11 Big Questions Left Unanswered By Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’

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Paramount

Paramount Pictures

I know what you’re thinking. “Here come those movie-hating FSR jerks to poop on Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar with all their negativity! No wonder they were rejected from film school!” Good one guys. But here’s the thing – we love movies, and more than that, we know that criticizing or asking questions of a film doesn’t negate the things a movie gets right or the overall entertainment value we derive from the film. Honest. Here’s my positive, spoiler-free review of Interstellar as exhibit A. (And here’s our own Neil Miller’s even more positive collection of words on the film as exhibit B.)

Even great movies can have questionable plot turns or head-scratching moments, and while I don’t find Nolan’s latest to be anywhere near great I do think it’s a good movie… with questionable plot turns and head-scratching moments. It’s a story about nothing less than the survival of the human race, about intergalactic travel and the bending of space and time, about love and rockets. The film is a sensory spectacle with incredible visual effects and a fantastic score by Hans Zimmer, and at its heart is an emotional journey about a father’s love for his daughter. It’s worth seeing in theaters.

But enough of that. It’s time to poop on Interstellar. **Spoilers for the film are below, obviously.**

1) If food is growing scarce why does everyone drive so gleefully through corn fields crushing the crop?

I say everyone, but really it’s Coop and his like-minded daughter Murph who go ripping through the corn fields destroying untold number of meals beneath their wheels. (It’s worth noting that these two events happen 23 years apart, and the corn fields in Murph’s time look as healthy as they did in her dad’s, but whatever.) The point is food is supposed to be valuable and important right? But they mow it down with abandon, and no one seems to care.

2) Why *is* food so scarce anyway?

Yes yes, plants are on the way out due to the blight, but we already live in a world where many of our consumables are man-made so wouldn’t that be even more prevalent in the future? We’re not given a wide glimpse of the world and its remaining population, but it can’t be as simple as everyone with knowledge of engineering, chemistry and manufacturing having died from starvation or dust inhalation. Machinery still works, so food products could still be made.

3) Why are people being taught – and worse, believing – that the Apollo moon-landing is fake?

It’s entirely possible I missed some subtle explanation once Basil Exposition (Michael Caine) showed up to tell Coop why NASA was hiding out in the desert, but Coop is supposed to be in his early 30s in the beginning and had flown for NASA earlier in his life, so presumably the space agency was around at least partly into the past decade. So in those ten years NASA became a scapegoat of some kind? Science became untrustworthy and the education system decided to teach that it was all a fraud? Maybe I’m missing it, but why are people holding a grudge against NASA over a world clearly dying from Earth-based problems (blight, climate change, the lack of okra)?

4) Speaking of the secret NASA base, did anyone consider allocating some of those billions of dollars towards maybe a cure for the blight?

We’ll assume yes, but even if they did and failed wouldn’t someone still think it a good idea to spend some R&D funds on manufactured foods? Maybe take some of the remaining plant-based foods that aren’t yet contaminated and secure them away to a location where they can’t be infected? Or spend the cash on underground bunkers where people can live, form communities and keep mankind alive until they can eventually return to the surface? Or maybe share the technology they’re using to keep their astronauts fed and oxygenated for years in space with the people who are actually starving and suffocating here on Earth? Nah, instead they’re sinking every last dime into “solving gravity.” What the what?

5) Why aren’t MRI machines available anymore?

During Cooper’s chat with his kids’ teachers he makes mention of the fact that they no longer have MRI machines, but why is that the case? It’s not part of a blanket dismissal of all things NASA (hinted at with the Apollo nonsense) as NASA didn’t invent the MRI, they only enhanced and modified it over the years. And if that was the case people would be equally dismissive of their glasses, cordless tools and memory foam pillows. It can’t be due to an anti-science backlash that extends to all electronics because they still have laptops and robot farm equipment and such. So is the problem that we no longer have people capable of operating the MRI machines? That might be the case (but not really) if the remaining population’s sole purpose was mandated to focus strictly on growing food, but we know that’s not the case because there are still teachers and smart kids going on to college. Someone says at one point, “The world doesn’t need any more engineers. We didn’t run out of planes and television sets. We ran out of food.” This implies stuff like planes and televisions still work too, but it also suggests that maybe some engineers could have come in handy with machinery like MRI machines.

