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Interstellar: The White Guy’s Hero Space Adventure!

I saw Interstellar last night.

interstellar-photos-pictures-stillsIt’s a good sci fi movie. It felt like a cross between Contact and Gravity, but with a larger cast of crewmembers. It was gorgeous visually, had amazing special effects, and significantly limited the “that doesn’t work like that in space” that many other movies fall into. For example: things were more or less silent in space, except when the musical soundtrack had to swell up to make sure we knew Drama! was happening, and drown out the dialog.

But I digress. Clearly, I have a few…. problems with the movie. That’s okay, right? It’s okay to like problematic media, right? And it’s okay to blog about them and give a nice little rant about the things that made me go “huh.” while I was watching, right?

Spoilers ahead! No, seriously. LOTS OF SPOILERS. I WILL RUIN THIS MOVIE FOR YOU! STOP READING NOW! And I’m all over the place with this post, bouncing from one problematic part to another. I’ve put them behind a cut-tag and a new spoiler-tag plugin, but if you’re reading this somewhere other than directly on my blog, that spoiler tag might not work the way I think it should.

This post is like the spider-baby hatching of spoilers for this movie.

Problematic Race

Let’s start with race. Apparently, nobody is black in space, still. Except that one guy, of course. The fact I can’t remember his name should tell you everything you need to know about him (Ok, his name was Romilly… on IMDB, he is listed below the robots, the black principal of the school, and a random board member). I remember the names of the robots. They survived longer than the black guy. And had more personality. And there were more of them than black actors.

Apparently, there are no women of color in the future, either. At all. Not even planetside. Or at NASA. Or among the survivors. Or on the cast for this movie.

This is not how Christopher Nolan envisions the future of space travel.

The zygote farm is in white cases– truth in packaging?

Problematic Women

I found it confusing to keep track of all the waify redheaded women. Waify I can get behind– humanity is starving to death, after all.

But it’s a good thing Anne Hathaway has dark hair, or I’d have been even more confused and convinced that the ecological disaster that wiped out 6 billion people had done so with very selective genetic profiling. Either that, or this is a parable for the End Times, and the only people left on Earth are “soulless gingers” (I kept expecting Felicia Day to arrive and declare herself Empress of the World, bow before her majesty.)

Despite one of them saving humanity, women don’t actually have any agency in the film. Everything is spoon-fed to the women (by men), even the one who saves humanity.

It fails the Bechdel test. In the one scene where two (somewhat named) women exchange 2 lines with each other, they are talking about a male child. This is a movie that is almost three hours long. There is so much going on in this movie, and yet…. there are four female characters. Murphy (the daughter), Brand (the astronaut/scientist), Lois (the sister-in-law), and Murphy’s science-denying teacher. Oh, wait. There is a nurse. Of course there’s a female nurse.

My “favorite” moment has to be when Hathaway’s character is dismissed by the male lead for choosing to colonize and rescue the planet where her lover is, solely because he’s her lover. Never mind that this is her field of expertise. Never mind that she’s RIGHT. Nope. Preference is given to rescuing the rugged solo male hero-type whom everyone admires (unironically named “Dr. Mann”… I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried).


On the Pro Side: Women do have a lot of lines in the movie, and they do have sciency lines. Not nearly as many as men. In fact, early on, Hathaway basically says “let’s not talk too much.” I think this is the scriptwriter’s acknowledgement that he’s going to give all the good lines to the robot and McConaughey.

Problematic Physics

For some reasons, a dying Planet Earth is a worse location for survival than (I shit you not) a water planet *orbiting a black hole*. Yes. Let’s orbit a black hole. That can’t possibly go badly. R.I.P.: The White Guy Who Isn’t the Male Lead (Doyle), but who gets higher billing than anyone except McConaughey and Hathaway on IMDB. Why? Because apparently if you are closer to the ship than the female lead when the giant wave comes towards you, you are going to stand aside (“ladies first!” *tips fedora*) when the giant robot comes barreling in after saving her from her own hubris. And then dawdle at the door a little bit longer so the dramatic tension can heighten (apparently yelling “Get in the ship!” is dramatic tension) just before a wave sweeps you away and floods the engines, guaranteeing the ship will be stuck planetside for another 20 years.

I am not a physicist, so I’m not sure if relativity works the way they say it does. I… have my doubts that one can orbit a black hole in a synchronous orbit with a planet that’s also orbiting it, without being affected by relativity, but orbiting or landing on the planet itself will speed up your time significantly. It seems…. like a cheap trick to speed-age a child character into being capable of doing something in the plot. I’m pretty sure relativity has to do with the speed at which something is moving, relative to other things, so something in a synchronous orbit with something else would be moving at the same speed…. but that’s just me, and I admittedly did not take high school physics.

Problematic Plot/Storytelling

It suffers from the “I didn’t tell you this important stuff because I needed to protect you from the knowledge” plot hole For pretty much zero reason and no logic to support it. It’s a plot hole the size of the wormhole they fly through.

Scientists withholding or falsifying data leads to dead scientists. (Actually, one could argue that scientists withholding data led to a dead planet!) Physicists not asking everyone to help them solve a mathematical problem leads to not solving the mathematical problem. Duh. That’s how science and physics work. If you spend 40 years on a problem and you aren’t asking everyone on the planet for help in solving it, then you are a bad physicist.

If this story has any single moral, it would have to be that scientific honesty is essential to the survival of our species, and that we need to believe our scientists when they tell us stuff! Like “the crops are dying” or “the other planet is a better choice.”

More Problematic Science

The story could *almost* have stayed in the realm of scientific possibility, but the writers wanted to use time travel so the divine intervention wouldn’t look so divine. They could *almost* have prevented a direct paradox (meeting yourself), but wanted to have the male hero have the breakthrough moment and discover the message he was sending to himself. It would have worked equally well if his daughter had seen the message instead– she could even have called him in to interpret it. He didn’t need to witness it first-hand, but since he has all the agency in the movie… he did.

Problematic Theme

At every step, this movie tries to present itself as a serious story about saving humanity from the huge, fatal mistake it is currently making. But in the end, it really is all about the power of luuuurrrve. Yep. The massive problem of saving humanity from extinction is solved “because lurve.”

It’s a movie that issues a problem statement and explores a solution, but ultimately, that solution is “the powerful male hero will save us– with love!” Sorry– I get enough of that from my romantic comedies and Disney flicks, and I love it as a theme.


I expect better from my serious sci fi.

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