Christopher Nolan's Parallel Editing in Interstellar

I went back to see Interstellar in Imax, and I have to say that the massive shot of the wormhole is worth the price of admission alone.

Overall I feel much the same as I did the first time. I have problems with the film, most of which stem from the limitations of the "high concept blockbuster" model; but whatever problems I have are basically mitigated by my admiration for Nolan's desire and ability to make big budget films which are artistically and thematically motivated. Hans Zimmer's score also blows me away. But where Nolan really excels is in his use of parallel editing. This is something he made obvious in Inception (cutting between different dream levels), but it's been present all the way back to Following and plays an integral part in his signature nonlinear narrative structure. Here he simply applies the method to travel through space and time.

***Minor Spoilers Below***

Take the scene where Matt Damon blows up the Endurance, for example. Here we have traditional cross-cutting: shots alternate between Matt Damon trying to get into the Endurance, Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway trying to stop him, and the objective shot showing the two airlocks not connecting properly. This is a classical way to establish tension which goes all the way back to D. W. Griffith and The Birth of a Nation. We have our good guys, we have our bad guys, and we have our conflict. But Nolan adds another layer.

Throughout this entire scene (and really for the majority of the movie), he cuts back and forth not only between different perspectives, but between different planets and different times. While we're watching Matthew McConaughey try to stop Matt Damon from blowing up his spaceship, we're also watching Jessica Chastain try to talk Casey Affleck into moving out of his dust-ridden house. We watch her as a child trying to figure out who or what her ghost is. This creates a sense not only of small-scale, immediate tension, but also of large-scale, interstellar conflict. This draws additional thematic connections as well, for instance between Matt Damon and Casey Affleck—both of whom become antagonists more concerned with their short term reality than with the big picture ("survival instinct" vs. "next year"). It connects the film together in both a literal and figurative way.

Also, there's a point where we cut directly from 2001: A Space Odyssey (airlock alignment) to Days of Heaven (burning farmland), and if that doesn't make the movie nerd inside you happy then I don't know what will.

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