The Nolan Paradox

I’m going to try to coin a term. I’m calling it “The Nolan Paradox,” after Christopher Nolan’s beautifully imperfect film “Interstellar.”

“The Nolan Paradox” is as follows: the harder science fiction attempts to incorporate actual science and physics, the more it is criticized for any remaining incorrectness or implausibility, however slight.

Check out these articles –

“Our Universe Would be Destroyed”: Inside the Wild Science of “Interstellar” (Salon)

What “Interstellar” Gets Wrong about Interstellar Travel (Scientific American)

The Science of “Interstellar: Astrophysics, but not as we know it (The Guardian)

“Interstellar” Review: Can one like a movie, yet still not be happy with it? (Physics Today)

Live Discussion: How Good is the Science of “Interstellar?” (Universe Today)

“Interstellar” Science: What the Movie Gets Wrong and Really Wrong About Black Holes, Relatively, Plot and Dialogue (Slate)

“Interstellar:” Science Fiction or Science Fantasy? (Sky & Telescope)

What “Interstellar”  Got Right and Wrong About Science (Time)

Why Scientists are in a Love/Hate Relationship with “Interstellar” (Mashable)

I could go on… the above consists only of a few major online news outlets and a smattering of subject matter publications. Let’s not even broach the subject of other blogs, to say nothing of the typical comments section nonsense.

I’ll also skip the obvious question (Shouldn’t the filmmakers be rewarded for the attempt at getting the science right?) and go right to my concerns.

First and foremost, the specificity and ferocity of the criticism creates a disincentive to the creative class. Why should they bother to research, to get the details right? They’ll just get torn apart anyway. More importantly, we run the risk of hemming in the creative language, the authorial prerogative. Lucky coincidences, anthropocentric perspective, the power of spirit, dues ex machina, etc. are all part of story, be they logical tools or not. Remove them all and what you’re left with is, well, life.

I struggle with this in my own reading and writing, so much so that I generally prefer reading nonfiction to fiction. I’ll admit it–it bothers me when novels can’t get history, science or technology right. But ultimately, story has to come first. Our enteratinment has to keep a sense of adventure, the notion that the right thing happens to the right people sometimes… these serve as a reminder to the reader not to take things too seriously, at least not all the time.

I can’t promise I won’t ever criticize science fiction films for getting things wrong in service of the plot. But when I do so, I’ll remember to do it with a sense of appreciation. After all, 2011, 2012 gave us “Battle: Los Angeles,” “Cowboys and Aliens,” the new and unnecessary “The Thing” and the awful “Total Recall” remake; 2013 and 2014 gave us “Gravity” and “Interstellar.” I’d call that a step in the right direction.


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