Wednesday 26 November 2014

Short Read: The Ending of the Graduate

The first time I saw the ending, I was young and na├»ve. My mind was addled by seeing homage’s of it in The Simpsons and Wayne’s World. I first viewed it as a heroic ending. The Boy got the Girl, the antagonists were vanquished, if only for a little while. I never really watched their faces. Nor did I grasp what the shot was trying to say. To me, it was all so very… safe.

It was only during a re-watch with my girlfriend, that my ignorance slapped me in the face. The foolhardiness of the Benjamin’s “plan”. The fact that there is no plan at all. Their faces not only show their youth, but just how lost they are at such a tentative and esoteric point at their life. I saw echoes of Mrs Robinson and her reasoning behind what she was trying to do despite her methods. In their faces I noticed their realisation. There’s beauty fading in that take, and they’re only just finding out. The moment is bittersweet. Their decision may leave them as jaded as those they’ve just left. The film’s title becomes a cruel joke. The Graduate? Of what? Certainly not Life. He has a lot to learn.

When a filmmaker can crystallise all the fear, worry, jaded and misguidedness of youth, his characters feel throughout the narrative, compile it into one moment and make this captured malaise seem so universal and iconic, it is then that we have a real storyteller. R.I.P Mike Nichols.

Review: Interstellar

Year: 2014
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Jonathon Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine

Synopsis is here:

I find it fascinating that Christopher Nolan has gone full Kubrick in order to bring to us what I consider to be his most heartfelt film to date. Nolan; like Kubrick, has often been considered a quite cold film maker, yet in spite of placing his clear 2001 influences on his sleeves for Interstellar, Nolan’s longest movie also holds one of his strongest central relationships. There were quite a few moments in the film, in which I found myself caught up not just in the scenes of Matthew McConaughey's Coop, his family and the intergalactic drama that plays out, but also the implications. 

Once leaving the cinema, however, unlike The Prestige (2006), Inception (2010) of The Dark Knight (2008), I found that my first impressions drifted away as quickly as they appeared. I had enjoyed the film and its playfulness towards relativity and physics. I fell in love with its ambition (a word used ad nauseam by critics/writers and myself when talking about this film) and often felt the tug of emotion when the film pulled the strings.  Yet Interstellar when I finally sat down to ponder it, never felt as complete as Nolan’s previous movies.

Thematically, I found the film enthralling, yet the concerns that many detractors have about Nolan felt more apparent here. The protracted nature of the film's structure and pacing for instance. Or the aspects of plot which felt far more convoluted than previous features did. When piecing the film together, the film often felt like a po-faced Fantastic Voyage (1966). The screenplay often played out more like a B-movie dressed up.

That is slightly unfair to the Nolan’s and B-Movies, but I did find the film's length, exposition and general sour-faced demeanour took away from some Nolan’s most majestic set-pieces, the film’s emotional core and its sense of adventure. I couldn’t care less about the science being exact. This new trend of factual nit-picking fictional films to death for accuracy, is tiresome, particularly for the likes of Nolan, who gets more aggression for his outlandish moments than others. Yet Interstellar is his biggest sci-fi sandbox and this time his need to keep everyone on the same page with exposition heavy dialogue was distracting. Particularly as I had already pieced together pivotal moments of the plot early on and found myself waiting for the characters to catch up.

Despite this, Nolan still manages to provoke interesting topics of thought. This is still a film which forces a viewer to have an opinion. The world of Interstellar is at times a compelling mixture of old school Americana and individualistic philosophy. While I didn’t think it didn’t hit that feeling of transcendence that I felt with Gravity (2013), the strength of Matthew Mcconaughey’s central performance helps realise just how large the stakes are, not just between him and his family, but with the world he has left behind.  

The dying America that has been left, is one that has decided to collectively dull down Earth’s scientific dreamers and explorers as mere delusions, in a reversal of how old school religion is sometimes viewed now.  The earth’s demise is scary for just how banal and accepting the people all are of whatever it is that may be destroying them. The Dustbowl small town America, we see is as authentic as I could imagine, but the behaviour of the people within it, also feels scarily accurate.
So do, the more fantastical set pieces. Nolan litters the film with imagery familiar to his own Inception, but still manages to provide a freshness to the action. One set piece (set sublimely to Hans Zimmer’s celestial score) involving the hard headed determination of Mcconaughey’s Coop, docking a shuttle back onto a rapidly spinning spacecraft, tingles the spine in a way little else has done this year.

With Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) said as a major influence, and its commercial objectives clearly in its sight however, Interstellar’s ambition gives way to an optimism that does appear a little forced. Abrupt character arcs and moments that were awkwardly placed in the movie finally give way to a final position that takes away a part of that ambiguity that a film of such a scope deserves. It brings the likes of a film like Alex Proyas’ Knowing (2009) into sharper focus. While a film I didn’t practically enjoy, its climax, though preposterous at the time hints at an amount of ambiguity that Interstellar takes a quarter step back from. Its closure hedges its bets somewhat.

Still, Interstellar is punctuated by small, remarkable moments of emotion resonance. While at times the film feels more surface level than Nolan’s previous endeavors, as a piece of mainstream spectacle, Nolan still sets a pretty high bar for grand adult orientated cinema. What I’ll really find fascinating is whether the film’s more engaging moments will find a way of burrowing in my psyche and finding some time to germinate. I feel there’s enough in Interstellar to do that.