Trying to Understand the Theories Behind Interstellar, An Analysis and Movie Review

12 Nov

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

*Spoiler Alert*

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Interstellar is one of those almost perfect films if it were not for a few nagging logistical problems. When crops are failing and various other food sources have become scarce, the only real hope is for everyone to leave the planet and colonize a new world. The only problem is where? The space-faring technology is nowhere near advanced enough to transport an entire population en masse to a new location. Even even bigger problem is how long it will take for transplanted society to redevelop?

Astrophysics professor Brand (Michael Caine) has a few ideas, and when Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA test pilot / engineer turned farmer, stumbles upon his secret installation, a grand plan is set in motion. He is to travel deep into space to validate the existence of some planets that a previous mission has discovered to see if they are habitable. Curiously, they float all too dangerously near a black hole.

It’s therein which lies an immediate problem. According to many astrophysicists, any solar systems that are near this heavy gravitational well are death traps. When considering the lengths that writers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan went towards being as true to life as possible, to have Cooper’s expediction decide to explore the maul of a beast is not really riviting sci-fi. Maybe showing how people can survive travelling through a wormhole and black hole is (the special effects are glorious), but that’s not enough to sell a film.

Just how much a movie-goer is willing to suspend belief depends on how close to realism they want this science fiction movie to be. When considering Earth has become a Dust Bowl, the reasons why needs to be better explained. Just what did mankind do to mess up the planet? Why has humanity regressed to an agrarian society? Just what the movie reveals through “television footage” is not all that filling. A social statement could have been included just to show how a species have messed up their planetary home. Perhaps a bigger issue is in why the best scientists of Earth are insisting on finding hope elsewhere instead of repairing the planetoid. In some ways, this movie is sounding like the third season of Uchū Senkan Yamato (aka Star Blazers) where humanity’s future is threatened unless they take to the stars to find a new home. Another analogy that can be made is in examining what happened to the Ancient Mayan civilization from long ago. One theory suggests the culture died out due to an agricultural calamity.

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When considering much of the story takes place in the American heartland, the tale that the Nolan brothers wanted to make is more about the drama that goes on from a family in crisis moreso than showing how a species is struggling to survive. When a rift forms between Cooper and his young daughter, Murphy (they parted on bad terms), that helps drive this movie. On a broader level, this film is recognizing 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact and Signs as inspiration.

The film is mostly a sentimental road trip for Cooper as he travels the stars with the best minds humanity can spare — Professor Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway); physicist Romilly (David Gyasi); geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley) and two robots, TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart). The rising action is found in the fact that the clock is ticking for Cooper. He promised his daughter that he will come home; but when there’s a black hole in the equation, time will be moving differently for both. Back on Earth, she’s all grown up and her smarts earned her a Masters degree in quantum mechanics so she can finish the equation Brand started. It’s to change either the gravitational constant around Earth or to build a difference engine to allow spaceships achieve warp speed. Just where the metal resources comes from will get figured out later. Some kind of device is seen being built at NASA, but the details are sketchy as to what’s being made.

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For those who left to go scouting for a new planet, they only have one choice. The idea that the moon Titan orbiting Saturn is habitable is tossed out and a convenient wormhole located next to this planet is the only option. There’s hope that something existing on the other side will work. Instead, what Cooper’s expedition finds is a black hole aptly named Gargantua.

But the big question on most viewer’s minds will be in why the planets in this vicinity have to be explored. Didn’t many documentaries state that in order to find a suitable planet, it has to lay in the goldilocks zone? Is the data previously collected about these worlds that important to retrieve when everyone realizes that occupying these planets only spells doom? Twelve explorers went into this strange new galaxy and only the first three nearest worlds are considered. If humanity settles at one of these planets, that black hole will eventually crush everything and leave nothing behind. The species will have to start all over again (that’s not considering where the humanity winds up at this film’s end)!

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Despite this oversight, creative license can not fully justify lapses in judgement or how some of the physics work. It at least allows the effects artists and the Nolan brothers to imagine what could happen inside a black hole that goes beyond accepted theory. All the rules of physics (as humanity understands it) and space-time are broken when everything is pressed into singularity. In what Cooper experienced when he entered this rip in time is more than likely a meeting with the Moirae, the Greek goddesses of Fate than anyone else. When considering he finds himself in a void with nothing but vibrating lines, perhaps the threads of life, this assertion makes more sense than the idea he’s trapped behind a bookshelf. Unlike previous Nolan films, there is no ambiguity as to whether or not he died and everything he’s experiencing is a halluncination.

Ultimately, this film is about the love a father has for his kids. He wants to give them hope. Just what the Nolans have crafted may well be different from what film producer Lynda Obst and theoretical physicist Dr. Kip Thorne originally wanted as a movie. Their ideas are worth reading more than seeing this film.

3½ Stars out of 5

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2 Responses to “Trying to Understand the Theories Behind Interstellar, An Analysis and Movie Review”

  1. Denny Sinnoh 2014-11-12 at 8:14 am #

    Good work. You raise many valid points. I have not seen the movie, but plan to.
    Another question is, why are they going to another GALAXY?

    Some science fiction writers apparently do not understand the distinction between a SOLAR SYSTEM and a GALAXY. Planets orbiting a star (another sun) is a solar system. A very large group of stars located at a vast difference from other large groups of stars is a galaxy.

    It is not so far-fetched to colonize other Earth-like planets among the star-planet systems near our own solar system. Why would they bother an attempt to go to another GALAXY, hundreds of millions of lightyears away? You could possibly make a journey to a nearby star that has planets, but do not insult my intelligence to say that a journey to another galaxy is possible.

    Yes, I know the “worm hole” could theoretically take then anywhere in the universe … so that logic saves them. … so OK … “another galaxy” … duh.

    The solar-system vs galaxy misunderstanding is just one of my pet peeves in Sci-Fi. Writers that should know better … often don’t. That and my other sci-fi pet peeve about setting a sci-fi story in the future, but way, way too near in the future (ex. Blade Runner takes place in the year 2019 … OUCH!)

    Like

    • Ed Sum 2014-11-12 at 2:48 pm #

      Thanks Denny. I have to guess that why the Nolan brothers chose to go to another galaxy is to really emphasize the point of arriving at a wild frontier and it’s completely uncharted territory. That way, as the plot shows, they have no choice but to look at the places the previous explorers have found. Seems weak, especially with the issue of a Black Hole in the vicinity.

      Like

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