Christopher Nolan Defends the Science of ‘Interstellar’

There are about as many things you can criticize in Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar as there are minutes in the science fiction epic, and with that comes an interesting spectrum of opinions ranging from intense adoration to flat-out disdain. Perhaps one of the stranger criticisms I’ve come across, however, is in regards to the science used in the film, more specifically that some of it is, well, fiction. In response to these criticisms, Nolan told the following to The Daily Beast:

“[Theoretical physicist and executive producer] Kip [Thorne] has a book on the science of the film about what’s real, and what’s speculation — because much of it is, of course, speculation. There have been a bunch of knee-jerk tweets by people who’ve only seen the film once, but to really take on the science of the film, you’re going to need to sit down with the film for a bit and probably also read Kip’s book. I know where we cheated in the way you have to cheat in movies, and I’ve made Kip aware of those things.

As Nolan points out, filmmakers must take certain leaps in order to make science fiction films work, but apparently some people, including those with minds more scientific than mine, weren’t as keen to acknowledge the speculative nature of astrophysics and interstellar travel as depicted in the film — or that the film is, indeed, science fiction. Early in the film, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is tasked with heading up a mission to find a new planet for the world’s population to inhabit. It’s here where the movie lodges itself firmly in a combination of fact and fiction, and as Phil Plait (Slate) tells it, “At this point the movie pretty much falls apart, both scientifically and in its storytelling.”

In an interesting turn of events, Plait issued a mea culpa yesterday acknowledging he made errors and incorrect assumptions in his initial takedown; in other words, some of what he called scientifically impossible might actually be possible. He maintains his key issue with the film is the story, which he wrote was “heavy-handed, overwrought, and had some highly questionable dialogue,” but given the majority of his first article is about the inaccuracy of the science and its effect on the story, it seems his opinion was largely colored by his assumptions.

Meanwhile, in an article for The Guardian on the science of InterstellarDr. Roberto Trotta prefaces the entire thing by stating, “Perhaps it’s the hype, but I was expecting more science in Interstellar, as opposed to science fiction.” I don’t entirely understand why someone would come at the film from that angle, but at least Trotta had the foresight to conclude, “We don’t really know what interstellar travel looks like, so all bets are off.”

Indeed they are. Writing for Screen Crush, Matt Singer pieced together perhaps the best summation I can give for my thoughts on the subject with this:

“[I]t doesn’t matter anyway because Interstellar is a work of fiction. It’s particularly strange to see people holding Interstellar up to a high standard of scientific accuracy because the movie is pretty clearly a work of stylized, speculative sci-fi right from the start. … The only standard Interstellar should be held to [is] the one it establishes for itself. Every author is entitled to dramatic license, and every movie is entitled to create its own rules.”

Christopher Nolan acknowledges his films are “always held to a weirdly high standard for those issues that isn’t applied to everybody else’s films,” which he says he’s fine with, but it is still interesting to me why people are going after the science in a science fiction movie. While I loved Interstellar, I am totally fine acknowledging the problems it does have — cheesy dialogue, weak characters, and obvious plot devices included — but attacking the science in a science fiction movie just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Perhaps I was just too easily won over by the film’s emotional core to care about its scientific accuracy.


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