Christopher Nolan’s Endings and the Relative Failure of ‘Interstellar’

By November 7, 2014
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Let me preface this piece by saying that I’d call myself a Christopher Nolan fanboy. A few of his films rank among my favorite movies ever made, and I’m genuinely excited when a new film of his (especially an original) comes out. I avoided all reviews, trailers, and TV spots for Interstellar before I saw it, and I did the same thing with Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan is one of the few filmmakers who regularly provides me with something I haven’t seen before, and I prefer to be immersed in the experience of watching the full movie instead of seeing his often-amazing visuals thrown at me out of context in a trailer. (Just a personal preference – no hate toward the trailer-watchers out there.) The point is, I really like his movies, and while there are many critics who have fallen head over heels for Interstellar and found it a profound, moving experience, I wasn’t among them. It was entertaining, and I think it had some tremendous moments, but I think in time, Interstellar is going to settle somewhere near the bottom of Nolan’s filmography in the collective pop culture consciousness. There are a variety of issues I had with the film, but I think a huge reason for why I wasn’t as hyped on it as many others was because of the way the film ended.

Let’s look at the endings of all of Chris Nolan’s films (obviously, watch out for spoilers ahead).

Following

Following (1998)
Beginning with this ultra low-budget debut, Nolan showed a knack for a twist ending that felt earned as opposed to being shocking for shock value’s sake. A series of double-crosses and the fact that the film’s “villain” gets away with his crime revealed a cynical worldview that Nolan occasionally returns to throughout his career.

Memento

Memento (2000)
The first true “holy sh*t” ending of Nolan’s filmography packed even more of a gut-punch considering the film’s fascinating chronology, in which part of the story is told “backwards” and part is told going “forwards,” with both stories meeting at the end. The revelations that Leonard (Guy Pearce) had already killed his wife’s attacker and that Sammy Jankis (Stephen Tobolowsky) wasn’t who we believed him to be are shocking, and when Leonard finally breaks his cycle by tattooing Teddy’s (Joe Pantoliano) license plate number on his body (which, we’ve already seen, leads to Teddy’s death), it’s a cathartic, satisfying conclusion to the story.

Insomnia

Insomnia (2002)
Nolan’s most traditional studio film is also the one with the most conventional ending. The cops get the bad guy (Robin Williams), the hero dies (Al Pacino), and the up-and-coming do-gooder (Hilary Swank) stays dedicated to her ideals. Nothing too twisty or interesting about this one.

Batman Begins end

Batman Begins (2005)
After allowing Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) to die in a train accident and saving the city from al Ghul’s plan to poison all of Gotham with the Scarecrow’s fear toxin, Batman (Christian Bale) meets with Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) on the roof of the police department where the Bat-Signal is unveiled and Gordon shows him a playing card from a new killer in the city. This is the closest thing Nolan has ever done to a Marvel-style post-credits sequence, and it definitely left me excited to see how he would handle The Joker in a future installment of the Bat-franchise.

The Prestige ending

The Prestige (2006)
Perhaps Nolan’s best film (shocking opinion alert), The Prestige packs two punches with its ending: Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) has been living a complicated double life with his twin brother in order to perform an awe-inspiring magic trick, and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) has been using a cloning device to imitate the trick. One of the film’s final haunting shots reveals rows of drowned Angiers in water tanks under a stage, completely reframing what we know about the man we thought was Angier. Both twists immediately make you want to watch the film again.

The Dark Knight ending

The Dark Knight (2008)
A much darker ending than Batman Begins, this one wraps up with Batman becoming a hunted criminal as he takes on the murders that Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) committed in order for Dent to remain a beacon of hope for the desperate city of Gotham. The Bat-Signal is destroyed (in a nice mirroring of the ending of the first film, in which it’s first constructed), and Batman rides away into the night as a hero…the one Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. But despite the ending being a bit of a downer, it’s awesome in that it wraps up the main story it’s telling, while still hinting at a larger conclusion yet to come.

Inception ending

Inception (2010)
Definitely the most divisive ending of Nolan’s filmography, Inception comes to an end with Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) having completed his mission of implanting an idea into the mind of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) and finally returning home to be reunited with his children. But as he spins his top – a totem that reveals the difference between reality and a dream world – on a table, the film cuts to black, leaving the audience to wonder whether he’s actually made it, or whether he’s chosen to live a lie. This is the only Nolan film I’ve seen in which the audience audibly gasped and groaned when the credits came up.

