15 maddening 'Interstellar' plot holes
You just saw Interstellar. You have questions. It’s almost impossible to watch Christopher Nolan’s space epic without having one or two. Below are a bunch.
About half of these could be considered plot holes. Others are more like plot contrivances, things that seemed slightly maddening despite possibly having some explanation within the story’s layers of exposition. And while there was plenty to love and admire about this wildly ambitious and gorgeous film, it’s also a tale where a man in space suit survived going into a black hole, communicated with himself back in time via a fifth dimensional library, got spit out into our solar system, and was rescued by a passing ship with a couple minutes to spare on his air tank — all because of something about love. So some brow-furrowing is justified. Bonus: We promise not to make you listen to Michael Caine recite “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” again.
1. Wouldn’t it have been way better for Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to just send the super-robots? Sure, we’re told bots can’t improvise. But they also don’t freak out about being stranded, want to check out planets where their lovers are stationed, and make decisions based on getting home in time for their daughter’s birthday. Plus, having people on the ship requires more oxygen, food, water, fuel and ways to watch Survivor videos from home that rip your heart out.
2. There’s a reference to land wars having come and gone, but still: Wouldn’t the starving hoards of desperate humanity kill the farmers and take what was left? Are we really supposed to believe, in a society where the military has collapsed, they’d just slink away in their dusty cars to die? Or are the very least, wouldn’t they raid the corn fields for all the food? Clearly Nolan has never worked in a restaurant — you put suburbanites on a 40-minute wait for a booth and by the end of it they’re ready to claw your eyes out. Even the nice hobbits stole from Farmer Maggot.
3. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) gives his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) a soothing explanation of the origin of Murphy’s Law. This isn’t actually true. The term means pretty much what you thought it meant — if anything can go wrong, it will (like, for instance, your dad taking off for 80 years, leaving you behind to eat corn with dust sauce). Speaking of: Cooper shows up randomly at NASA and suddenly he’s piloting the craft? If he’s so ideal for this incredibly important Earth-saving mission that’s just about to happen, and even knows the professor, and is just a day’s drive away, you would think they might have already known he was working the farm down the street and reached out to him. Did NASA not have a pilot before he showed up?
4. Why are the watery vacuum-seal sleep chamber containers so filthy? Did Murph leave the window open on the space station during a dust storm? And did Nolan lift that the paper-and-pencil explanation of wormholes from Event Horizon?
5. Was this the first movie where aliens played a major role, but we did not see any aliens? Or wait: There were no actual aliens, and it was just humanity in the future, right? Either way: Cooper is definitely revealed to be Space Ghost, supplying his daughter (and his younger self) with information. How is that not a cap-P Paradox?
6. So you can receive depressing videos from your loved ones about how you’re a crappy father on the other side of the galaxy and through a wormhole, but nobody could send Earth back any detailed information about the habitability of the prospective planets that mankind is depending on? And would Murph really continue being so angry with her dad for participating in the save-humanity project when she’s spending her life devoted to the exact the same project?
7. How is Romilly (David Gyasi), who waited 23 years for Cooper and Brand (Anne Hathaway) to get back to the ship, not totally insane? He took a couple sleep breaks but clearly spent well over a decade alone. Wouldn’t he be collecting jars of his urine and wearing tissue boxes on his feet by now instead of looking like a dad who’s mildly perturbed at his kids for staying out too late? Why not, after finishing his complex math homework, didn’t he just stay in the sleep chamber and trust Cooper and Brand to eventually wake him up rather than remaining for years roaming around the ship looking out the window, waiting for the headlights of their returning shuttle? Romilly is the most tragic character in this movie. Murph lives a long life and has a ton of distractions to keep her occupied — such as her grouchy brother, Michael Caine, a surprise Topher Grace and a meaningful job — yet we’re supposed to feel really sorry for her. But Romilly waits around for 23 years in space, bored out of his mind, somehow manages to keep his wits together, only to get blown up by sad Matt Damon. From Romilly’s perspective, this movie was a total tragedy.
