Mark A. Carter

INTERSTELLAR: popcorn anyone?

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter writes a literary Review of the film: Interstellar.

The 2014 film Interstellar directed by Christopher Nolan, from a 2007 screenplay written by his brother Jonathan, and inspired by the work of Caltech Theoretical Physicist Kip Thorne, is an emotional film but unbelievable Science Fiction. Why do I think it fails? Interstellar repeatedly fails to maintain a reasonable suspension of disbelief.

As a reminder, the reasonable or willing suspension of disbelief is the desire of the reader or the viewer to submerge themselves in the context of a story and be carried along by it. We want to believe but it sometimes just isn't possible. The moment that the story doesn't make sense, the instant that the reader or viewer is confronted with a flawed notion in the tale, or has better information than the author or the producer, the reasonable suspension of disbelief collapses, the bubble pops, and the drama or movie fails, and the reader or viewer finds themselves quite suddenly and unhappily outside of the story. Put another way, the reasonable suspension of disbelief collapses when you stop believing in the story.

I have watched the film several times and at least five things stand out. First, we see another dustbowl in the mid-west. But the film is so focused on that blight-invested and water-deprived area that it doesn't mention the situation in the rest of the USA or throughout the rest of the world. Second, the mysterious wormhole that appears near Saturn is connected to a remote galaxy. Hey, is there something wrong with the Milky Way? Third, the NASA rocket launches from within the facility instead of from miles away from people. Four, why would anyone in their right mind pick a new world to inhabit that is literally circling the drain? What is the life expectancy of a planet orbiting a black hole? Give me a break. And five, you can't pass through a wormhole. Duh? This film is unbelievable unbelievable and, oh yes ... unbelievable.


Directed by Christopher Nolan.

© 2014 Paramount Pictures

By focusing solely on the drought ravaged mid-west, Jonathan and co-writer Christopher Nolan force us to assume that the same situation exists world-wide. But they did not convince me. And the more they forced their narcissistic argument upon me, the more I resisted and the more unbelievable their story became. I kept asking myself the question: are these farmers stupid? Why haven't they put their crops under plastic? Why aren't they growing in greenhouses where dust won't blow away their crops and water can be conserved by growing crops hydroponically? I live a few miles from Leamington, Ontario where an increasing amount of acreage is being put under plastic every year to provide vegetables year round. And in the arid region of Almería, Spain, a region so dry that it was once used for spaghetti westerns, 135 square miles of land are currently under plastic. In fact, Almería has the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world and has become Europe's winter market garden. Greenhouses work and will be used more extensively in the future. So, in Interstellar, are these hick farmers just stupid or did the Nolans just assume we would be and accept their stupid premise without question? Please. If Cooper was such a good engineer, he would have thought about putting his crops under plastic. He would have considered hydroponics. But the Nolans were out there like Pluto and didn't consider it. Oops. Too much sweat, beer, and sun, I guess, eh Coop? And pop goes my bubble right from the outset.

And why in God's green Earth would a mysterious wormhole near Saturn be connected with a another galaxy? Isn't the Milky Way, our home galaxy with approximately 400 billion stars ample fodder to find another star system in which to inhabit. Somewhere within our own stomping ground there surely must be a black hole or two. And it would have made the story much more believable. But alas, it was not. Pop.

And just open up a small door at the secret NASA facility not far from the board room and, lo and behold, let Cooper have a gaze at the large nozzles of the rocket planned to take a crew up to the Endurance spacecraft. How can this new NASA launch their liquid fueled rocket from within their secret facility without incinerating everyone who works there?. Don't liquid fueled rockets usually launch from pads miles away from the control room? Does Christopher Noland really expect us to believe that one small door will stop the blast when the rocket launches? Sizzle and burn ... is somebody barbequing? Pop.

And why would you to colonize a planet barely beyond the event horizon of a black hole anyway? The time dilation from such proximity is bad enough. But how long does your planet have before it is gobbled up? Wasn't the purpose of the journey that Joe Cooper, Amelia Brand and others took aboard Endurance to establish a human colony on a habitable planet so that a seed of humanity could survive the supposed starvation of people on Earth? So why would they pick a planet that is literally swirling the bowl from the outset. Duh? Pop.


