At the beginning, the Interstellar movie I would see on Thursday was getting almost entirely positive reactions. Even today, most of the professional reviewers rated it with 73%. But if you search for the reviews at generic websites, you will notice that the most typical rating of self-anointed critics is actually 2 stars. Where does the gap come from?
Well, the gap has – and the negative reviews have – numerous reasons but some of the most obvious ones are not being discussed. Many of the negative reviewers are lazy, intellectually limited, anti-science spoiled brats; and many others are pro-green, left-wing, anti-technology Luddites. There are probably many who fall into both categories.
But let me begin with some "potentially valid" criticisms.
It's a science-fiction movie that was ultimately designed by a filmmaker, not a scientist. So many things are scientifically impossible – according to what we seem to know. The "de facto" closed time-like curves are impossible. Wormholes probably can't be traversable if they exist at all. Periodic orbits around a black hole with a huge red shift don't exist. (This huge red shift is impossible for non-rotating black holes; for almost extremely rotating black holes, however, the high-redshift orbits may exist.) The frozen clouds of an atmospheric size couldn't be supported by the material. And it's likely that the dusty, hyper-nitrogenic Earth would still be much more hospitable than those big-ocean, frozen-ice, wrong-chemistry planets out there. And so on. Of course that I could enumerate dozens of these problems as well. Some of them would need some calculations to be justified.
But it's a fiction movie. What I find important is that most of these bizarre things are needed to make the plot more impressive. In that sense, I do believe that it differs from many science-fiction movies where the physical mistakes and stupidity are incorporated for no good reason. In Nolan's movie, the things that go beyond what physics allows mostly seem to have a reason. For example, up to a point, I thought that there would be no closed time-like curves in the movie. But when it showed up for the first time, I was thinking: Wow, it's a clever explanation of the previously mysterious points.
So don't overreact. Of course that the scientific fidelity in a Hollywood movie shouldn't be as perfect as the correctness of a physics paper.
Some reviews say that the characters didn't communicate sufficient emotions. I slightly agree with that but I don't think there's too much too say here.
Other reviews say that the sound mixing was weak and one couldn't understand many dialogues. I tend to agree but fortunately, I had Czech subtitles – which I would often need even if the sound were perfect. At the end, this is a technicality that isn't terribly deep or interesting. There isn't much interesting to say about this potential bug.
But let's look at some of the more nontrivial or "ideological" criticisms.
Seth Shostak of SETI: Interstellar – a galaxy too far?is a review by a famous guy who searches for extraterrestrials. The criticism is kind of ironic because the work that Shostak is seriously paid for is perhaps less likely than many parts of the movie plot – even though Shostak doesn't admit he is doing "arts" and not "science".
His main criticism is that it's wrong for the people to look for a new home in a "different galaxy". "Interplanetary" would be better as the title and length scale for the plot. But Shostak must have completely misunderstood the geometry of the spacetime in the movie. There is a wormhole whose throat is located close to Saturn. And the distances to the planets on the other side of the wormhole are probably not too much larger. So the proper distance to these other planets is comparable to the distance between planets of the Solar System! That's why state-of-the-art rockets are enough to get there within years.
The wormhole, and especially its traversability and asymmetry etc., is problematic and probably impossible. But if one embraces this object, the choice of the targets makes a lot of sense. OK, this Shostak's criticism may have been another technicality.
Some other reviewers criticized the movie for omitting the training and preparation for the flight. Cooper said "good-bye" to his daughter. Their relationship was broken. And in the very next second, we could hear the countdown before the launch. I actually think that the scenes overlapped! I think that it was great that the obvious scenes with some training were (completely) omitted. And if it were up to me, I would shorten some of the initial "purely agricultural" scenes, too.
