The other night, Josh and I drove to Cedar Rapids for dinner and a movie. We ate at Carlos O’Kelly’s, which is always fun since I haven’t yet had a server who was anything less than extremely friendly (in all fairness, I’ve only eaten there a handful of times). The food was good, I educated Josh on the benefits of fruit-infused water and the tastiness of salsa con queso (he’s just gonna take my word for it), and I stained my white camisole with salsa, black beans, and queso.
The highlight of the night was, of course, the movie, which was pretty amazing. We chose to see Interstellar, and we were one of three couples viewing the movie that night. It’s usually pretty awesome when there aren’t many people in your theater, because you have a much better chance of getting a good seat and nobody notices if you whisper to each other once in a while.
With the run time sitting at just about 3 hours, Interstellar gave me a lot to digest. Walking out to the car after it ended, all I could really articulate was the strong impression it gave me of being like a book. I couldn’t really say why that was, but I’ve been mulling it over since then and hopefully I can offer some sort of explanation.
First of all, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I’d been wanting to see it for a while already, and it did not disappoint my high expectations.
It was so different from what I expected, though–and so much more.
As someone who has spent her lifetime with her nose buried in a book, I have a great love for storytelling, character development, and worldbuilding. Fantasy is my go-to favorite genre, but I grew up watching Star Wars religiously and science fiction is a close second.
I’m not really an expert on what it is exactly that separates the typical movie experience from the typical book experience, so bear with me as I try to put my finger on it in this post.
In my experience, books can convey a lot more information directly to the reader than a movie can to its viewers. There are some things a book can tell you with words that a movie can’t really work into a visual representation. Readers can take as long as they want to finish a book and, if need be, they can flip back a few pages to refresh their memories the next time they pick up the novel. Movies demand the audience to watch in one sitting, and aren’t easily perused for those who only saw part of the movie and want to remember what happened before they finally get to finish.
So there are a lot of limits on what a film can do when it comes to things like character building, where it might take too long to really flesh out a character in a movie that is only a couple hours long. And a paragraph-long description of a building in a book might be reduced to a 3-second camera pan in the movie, where details are often going to be missed by the eager viewers who want action.
Okay, so why was Interstellar so striking to me? Why did I feel the urge to keep saying it felt like it could have been the movie adaptation of a book, if created by an avid book-lover?
Honestly, I’d need to watch the movie a few more times to give any sort of detailed insight into this question. My first time seeing a movie, reading a book, listening to a song, what I take away are impressions and emotions. Details come more slowly to me.
Based on my impressions, then, I’d have to say that rather than using the 3-hour length of the film to throw more action and cool visual effects in there, the creators chose to lovingly develop the emotional bonds between characters, the current state of the world (using “show don’t tell”), and the realistic representation of what such a situation would be like.
It wasn’t overly romanticized, like you’ll find in most movies. The main character was rough around the edges, not necessarily endearingly so, but through his interactions with his kids you saw his heart. All the characters were like that; they had their flaws and their strengths, and I never felt like “that character is too much of x to be realistic” (the actors were phenomenal, by the way). They didn’t discover hyperspace or faster-than-light travel, and time was an extremely important theme in the movie. It was painful to watch sometimes. On one hand, I wanted some magical solution to appear that would allow Cooper to gain back the time he lost and see his daughter young again. On the other hand, I was vastly more impressed with how careful the movie was to stay believable. I think trivializing such difficult realities would have turned the epic scale of the film and its adventures into something generic and unremarkable. Sure, the visual effects would have been awesome enough to make the film worth watching, but keeping that depth and staying true to the characters’ struggles, pain, and victories (however bittersweet), allowed me to connect on a deeper level to the story it told.
I didn’t walk away from Interstellar thinking “Oh, that was really awesome to watch.” I walked away thinking about the characters, about the story, about the pain and perseverance. My eyes were satisfied, and my heart felt like it had just gone on the same journey the characters took. And my mind? My mind was inspired to explore, to ask questions, to review, and it hasn’t stopped yet.