Point = 0 dimensions

Line = 1 dimensions

Square = 2 dimensions

Cube = 3 dimensions

Tesseract = 4 dimensions
  And why-oh-why do we blindly accept that we can travel through a black hole to start with? Even Caltech Theoretical Physicist Kip Thorne, the science advisor to this film, states that it is impossible to traverse black holes. To quote him: "The jury is not in, so we just don't know. But there are very strong indications that wormholes that a human could travel through are forbidden by the laws of physics. That's sad, that's unfortunate, but that's the direction in which things are pointing." Thorne goes on to mention that "should traversable wormholes that allow for interstellar travel exist at all, they do not occur naturally and must have been created by an advanced civilization." To me, this sounds more like Fantasy than Physics. And, of course, the Nolans bought into the possibility and mentioned several times in the film that the wormhole was built by "them." And the big reveal by Cooper is the realization, more out there like Pluto than anything logical, that the fifth dimensional beings that created the tesseract in which he and TARS find themselves, the "them" is "us" sometime in the future. Right. Sure. You bet, Coop. Pop.

Currently Theoretical Physics debates what kind of universe we live in. Lee Smolin talks about it extensively in Time Reborn. He pits the Boltzmannian universe against the Leibnizian universe. I came away from his book with the belief that we exist in a Leibnizian universe. In the film, Cooper jettisons himself and TARS into the black hole so that Amelia and CASE can complete the mission. And he eventually finds himself in an extradimensional tesseract depicting his farmhouse study, in frames of Leibnizian time, in which he sees his daughter Murphy and sometimes even himself. But communicating with gravity waves was a stretch. Let's ignore the fact that the arrow of time only goes forward. Let's ignore how gravity supposedly is able to travel back in time. But what cannot be ignored is how Cooper is able to magically use gravity to push books off shelves, leave messages in falling dust, and tap out messages on the second hand of Murphy's watch. Really? Was there some kind of modem in the film that I couldn't see that converted gravity waves into God knows what? This is such a stretch of the reasonable suspension of disbelief that I wrenched my neck. Pop.

And oh, did anyone else with a science background cringe when Murphy shouts the word Eureka and throws her pages of calculations over the balcony because she has finally proved the formula for gravity. To quote Isaac Asimov, Ph.D. Columbia, Associate Professor of Biochemistry, lecturer at Boston University School of Medicine, and noted Science Fiction author, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny.'" I just cringed when I heard Murphy's exclamation. Pop.

Interstellar has good acting and production values although bleak. And it elicits deep emotions because it takes seventy-six years for Cooper to return from his voyage to his daughter Murphy because he promised, who, by then, is on her death bed; whereas, he has barely aged. The concept of time dilation was done well as was the depiction of frames of Leibnizian time within a tesseract although shockingly out of place during a journey through a wormhole. The two robots: CASE and TARS were interesting, although their designs were dreadful. But not much else succeeds. Like a well-typed essay that receives a failing grade because it is filled with spelling errors, there is so much wrong with Interstellar that it gets in the way of the story. Given that the science is wrong in so many ways, is there really a Science Fiction story there at all? Science gobbledygook doesn't pass for Science Fiction. I've said that for years. And Interstellar is all gadget, gimmick, and gizmo. It is just bad and fails miserably to maintain a reasonable suspension of disbelief. In fact, my reasonable suspension of disbelief popped so often that I wanted to put butter and salt on it. I'm sure this film will be used in script writing courses as an example of how not to write for this genre.

I'm so popped I'm pooped ... popcorn anyone?

Read Kip Thorne's comments in Rhodi Lee's article Wormhole Travel in 'Interstellar': Improbable but not Impossible:

Read Giles Tremlett's article Spain's greenhouse effect: the shimmering sea of polythene consuming the land:

To learn more about the Boltzmannian universe vs. the Leibnizian universe, read Time Reborn by Lee Smolin.

To learn more about Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics read The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.

For a history of Physics by a very skeptical Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy, read God And The Atom by Victor J. Stenger.

Read: Cry havoc and let slip the cans of apocalypse
Ex Machina
Jupiter Ascending
The Martian
Artificial Super-Intelligence
Can a machine think?
Conceptual Breakthrough
Doomsday Revisited
Future War
IBM Builds Brain
Killer Robots
Robot Takeover
Sex Robots
We May Exist in a Simulation
Black Hole birth of the universe
Center of a Black Hole
Falling down a Black Hole
Magnetars should freak you out

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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