has some of the largest tracts of shared themes with 2001, contains much more exposition, spoon feeding the audience.
Under the Skin’s story has nothing, that I can recall, that wasn’t able to be demonstrated through visual storytelling, and because of that- I’m satisfied by how the film is executed. Interstellar and 2001 both contain elements that I cannot understand how they would be demonstrated to the audience without exposition. The filmmakers behind 2001 intentionally included the “openness” of the story to allow the audience to draw it’s own conclusions about “what really happened”, and because of that, I didn’t like the movie that much. Interstellar relies on exposition that sometimes can be heavy-handed, but is frankly necessary to tell a complete story.
If you liked 2001, that’s fine. If you liked 2001, you’ll probably find Interstellar a so-so knock off of 2001, but otherwise, it’s a good, albeit lengthy, film.