You know when you’re watching a movie and little weird, unexplained things happen but they’re usually so small and/or infrequent that you just let it slide when none of the characters pay any attention to them? Then, roughly three-quarters of the way through the movie a huge plot twist occurs that forces you to reexamine those moments through this new, improbable lens as if it explains everything that has come before it? Except that this twist is so fantastical and romantic that your suspension of disbelief is totally blown out of the water? Yeah, that’s what I call getting M. Night Shyamalaned.
I love The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable is a pretty great movie but when I say, “getting M. Night Shyamalaned,” it definitely has negative connotations; I don’t think I need to explain why.
This happened to me recently while watching Interstellar (Dir. Christopher Nolan), which seemed like it was going to be at least an enjoyable watch, if not my favorite thing ever. Matthew McConaughey is a would-be astronaut turned farmer and single dad in a not too distant future where humanity is on the brink of extinction due to failing food sources. He stumbles upon a group of scientists trying to save humanity by finding a new planet to inhabit and he gets to be the astronaut he always wanted to be.
It’s certainly an interesting premise and it has a great cast which also includes Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway and John Lithgow. For the first two hours, I was having a pleasant time. The cinematography is gorgeous; the colorists should be beyond proud of their work. The music, too, is amazing. And while not one of my favorite directors, Nolan is always interesting and I usually like his movies (except The Dark Knight Rises–what a mess).
(Please note that SPOILERS abound from here on out.)
Two-thirds in and wham! M. Night Shyamalaned! And in the absolute worst way. A few unexplainable, supernatural things have happened, have been totally left untouched while the story unfolds and then the explanation finally comes and it’s HUGE, fantastical and asks the audience to just accept it because it’s so GREAT. I’m not buying it. All of the heartache, moody atmosphere and poignancy the film created leads to McConaughey miraculously discovering a fifth dimension through a wormhole in space that is actually in his house and he saves humanity with dust particles and Morse code? AND he gets to survive? What?
I call shenanigans. It doesn’t make sense and asks the audience to swallow something that has little to no foreshadowing in the film. The real kicker, for me though, is that it doesn’t fit the story.
The film up until this miracle is understandably sad but also moving. (That sequence in the middle of the movie where Cooper [McConaughey] and Brand [Hathaway] lose Doyle [Wes Bentley] on the water planet only to return to the ship so many years later and Romilly [David Gyasi] is so much older and sad, and then they watch years worth of video messages from their loved ones is non-stop, gut-wrenching heartache.) The decision to ground Interstellar in real science gives the film an authentic quality that makes the demise of human life through human means seem not only plausible but probable. And the ending is a deus ex machina at its worst, erasing the heartbreak and even a semblance of real-life consequences for humanity’s part in their downfall by making it go away through magic prettified by science. Everything is wrapped up too neatly and sweetly. It is a fairytale that doesn’t fit. This is particularly true if Nolan wanted to use the film as a platform for social commentary on human consumption, waste, GMOs, global warming, etc. That commentary is effectively nullified by the ending because humanity faces no real consequences for their own part in making the Earth inhospitable.
Elyse shared this Vulture article with me that says Jonathan Nolan, the main screenwriter and brother of the director, originally had written an unhappy ending for the script, which I find incredibly interesting. Jonathan Nolan didn’t elaborate on what his ending entailed but for how serious this film is an unhappy or at the very least a more ambiguous ending makes more sense to me. In a Hollywood blockbuster there is never a chance that everyone on Earth is going to die in such a serious movie, but the fact that McConaughey’s character lives and everyone on Earth is saved, living in space like it’s no big deal is way too much to swallow.
Thus, I was M. Night Shyamalaned by Interstellar. I left the theater grumpy and annoyed, which was only exacerbated by the fact that I seemed to be the only one who felt this way! I can’t be the only one, right? Did the ending of this film throw anyone else for a loop? Or have you had a similar experience with a movie that wasn’t directed by the notorious Shyamalan? Please share! (Clearly, I love a good rant.)