Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan
Category: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
When I was a teenager with a budding interest in physics, I read Black Holes and Time Warps, Kip Thorne’s general-audience book on some of the more exciting aspects of general relativity. I enjoyed it enough to mention it in my application to Caltech (where Thorne held the Feynman Professorship) as something that attracted me to the school. Years later, I was pleased to see that Thorne provided scientific consulting on Interstellar, and indeed it turned out to be one of the most accurate depictions of relativity I’ve seen in a major film. Combined with Christopher Nolan’s talents for impressive effects, the result was some truly stunning visuals of black holes, wormholes, and other real and theoretical astronomical objects.
It’s a shame about the rest of the movie. The actual plot, when it wasn’t just dull or predictable, seemed designed to annoy me (after luring in with the promise of hard science) by invoking not one but two of my least favorite tropes. First off, there’s the motivation for the journey into space—they’re looking for a habitable world, because the Earth is becoming uninhabitable. How did that happen? Climate change and large scale extinctions. Sadly, this is not just a trope in fiction: advocates of interplanetary colonization frequently cite the possibility of a planetary catastrophe as a reason to settle outside Earth. But both in reality and in this movie, we humans are the planetary catastrophe. Setting aside the immorality and irresponsibility of just giving up on Earth like a parasite looking for a new host, what exactly do they think is going to happen on the next planet we go to? Maybe let’s figure out how to live sustainably on one planet before we go out looking for a new home.
And if that wasn’t enough to get my blood pressure up, Interstellar pretends to be an old-school sci-fi story with smart people solving problems, until in the last act (spoiler alert!) it takes a sudden turn into that hoary old cliche where we see that the power of love is stronger than our precious science. Why is it that seemingly every science fiction movie in the last 20 years ends this way? What is even the logic behind the question, “who would win in a fight—love or science?” One is a feeling and one is a system of learning about the world—they’re entirely different kinds of things. It’s like saying “the power of the color green is stronger than mechanical engineering.” And why isn’t science allowed to save the day, outside of Breaking Bad where it’s only in service of evil?
That’s not true, I did see a movie last year where science saved the day—The Imitation Game. Science: it won World War II. Take that, power of love.