The Dark Knight Rises ending

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
This movie has a ton of problems, but I was almost willing to overlook them because of how fantastic the last few minutes are. Sure, you can complain about Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle sitting in an Italian cafe when Wayne (one of the richest men in the world) is supposed to be dead, or how Batman survived a nuclear blast after flying out over the water to detonate a bomb, but when John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovers the Batcave and we understand that he’ll become a new Batman, it’s one of the most exhilarating moments in the franchise’s history and a terrific thematic end to Nolan’s trilogy. You definitely walk out of the theater with a high.

Interstellar 3

Now let’s get to Interstellar. You can read our full review here, but suffice it to say that I agree with Eric on almost every level. When I walked out of The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception, I felt like I had just seen movies that would remain favorites of mine for years to come. When I walked out of Interstellar, I felt…well, “disappointed” might be too strong a word, but I didn’t leave the theater with that cinematic high that I was hoping to have.

From the moment when Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) entered Gargantua and landed in that weird fifth-dimensional space in which time isn’t linear, the film lost me a little. It didn’t lose me as in “I didn’t understand what was happening” – I understand the story and what it’s trying to accomplish – but more like that was the point when I wish the story took a different path to get to its ending. I thought this was a classic example where NOT showing us exactly what was happening would have been a lot more effective. Picture this: Cooper hurtles into Gargantua and sees a bright white light…and that’s the last we see of him. Then we cut back to Murph (Jessica Chastain), and we see that she’s able to put the pieces together that her dad is the “ghost” from her childhood, experiencing more of an emotional beat from her that serves the dual purpose of providing a bit more catharsis for the character and giving Jessica Chastain a bigger moment to shine in the movie. Instead, we get Cooper hanging out in this weird nether-space, communicating with Murph, and then…all of a sudden ending up in a hospital bed? For a movie that spends a lot of time explaining how things work, the fact that they brushed over this part seemed out of place to me.

And let’s talk about the very end, in which Cooper steals a ship to go after Amelia (Anne Hathaway). Are we supposed to think that there’s a love story there? Because Cooper and Amelia don’t really give much indication that that’s a consideration for them throughout the film. Amelia’s love story with Edmunds (who we never see) didn’t work for me because we never saw them together and weren’t able to invest in their relationship; her big speech about how love transcends dimensions rang hollow to me because it came off like she was just making a bad personal decision. If we had seen the impact of their relationship, maybe we would have rooted for them to choose Edmunds’ planet so she might be able to see him again. But after all of this, we’re supposed to be excited at the possibility of Cooper tracking her down? Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t feel the emotional punch that Nolan intended. I think the film peaked a bit too early, and slowly deflated toward an ending that tried to be hopeful and succeeded on a planetary scale (considering Murph found a way to save humanity and Amelia colonized the new planet), but failed on a personal character level.

As The Dark Knight Rises proved (to me, anyway), a powerful ending will go a long way toward making audiences forgive issues they might have with a film. But for me, Interstellar didn’t quite stick the landing. What did you think about it?

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Ben is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. His work has been featured at ScreenRant.com, FirstShowing.net, MySpace.com, GeekTyrant.com, and many more sites across the web. Some of his favorite movies include The Rocketeer, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Tombstone, Lucky Number Slevin, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Collateral, Double Indemnity, Back to the Future and The Prestige. Follow him on Twitter: @BenPears.
  • Anthony Sherratt

    There are moments of Interstellar where I re-experienced the wonder of new concepts combined with the sheer terror and majesty of space that I hadn’t felt since 2001: A Space Odyssey. But really this new offering is 2001 with excessive exposition and a need to tie up most of the loose ends. NOT answering all the whys would have made this a classic that we would be geeking out over for decades. As it is it dragged out unnecessarily and I doubt I’ll even watch it a second time.

  • raj

    Interstellar surely a disappointment. Nolan confused with the script, Imagination of scenes are also not up to the mark

  • Mark Santeramo

    Its a movie..and one of the best sci fi movies around…the ending made perfect sense, ur just questioning waaay to much…the tesseract was a perfect representation of string theory…also, no one knows what hapens in a black hole so again, its a movie open to interpretation…and coop going to find brand hopefully is the setup for a sequel god willing