Tag Archives: Physics

How Christopher Nolan Broke My Heart and Punched My Brain

“There’s a new name for fatuous, unforgivably ignorant, misguided and arrogant film making: Interstellar. Never has my intelligence been more acutely insulted. Christopher Nolan continues the tradition of schlock he began with Inception and carried through The Dark Night Rises. Hey, Nolan, news flash – we’re not all idiots.” – Signed, Clawing My Eyes Out

Okay. Maybe the above Facebook post was a little… heartfelt. But in my defence, my heart actually felt wounded. Like I’d been jilted, three times in a row. By the same person. Maybe I was angry at myself for expecting more. But damn it, I wanted there to be more. I thought he could change.

Don’t get me wrong. Nolan’s style is breathtaking. He really likes to show us things upside down, but still. His ideas and concepts, equally laudable. And Inception wasn’t so bad, really, which is why I say his descent merely began there. But for me, there were little things in that film which heralded the coming of what I see as Nolan’s disregard for his audience – like how he states as a central point of fact early on that jostling a subject while they are ‘dreaming’ will wake them up. Makes sense. I’ll buy that. But then, in the film’s pivotal scene, he has a van full of subjects sleep soundly through a wild high speed car chase and stay sleeping as they GO FLYING OFF A BRIDGE. Apparently, he doesn’t even have the respect to suggest that maybe they’re not being jostled too badly, an obvious, if suspicious, out – instead, he repeatedly shows their heads being yanked back and forth in slow motion closeups while remaining blissfully asleep. This is ignoring the logic he has already set up, all in service of an action scene with memorable visuals. Not cool, Chris. Not cool.


But that’s not enough to indict the whole enterprise, and to be fair, I don’t. I leave that to others. However, I do feel that Inception tries to get all ‘deep’ while failing to muster anything more interesting or insightful than any high school kid might manage after smoking a couple of bowls. One big missed opportunity there, Nolan, and not enough for me. If I want a mind f**k with some art and intelligence, I’ll watch David Lynch. He never leaves me wanting. Confused, but never wanting.

Nolan’s disregard for both basic physics and the intelligence of his audience continues in the Dark Night Rises, but he takes it up several notches. I won’t even bother listing the problems with that movie here. Although I especially love that criminal mastermind Bane sacrifices a flunky to insure that the right amount of bodies will be found in the wreckage, but he doesn’t seem to think finding the plane’s wings kilometres from it’s fuselage might raise an eyebrow or two.

dark-knight-rises-trailer-full-plane-heistNo, I’ll save the bulk of my energy here for nolan’s self-proclaimed ‘scientifically precise’ Interstellar (which should first of all actually be called ‘Intergalactic’ since all of the travel is between planets and between galaxies, but NOT between stars). I would need far more time than you’re probably willing to invest right now to really get into it, but good lord. It’s hard to even choose between highlights. Or lowlights. Let’s set science aside for a moment and deal with some very basic problems. Like how many times does cowboy pilot Cooper ‘switch to manual’ during this movie? How stupid is that? And why does the NASA appointed astronaut (and an engineer, by the way) and instrument of humanity’s only hope not bother to ask how wormholes work until he’s just about to fly into one? And seriously, a folded piece of paper? Ok, now he gets it [face palm].

This is a Wormhole

I guess this makes sense to a filmmaker who gives us a world where scientists can send hibernating scientists and robots with strong AI to Saturn and through an Einstein-Rosen Bridge ten years ago but when it comes to plant biology, well, if the corn stops growing, humanity will simply starve (what’s the beer they’re drinking made from, by the way? Just curious. No, really).

Drinking a Bottle of Corn Liquer-1I mean, if they’ve figured out how to feed the world’s population on nothing but corn, surely they know enough to fix the ‘blight’ problem.

Maybe the engineers could’ve put aside some money for biological research (they can freeze people, for god’s sake. And why do that? So that the scientists don’t get bored on the way to Saturn?) by not building a centrifugal spacecraft completely unsuited for interplanetary travel just so that the scientists in hyper-sleep could have the illusion of gravity. Why? Because a centrifugal ship is gimmicky and saves the filmmakers a bucket load of money in production doing all the weightless effects of a serious movie like Gravity (which had its own issues, but still). And because then the All American farmer/pilot can once again ‘switch to manual’ and execute an impressive maneuver in an obligatory action sequence. Of course, the centrifuge design isn’t just expensive and completely unnecessary for the mission, it’s also problematic, as the astronauts discover once they’re already in space. 


