I have some pretty serious anxiety issues. I was diagnosed with OCD and a generalized anxiety disorder as a child. In college, I used to spend hours wracked with nausea; dry heaving into my toilet in between knocking out heavy tomes from Kant and Hobbes and trying to write 20 page papers on the existence of holes. Looking back now, philosophy might not have been the best choice of study for a sometimes not so high-functioning neurotic like myself. Over the years, I’ve learned to manage it better, but occasionally the panic rears its head in times of extraordinary stress. Or when I go to the movies.
Interstellar, from what I heard before I went to see it, was going to be an intense film. But I’ve actually noticed that going to the movies in general makes me uncomfortable. I usually spend the first 20 minutes of darkness trying to breath like a normal human being and fighting off a strange tingling sensation in my hands. Theaters are always too cold and I have a nagging habit of wanting to look around at everyone’s faces in the dark to see if anything weird is happening (because I am weird).
It would be easy to dismiss Interstellar as another star-studded, Hollywood block-bluster circle jerk of explosions and trite dialogue and, at times, that’s exactly how it felt. The film is asking large, unanswerable, scary questions that don’t have a nice and tidy answer. Films like this should not have nice and tidy endings. Take the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a film that haunted me for months after I saw it (the book wasn’t exactly a light read either). The Road was hard, brutal, and painful and did not end on any kind of satisfying note. That was what made it brilliant and challenging. Interstellar failed in this respect. The ending, while not tidy, was too hopeful for a story so clogged with commentary on the tenuous nature of humanity. Not everything happens for good reason and life is not fair. The fact that (spoiler alert) Matthew McConaughey miraculously lives through a black hole, only to wind up on some kind of survival colony that his daughter set up (who is now older than him because space and time and planets, ammirite?) felt wrong. It was a halfassed apology from a director who just spent close to three hours giving his audience a panic attack. Sorry dude, too little too late.
Where Interstellar didn’t fail is in its tone throughout the rest of the film. With the exception of some cheesy bits of dialogue and the severe overuse of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” (Christopher Nolan needs to cool it with the dramatic voice overs), the film felt thoroughly gripping. So gripping, in fact, that I spent a good 20 minutes nearly throwing up when I got home because I was so stressed out by most of the movie. When you’re sitting on the edge of your bathtub, gagging and spitting until your eyes water, you have to give someone at least a little credit for crafting a film so intense that it almost made someone sick.
Death is scary and there is a lot of fucking death in this movie. Not the tidy “I’m old and it’s my time death,” but the kind of death that feels unfinished and messy. Call me crazy, but there’s something about the idea of being swept away by a massive tidal wave on a foreign planet in another galaxy that just seems a little more terrifying then, say, having a heart attack in your living room. The added unsettling bonus is the race against time that’s ever present during the whole movie. McConaughey is constantly trying to get back to a planet that is moving through time more quickly then him. Spend too much time on one planet, and oops there goes seven years on earth. It forces us to think about how finite our time is no one likes to dwell on that issue too much.
When I was young, I had nightmares about trying to figure out what infinity was. To this day, it’s still a large part of why I don’t sleep well. Going to the movies makes me claustrophobic and Interstallar almost made me sick, but I’d probably do it again because being uncomfortable is important. We are so far removed from death in our day-to-day life, that it’s easy to forget an inevitable end. We are working on a deadline and that deadline gives our lives purpose and meaning.
Interstellar fucked with my head in a way that good media should. Do I think it’s a good movie? Honestly, I don’t have any idea how I feel about it in terms of good or bad. What I do know is that it made an impact on me to the point where I lost sleep and felt that I needed to write an 800+ word article just to feel better. Anything that leaves that kind of dent isn’t entirely without merit.