What about some of the critics whom I really find offensive? ;-)
Stephan Dalton of the Hollywood Reporter wrote
Interstellar immerses us in a dystopian near-future America where crops are systematically failing and Dust Bowl desperation returning. While mankind faces slow starvation, Big Government takes our taxes and teaches our kids that the Apollo moon landings were faked. Boo! Hiss! Thanks for nothing, Obama! Fortunately, NASA has gone underground as a noble brotherhood of aloof technocrats who dare to make Big Plans for the future in their remote secret bunker. Only they can save humanity with their heroic individualism and rugged pioneer spirit..... wait, does any of this sound familiar? Has Nolan been reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged?Oh, it must be a crime to read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, right? Maybe Nolan himself should be downgraded to a crop farmer, too! ;-) Needless to say, this Atlas-Shrugged-like philosophy is one of the things that makes this movie great, deep, and profoundly true. Many other movies, like the Avatar, offer us the kitschy idea that the people who live inside Nature, just like other animals, are the morally flawless ones while the people connected with the technological world are evil and threaten the life of everyone else.
Interstellar has a different take. It's the people who want to restrict the human ambitions as explorers, pioneers, discoverers, and industrialists who are threatening the life on Earth. Dalton even reproduced this exact quote from the movie:
We used to look up in the sky and wonder about our place in the stars. Now we just look down and wonder about our place in the dirt.It's a great quote that poetically represents what may await us if we don't defeat the environmentalism and related forms of the social deterioration of the modern society. If people's freedom – and curiosity – which involves their desire to explore, burn lots of fuel, and do lots of other things that are necessary – will be crippled or criminalized, of course that on one sunny or dusty day, new textbooks will be published that will deny that people have ever been to the Moon. Of course that people will have to be obsessed with every hectare of maize. Of course that they will start to lose all the battles again.
In Interstellar, there are the hopeless ordinary people who have largely abandoned technology, engineering, progress, and audacity itself and such people are destined to die away within a generation. (And I think it was just OK for Murph to put her brother's crops on fire, in an effort to wake him up.) And there are a few noble, smart, ambitious people – the underground organization known as NASA – who actually know what is probably going to happen and who are creatively working hard to bring us a better future.
But of course that the most prevailing source of negative attitudes towards the movie is people's anti-science sentiment. They don't want to think. They don't want to learn. They are not curious and they are proud about their being cripples in this sense. A Deborah Paulson quotes another critic:
David Denby, movie reviewer for The New Yorker, for example, says that Interstellar is “ardently, even fervently incomprehensible, a movie designed to separate the civilians from the geeks, with the geeks apparently the target audience.” He continues, “There’s no doubting Nolan’s craft…but, overall, ‘Interstellar’—a spectacular, redundant puzzle, a hundred and sixty-seven minutes long—makes you feel virtuous for having sat through it rather than happy that you saw it.”First, you notice that the geeks do not belong among the "civilians". And make no doubt about it: for Denby, the geeks are just like an aggressive military that is threatening him. He also makes it very clear that he never feels happy for being virtuous.
There are much more violent reviews complaining that it's almost like sitting on a three-hour physics lecture – but I can no longer find this particular one. Is there anything wrong about sitting on a three-hour physics lecture? I don't think so, morons!
Henry Fitzherbert calls the movie a "narrative black hole" and tells you that you need a physics PhD to understand that. Well, you may want to get a physics PhD for tons of other reasons. ;-) But I would like to mention that even Christopher Nolan fails to have a physics PhD and he was able not only to watch the movie – but to create it! So it can't be that bad, can it? With a physics PhD, you may figure out dozens of things that are plausible and dozens of things that are not. But you don't need the degree to enjoy the movie.
It seems self-evident that for many people, the movie simply is too difficult. But if that's true, their relationship to the movie depends not only on the movie itself but on themselves, too. What I find unacceptable is when some people try to sell their attitude – derived from low intelligence, weak curiosity, and lousy education – as the objective truth about the movie only. This arrogant attitude of these low-IQ critics is completely analogous to the despicable behavior of the environmentalist officials and schoolmasters in Interstellar who forced the engineers to work as an underground organization.
Idiots who can't resist boasting about your intellectual limitations: you are dangerous and you must be treated as a threat unless we want to spend our future by wondering about our place in the dirt.
And that's the memo.