“I think we have some dramamine.” You think? And Dramamine? Really? What is this, the 1940’s? No. It’s some time in the second half of the 21st Century. Maybe that lady scientist has some in her purse.

Of course, the motion sickness problem, the one that apparently wasn’t dealt with in the simulations they obviously didn’t bother to train on as a matter of course for any trip into space by anybody, won’t be too bad as long as they don’t design the spacecraft with an absolute shipload of goddamn windows for absolutely no reason.

Windows 2

Oh, and how about transmitting GPS coordinates via a smattering of binary lines on a floor? Does anyone involved in the making of this film know how either GPS coordinates or binary code work? Apparently not. In which case it seems perfectly reasonable to take the ‘quantum information’ from the interior of a black hole and translate it into Morse Code. What!?!

Here Are the Coordinates in Binary

Then there’s the question of ‘Them’. A bewildered Cooper asks, understandably, who ‘They’ are. No idea? Alrighty, then! Let’s go! Not only is this pretty important question not answered, given much weight or even, as far as we know, investigated by the scientists… it’s hardly even mentioned again. Sure, ‘They’ offer a handshake upon arrival which no one seems particularly concerned about. But what’s the deal? What have ‘They’ done to even warrant their mention in the first place? Put the wormhole in place? What’s the compelling reason to assume that? Because an Einstein-Rosen Bridge (none of the scientists call it that because we’re too stupid as an audience to handle it, I guess) can’t exist naturally? Oh, I guess all of a sudden everyone understands what is and is not possible on the very fringes of speculative physics. So therefore ‘they’ did it, but we don’t try to contact them or figure out what their deal is as we face species annihilation. Of course, the bigger question is… why would you build the launch pad twenty feet from your boardroom?

Engines in the Boardroom

Do I even bother, now with the science? Like the simple fact that planets don’t (can’t) orbit black holes without a star? That without a star this little planet would be anything but ‘earth-like’. That any planetary object close enough to a black hole to experience meaningful time dilation would be torn apart in an instant by gravitational forces? That the accretion disk (so beautifully rendered in 3-D!) is a result of every bit of mass in the vicinity being pulled right through the planet into the black hole? That this would include enough X-rays and other forms of radiation to be instantly fatal to any form of life, space suit or no?


“See, if we land on the sun at night…”

How about that waves hundreds of metres high can’t exist in less than a metre of water because they would need a trough of equal depth (forgetting what havoc the gravitational attraction implied to pull these waves in the first place would wreak on anyone on the surface) to exist at all? I could go on and on. And on (and on) without even getting into the terrible dialogue, the ridiculous characters…

Brilliant Scientist

“I am totally convincing as a brilliant scientist. And I am so terribly lonely that I am going to kill the only three people in the galaxy. Oh, wait.”

…or the ploddingly obvious plot ‘twists’, but I’ll stop.

Not before I ask one more question, though: Ok, Nolan, so ‘love’ travels across time. Then, uh… doesn’t ‘hate’?

I know that many people simply like the movie and don’t care about any of the things I’ve touched on here. And that’s valid. I guess I’m just not that forgiving. Maybe it’s because I can’t help picturing a scene like this one: Consulting physicist Kip Thorn clears his throat, nervously. “Excuse me, Mr. Nolan, but it, uh, just doesn’t work like that.” Nolan turns to his accountant. “How much am I making for this?” The accountant whispers something into the director’s ear. “That’s what I thought,” he says. Looking the physicist in the eye, he shrugs. “Fuck ’em.”

Hear no Evil good

If you want big ideas that are handled properly, do yourself a huge favour and watch Sunshine, 2001 A Space Odyssey (again, I hope), Coherence (NOT Divergent or Convergence, for the love of god) or Timecrimes, just for starters. You’ll see, I hope, that while it’s not easy, it can be done.

I’m incensed, clearly, that someone with the power and resources of Christoper Nolan chooses not to make the effort, or simply doesn’t care. I don’t like being talked down to. Actual good ideas, well thought out and presented, can not be replaced by throwing out words like ‘quantum’ and ‘relativity”, nor by the endless repetition of a Dylan Thomas poem.

Frozen Cloud

“What was that?”

“Frozen cloud…”

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