Posted by: gdevi | November 9, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Cast: Matthew McConaughey,  Michael Caine, Ann Hathaway, McKenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar was inspired by a basic idea proposed and worked-out by Kip Thorne, the American theoretical physicist at Cal Tech and perhaps contemporary world’s most renowned expert on Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. In sum, the General Theory of Relativity changed our understanding of time as an unchanged and absolute entity, same for everyone regardless of their physical surroundings. We use terms like “time warp” in an unscientific and non-mathematical way in common conversation, usually for non-scientific and emotional reasons, but as theoretical physics would explain, time warps are real, even though to observe such a warping, you have to look beyond the realm of ordinary experiences and into the subatomic world and when motion occurs at the speed of light. Time warps are also possible through variations in the gravitational field; specifically Einstein predicted that gravity slows down time.  Thus a black hole is a space where time stands still relative to earth.  This is the scientific (theoretical) springboard for this movie. (Now, I must ask you to forget all pop culture appropriations of such terms. They will only hurt and not help in understanding this fabulous movie.) You should also stop reading this review if you don’t want spoilers. There are spoilers aplenty here. Come back after you have seen the movie and see whether this discussion makes sense.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is an ex-NASA engineer living at a point in time on earth when the entire biological environment on earth has suffered extensive blight and humanity cannot produce foodcrops anymore. There is no need for engineers doctors etc, only farmers, who can grow foodcrops. The plot is set into motion with his young daughter Murph (Mckenzie Foy/ Jessica Chastain/Ellen Burstyn) receiving strange messages from entities that she terms “ghosts,” in her bedroom. They communicate with her using specific books and sending binary codes and morse codes. She shows these to her father, and together they decipher that the binary codes when decrypted give them the coordinates for a NASA facility.  Cooper and Murph are discovered and “arrested” by the NASA scientists, and during a debriefing, Cooper learns that the chief scientist Dr. Brand (Michael Caine) has been working on a project called “Endurance” to take humanity from planet Earth to another galaxy that can be entered through a wormhole. The first meeting with Cooper and the NASA scientists where they talk about the wormhole on Saturn is awesome. This is the crux for the conceptual apparatus of the movie. Prof. Brand says that he has two ideas for saving the human species: Plan A-Cooper and his fellow astronauts will commandeer “Endurance” and visit the other planets through the wormhole and report back on how viable they are for human life and then build massive ships and transport existing humans on earth to these new planets. Already NASA has sent thirteen astronauts through the wormhole, and three have reported back findings about potentially viable planets in a different galaxy. In Plan B (failing Plan A), they will take a colony of frozen human embryos to another planet and start a new colony of humans from scratch when humanity on earth dies. Cooper agrees to lead the mission; after all, he was specifically sent the codes to the coordinates for the NASA facility. There must be a reason.

Disappointing his young daughter (who thinks he is deserting her and his family to die on earth), and much against her wishes, Cooper accepts Brand’s invitation to lead the astronauts to the wormhole in search of other planets for earth’s dying humanity.  The visualization of interstellar travel in this movie is perfect. From mathematical computation to graphical rendering, this movie has the best visualization of space, its uncertain form, and its speculative nature. The computer generated graphical rendering of Miller’s seas and its skyscraper tidal waves, Mann’s frozen canyons, and Edmond’s rocks are beautifully rendered. So is the tesseract, the singularity inside the Black Hole of Gargantua into which Cooper falls, or, rather, into which he sacrifices himself so he can get back in touch with his daughter. The visual rendering of the tesseract is just beautiful.  It is again the aesthetics of uncertainty. Very beautiful.

A whole host of things happen while they are in interstellar (between stars) time. To sum up, Cooper discovers, while inside the tesseract, that the “ghost” that had been sending messages to his daughter was he himself, from the future, sending messages to himself in the past and through his daughter. Why his daughter? Why not directly to himself? This is where the movie enters the really speculative parts of cosmology, time travel, and the general theory of relativity. Cooper is not particularly attached to his son, Tom, but he is intensely emotionally attached to his young daughter. It is only this intense “love” he has for his daughter that makes him fall into the black hole where space and time collapses. It is this intense love that he has for his daughter that makes him sacrifice himself inside the singularity of the tesseract and talk to her in morse code through her watch. There is a beautiful scene as soon as they enter the wormhole where Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway), a fellow astronaut feels “them” reaching out and touching her.  My first hand-shake, Amelia tells Cooper, as they stabilize inside the wormhole. It is actually Cooper, on his way in the other direction, from the 5th dimension to the 3rd. It is a totally beautiful scene.

Time warps and wrinkles in time are mathematically real in a theoretical sense. Once you enter a wormhole you are subject to the laws of time, space and gravity. Thus when the scientists discover Cooper after he willingly enters the tesseract, years and years have passed on earth, but only seconds on the blackhole. Murph, his daughter, has now become an old woman, whereas he has remained the age he was when he entered the wormhole, where the intensity of gravity has slowed down time. These are extraordinarily powerful concepts. The movie handles them well. They are represented beautifully.

This is an overall wonderful movie. It is also a very American movie, in the best sense of the word. Our science, real science–not mumbo-jumbo–more than anything else, is perhaps the best, most life-saving contribution to humanity. In particular, the space program. So many of our day-to-day inventions were byproducts of space research: dialysis machines, mammograms, pacemakers, hydroponics–so many of our lifesaving inventions come from the cross-pollination of space science with other research fields. NASA can be proud of this movie.  Do we want to leave earth? We have always traveled onward and outward to discover new places. This movie makes one of the best arguments for funding space research, and it does so, in a non self-important way. Earth, and all of us in it, we are a very very very minor aspect of this magnificent universe. There is so much to discover and to learn about our universe. It is beneficial to look beyond the earth. This movie makes a beautiful argument for learning about the intricacies about our universe.

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Responses

  1. Hi Dr. Devi! I always enjoy reading your movie reviews, especially this one. If you’d like, you can read my review of “Interstellar” at http://goo.gl/QzXFIK.

    • Thanks, Nico! I am glad you enjoyed the review and the movie. That tesseract was an awesome piece of computer generated imagery, wasn’t it? I enjoyed your review as well. Are you working full-time for the Gazette now? All good wishes to you. Take care, Nico. Dr. Devi

      • Yes it was! And yes, I’ve been working full time at the Sun-Gazette for about a year now. I cover county government, politics, and I write movie reviews when I have time.


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