Interstellar

Interstellar

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Mathew McConaughey, Ann Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
Runtime: 179 minutes   Year: 2014
Grade: A

 

As a self-proclaimed cinephile, I shamelessly brag to anyone who would listen that I watched Nolan’s “Memento” at a theater when no one knew who the director was. I was either 17 or 18 back then. As young and naive as I was, watching the movie was a transformative experience; it was that day that I felt the greatness of film. Since then, the movie, along with Won Kar-Wai’s “In the Mood for Love,” remains my all-time favorite movies.

Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.

His new movie, “Interstellar”, is better than “Inception,” yet for the sake of space-movie comparison, is not better than Cuaron’s “Gravity.” Beginning with “Inception”, Nolan’s movies have become overtly post-modern. Although “Interstellar” seems to have a grand-narrative that guides the story in a fairly linear fashion during the runtime of 3 hours, a viewer should not try to comprehend all, or even most, of the storyline, or at least the logic underlying the storyline structure. Like many post-modern products, the effect (or pure experience) triumphs the content, and this is true for “Interstellar” as well.

The cast and the director of the movie.

Let’s hope that the cultural products are not reliable depiction of reality because this movie continues the endless outpouring of the-earth-will-come-to-end-very-soon movies in recent years. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former Nasa astronaut but now a mere farmer in a corn field, is convinced by old Dr. Grand (Michael Caine) to fly out to the space to find a new, habitable planet because our earth is dying. Cooper, beside being a former astronaut and a farmer, is foremost a father. He has a son and a daughter, and his relationship with the latter is what drives most of his choices.

Once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost of your children’s future.

The spaceship, named ‘Endurance’, travels through the wormhole to enter another galaxy to gather data left by the astronauts previously flown out a decade earlier. As most space movies are wont to be, the dramas ensue due to our limited understanding of the infinite, dark space, the conflicted priorities of the astronauts, and of course, the altered space-time continuum. When they land on a planet circling near the wormhole, their single hour is equivalent to 7 years in Earth time. As can be expected, something goes awry, and they end up spending more than 3 hours on the planet. When they get back on the spaceship, 23 years’ worth of video messages from the earth are compiled, and when Cooper watches the messages, sobbing, knowing that in just 3 hours, he had missed in entirely his children growing, any parents would shed tears along with him.

McConaughey brings many emotions to the movie.

Yes, although the movie is supposedly about the end-of-the-world and space travel, it is also about human relationship, especially that of father-daughter. Another parallel father-daughter relationship is drawn by old Dr. Brand and his daughter (Ann Hathaway). In an interview, Nolan mentioned that he couldn’t have made the film if he himself had no daughter. His previous movie, “Inception”, also featured a main character who wanted to return to his children. This desire and his subsequent decisions to realize it took precedence over all others. This simple portrayal of parent-child relationship played out in the background of infinite spaces and dreams, an allegory that love, gravity, and power of our dreams are equally powerful force in our lives, is maybe Nolan’s greatest feat in his recent movies.

Nolan, in this movie, wittily plays with the concept of altered space-time continuum. Possibly the highlight of the movie, the scene where Cooper is aloft and lost inside the wormhole is interesting and complex. In the wormhole, he realizes that he can communicate to Earth in its any given time frame, even the past. In short, he can control all the contingencies of the events. Is there such thing as fate? Or are our fates also controlled by ourselves? That whatever happens happens due to our choices and actions only? Do Harry Potter readers remember in Book 3 that it was Harry himself who saved himself from death-eaters from the other side of the river? Here, Nolan is embedding a subtler message that we are responsible for everything and that there is no one to blame, especially our responsibilities to each other and to the earth.

The movie, unanimously praised by general populace yet divided among critics, is a truly unique movie experience. Although not cogent in some places, the movie entertains and touches us. With this much amount of entertainment and pathos, the movie is bound to succeed, both commercially and artistically.

Trailer:

Interview with the director:

Alive

Alive (산다)

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Director: Park Jung-Bum

Year: 2014

Genre: Drama, Korean Cinema

Grade: B+

Included in this year’s AFI (American Film Institute) Film Festival’s international auteur category, “Alive” is relentlessly sad and brooding drama written, directed, and acted by Park Jung-Bum. The director was present at this screening for Q&A session, and he said before the screening that he would like to apologize for showing such a gloomy film in a beautiful city like Los Angeles. Yes, gloomy it was, yet it was atmospherically beautiful and tacitly revelatory. Lasting three hours, the movie is a mimesis of a mundane life of one laborer in his late 30s whose fate just does not give him a break. He works hard and lives an honest life. He cares for people around him even though he is not in the position to do so.

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Director Park with his father at AFI Film Festival

Thrown in the midst of a number of hardships, Jeong-Cheol nevertheless endeavors within his limits to care for those around him. His sister is mentally unstable and often disappears, leaving her young daughter alone. His friends think he is at fault for the unpaid wages. He loves a woman, yet since both can’t afford the proper residence, they sleep in a sleeping bag in the crumbling building. To make extra bucks for his niece’s piano lesson, he cuts and gathers firewood in a mountain where endless line of giant tumbleweed and skeletal, ominous trees stand as a metaphor for a harsh, unforgiving life. Yet, his greatest challenge, or the saddest moment reveals itself when he confesses that no one understands his earnest effort to help those he loves.

The movie follows Jeong Cheol’s everyday life, and although many conflicts ensue, they don’t feel urgent. The true conflict lies in living, as the title suggests. Conflicts are innate in being alive, in being in relationship with other people, the movie seems to say. However, this subtle message is difficult to convey through the medium of moving pictures. They can be done effectively, yet few achieve such feat. Although the movie is three hours along, it doesn’t drag much except at certain intervals. The main problem was the acting with some specific actors. (The director’s own father plays the boss in the bean paste factory, whose role is somewhat significant. It was his first time acting, and it showed).

The director commented during the Q&A session that he wanted to embed in the movie his faith that human beings can bring salvation to other human beings. Why are we all alive in this seemingly meaningless world? He said he had kept asking “why?” during the script-writing process. Although disappointed and dejected, Jeong-Cheol in the end still errs to the kindness.

Director Park with JJJ Review writer Richard Cho
Director Park with JJJ Review writer Richard Cho

It takes great courage to write and direct a movie whose aim is a candid portrayal of human life caught in mundane struggles. Most movies are dealt with exaggerated conflicts, but in truth, our lives are mostly goaded and challenged by mundane struggles. Such film like “Alive” is important in a sense that it is more lucid, candid representation of human life, such as what most arts ought to be. Director, writer, and actor Park Jung-Bum will be someone to watch out for in the movie scenes in the years to come.

The interview with the director: Here