Why Interstellar Sucks at Science Fiction
By MARTIN REZNY
At the risk of sounding like a bitter hipster or a troll, I have to start by saying that Christopher Nolan is substantially overrated, both as a director and as a screenwriter. Agree with me or hate me for it, I don’t care, I’m sincerely just trying to be objective here. Science fiction needs to get much better than this.
I’m not saying it as someone who thinks Nolan’s movies are not fun to watch or interesting on a technical level, I’d like nothing more than for him to do better than almost good. In a way, it’s much more frustrating to watch his movies than it is to watch movies from outright bad directors who lack Nolan’s ambition, the yearning for greatness of a true artist.
Here’s a director who finds himself in a unique position in this day and age, able to make an original science fiction movie that people will go watch. He can do this anytime with a huge budget, simply because his name is a recognizable brand in and of itself. And what does he do with this wonderful opportunity that almost nobody else in the world possesses?
He stitches together a barely edited dumb movie based on what general audiences think sci-fi movies are supposed to include, made in equal parts out of spoken exposition, excessive explanation, and cool-ish imagery, built around almost scientific concepts. Sure, there are spaceships, astronauts, planets, black holes, spherical wormholes, silence in space, relativity at work, so on and so forth. Cool. But why? What’s the point?
The problem is that all of these things under Nolan’s direction are just a blend of tired movie tropes, smart things Nolan heard scientists say (used in the movie out of any meaningful context), and ham-fisted lessons. Nolan “quotes” better science fiction movies a lot in Interstellar, mainly 2001: The Space Odyssey, but he doesn’t really do much else, or anything interesting or even remotely clever with any of it.
It’s really quite sad, when you think about it, that Nolan is the best there is at this kind of movie right now. I suppose that a one-eyed man in the land of the blind movie makers is better than nothing, but what’s the point of making an original sci-fi that fails at science too much to predict anything real happening in the future, and also fails too hard as fiction to either tell a compelling story, or to inspire anyone to change their mind about anything?
I’m not saying the film doesn’t try to predict or to inspire, but all of the futuristic technological plot solutions might as well be powered by the magical whimsy of feels, while all the movie’s inspiring lessons boil down to simplistic “space program good” and “ruining planet bad”. Which are both a bit sabotaged by the fact that all of the almost-science in the movie fails to either un-ruin the planet, or to save humanity without needing the help of invaders from the fifth dimension.
One could make a really interesting sci-fi about how ruining a planet or un-ruining it works, or a really cool movie about how space program saves humanity in unexpected ways in variably distant future, or about people just exploring unknown space and other dimensions, or about relativistic effects being mind-bending Memento-style, or all of that combined in a way which truly makes sense from the standpoint of science, fiction, or both. None of which has really been done in movies. More than minimally. A very long time ago.
What Interstellar does effectively is showing that people are generally dumbasses, jackasses, assholes, and other variations of ass, especially those at NASA, surely deserving to go extinct, and that both agriculture and space exploration make no logical sense whatsoever. The nature of planetary crisis is reduced to evil dust clouds everywhere, coupled with all plants on Earth committing suicide. Except in space. Apparently, it’s easier to grow corn on spaceships and barren planets rather than on Earth being a bit more temperamental than normal. Duh.
Meanwhile (in spoiler space), all-powerful future humans had will have had saved themselves by finding stupid past humans new home in another galaxy, instead of anywhere in the Milky Way galaxy, because… I don’t know — why use god-like powers logically when you can really show off? Also, when you are damn near all powerful, you don’t have to offer humanity 12 worlds in the galaxy far far away orbiting a black hole, most of which will not really be habitable due to lethal blandness. We already know there must be many rocky Earth-like planets in our galaxy, let alone in the whole universe, so seriously, what is your problem, future god-humans?
At first, I thought it’s really aliens making it complicated to test if humans are worth saving. Turns out that would have made too much sense. Then I thought it must be future humans, and that there’s some really clever reason why it has to be done in a complicated way by none other than space McConnaughey. Turns out there wasn’t any. I was really on board, giving the movie a chance, even grasping at straws. It just didn’t meet me half way. Instead, it introduced the greatest enemy of humanity — space Matt Damon, reprising his role of a selfish and idiotic cardboard cutout from Elysium.
I’m not saying Interstellar is not enjoyable, however. For people who really only expected a standard Hollywood movie, it is certainly movie enough. There are good actors acting well, wowing special effects, some nice music, lot of important sounding pontification, the works. Just like Gravity earlier this year. But you know, any other Hollywood director can do that. The difference is the others (Cuarón being the exception this year) don’t expect us to believe they’re doing groundbreaking, timeless, and deep original sci-fi. They wouldn’t dare even try.
And that’s why Nolan may be the sci-fi director we deserve right now, but… You know what, I don’t even have the mental fortitude to finish that.