6) Why is Cooper’s son an asshole as an adult, and is it because his father clearly doesn’t care about him?

Seriously, Coop wakes up from his deep space sleep and never even asks about Tom – hell, he doesn’t even inquire about his own grandchild – but more than that, is there something being said here about farmers versus scientists? About the supposedly uneducated versus the intellectuals? Tom seemed like a perfectly well-adjusted kid early on and even into his first appearance as Casey Affleck, but suddenly he’s a monstrous prick who’d rather watch his family die from dusty lung than accept some help from someone with a PhD?

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

7) This whole space station by Saturn… couldn’t they have just done that all along without even giving the wormhole a second thought?

When Coop wakes up it’s been a total of 73 years since he left Earth, and wouldn’t you know it… the humans are fine, happy and playing baseball on a space station near Saturn. They’re not on the new world, they’re not even through the wormhole. They’re exactly where they could have been 73 years ago. Again, we have space stations now, so why couldn’t they have been building them and sending people up over the course of the decades? Rockets still work as evident by Coop and friends having taken one up in the first place, so there’s no reason why space shuttles couldn’t have been turned into pubic transport vehicles with admittedly very long routes.

8) Is travel through the “fifth dimensional bookshelf” or whatever just random, or was Coop intentionally picking the perfectly-timed spots to peek through?

The former seems more logical as otherwise how would Coop know how to read this futuristic Dewy Decimal System, but there’s a bigger question here if he was actually in control. He has windows into Murph’s room at presumably every moment of her life, so why not go to an earlier portal, get the message through (as often as necessary) and avoid all of this drama? The easy answer is that Coop can only view the exact moments that Christopher Nolan had already filmed (h/t Chris Campbell), but there’s no logical answer. It’s time, and he has access to all of it, so why the manufactured suspense? And before you say he had to hurry because the space library is collapsing in on itself I remind you that the folks who built it have mastered time so we should assume they also know how to build a sturdy bookshelf.

9) Why have nearly three hours of father/daughter love only to toss it aside in final two minutes for Anne Hathaway?

All that intergalactic effort to reunite with Murph just for her to say she’s fine and hey why not go visit the lady doctor back at camp? Amelia (Hathaway) gives one goofy speech about love being “an artifact of higher dimension” and suddenly we’re supposed to think she’d make a great bed/heart buddy for Coop? There’s no emotional connection between the them, and again, we’ve spent the past two and a half hours watching Coop ache for reunion with his daughter. The reward for all of that? A two minute scene that sees her shoo him away. It’s bad enough we never get to see Murph and friends solve gravity and launch that underground bunker into space, but here we’re also cheated out of the reunion that’s been driving the entire film.

10) If it’s been fifty years since Murph figured out the messages why is Hathaway still only just setting up camp while everyone else hangs out on a space station?

So Coop is found floating in space (or magically appears in space or something), discovers it’s been half a decade or so since he left the cosmic bookshelves and is told in no uncertain terms by his wrinkly daughter to go help Dr. Amelia finish setting up camp. How in the hell is Amelia still setting up camp fifty years later? Is the problem supposed to be that she’s a woman? I say that not because women are inferior, but because the movie already went out of its way to have her be the only physically incapable member of the crew back there on the water planet resulting in the death of poor Wes Bentley. But really, has no one gone down to help her? Are they too busy playing baseball?

11) So, did we build the wormhole? If so – and even if not – is this movie the biggest bootstrap paradox ever?

Because seriously, the big reveal as to who “they” are is that “they” are “us” or maybe it’s “we.” (It’s unclear as there are no English majors in the dusty future.) Aliens didn’t send us the wormhole, we sent it to ourselves. Aliens aren’t saving mankind, we’re saving ourselves. Aliens aren’t peeking into a ten year-old girl’s bedroom, we’re peek – hmm, anyway, what I’m saying is if we sent it back then we obviously survived already and didn’t need the wormhole to do it. The message of self-reliance and accomplishment is nice, but it’s as deflating as saving the species only to learn your reward is to go set up camp with Anne Hathaway.

"Rob is great. He likes movies. He writes about them. And he's a good person."