8. Speaking of which, let’s talk for a minute about Damon’s character Dr. Mann (Get it? Man’s greatest enemy is Mann — the Waterwold planet was a man vs. nature challenge, then the Hoth planet was a man vs. Mann challenge). Did anybody else get the impression if Mann just would have opened with, “Sorry about the pings, I was crazy lonely and going nuts,” the other astronauts would have thought he was super unprofessional, but still let him tag along to the next planet? And how come, with a few scientists, a couple incredible robots and a spaceship flying around, Cooper’s team couldn’t tell anything about the planet’s inhospitable conditions without trekking out to a glacier? And how would seeing that one glacier really tell you anything about the rest of the planet? Like with the videos-from-Earth device, the answer seems to be: Technology in Interstellar only works as much as the plot needs it to work. Which is true in all movies, particularly sci-fi films, but it’s not supposed to feel like it.
9. Ultimately, if aliens/future humans wanted to save us, couldn’t they have simply given the professor the secret equation? Especially if the solution is apparently simple enough to be delivered by Morse Code? Or perhaps give humanity way to grow some food? Rather than orchestrating a spectacular protracted and complication mass starvation family melodrama mind-f—k? Cooper was almost killed a dozen ways before he gets into the tesseract; it just really seems like a lousy plan.
10. We’re somewhat sure a planet, and very sure a ship, and absolutely sure a person, can’t get as close to a black hole as they do in this film. Unless we’re playing by the rules of Disney’s The Black Hole. And if love is a powerful inter-dimensional force, do other emotions power other dimensions? Like is there a sixth dimension fueled by shame?
11. Where is the robot when Cooper is in the library den of the fifth dimension tesseract? Because he’s talking to it but the robot doesn’t appear to be in the same place. And what sort of radio works inside a black hole anyway? I guess the answer is “because the fifth dimension makes everything everything.” And do we buy that brilliant scientist like grown-up-Murph decide that the answers for solving humanity’s crisis all reside in her childhood’s poltergeist bookshelf?
12. What’s on the bottom of the robot’s legs, exactly — are there wheels? Wouldn’t it be scraping along crazily against everything with those big square metal ends? At the very least making a lot more noise? Still, I want one of those robots. The robots were rad.
13. So at the end of the movie, Cooper is 124 years old in Earth-time. Enough time has passed so that humans have created awesome circle-vision space stations with softball fields and are growing fields of crops that they apparently couldn’t grow on Earth. But are we to understand they still haven’t gone to Planet Hathaway yet? And since Brand didn’t do the time-slowing black hole plunge with Cooper, and isn’t on a planet on the edge of that black hole, wouldn’t she have also aged several decades too by the time Cooper reaches her? Did anybody else want McConaughey to paraphrase Dazed and Confused: “That’s what I loves about space travel: The women get older, but I stay the same age”? (Perhaps Cooper, as one theory goes, actually died).
14. Since it’s been established you cannot truly communicate from the settlement planets back to our solar system beyond rudimentary pings, how did Cooper know Brand wouldn’t be living happily on the planet with the other guy — Edmunds. For all Cooper knew, he’s going to show up and be like an awkward third wheel on her date for the rest of his life. Or was he just banking on the other guy to have died by then, but Brand still be alive? An even better question than how does Cooper know all this about Brand: How does his 95-year-old bedridden daughter, who just woke from two-year nap, know all this about Brand? And did anybody expect Edumnds to be played by a surprise appearance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Which leads us to….
15. Cooper spends the entire movie trying to get back to his daughter … and his daughter spends the entire movie yearning to be reunited with him. He spends two minutes with her … and then then they both agree he should split to go have presumed only-guy-on-the-planet sex with Brand?
UPDATE: Neil deGrasse Tyson weighs in on Interstellar
For more, check out Darren Franich’s explanation of the plot of Interstellar.
Also, the cast explains science: