Interstellar and Science

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Christopher Nolan’s 2014 Interstellar, a thought-provoking mind-bender about wormholes, black holes, time travel, fifth dimensions, and love triumphing all — wow– just listing the goals of the film makes me exhausted. It’s a grand attempt with jaw-dropping effects and solid acting by Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain. Anne Hathaway’s performance was disappointing as was Matt Damon’s performance as the portly, good scientist turned bad.

The science, the principles of quantum mechanics, linked to the fiction, and the prediction of our world in the near future had me ruminating about the film for weeks. Did Nolan get the science right? I opened up the Time, November 2014 article written by Jeffrey Kluger, where he kindly separated the scientific theories for me as well as answered how accurately they were portrayed in the film. The verdict? Much of it was plausible. You are welcome to read all about it HERE.

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Or better yet, if you are like me whose knowledge of physics extends to the arm-chair, Top Documentary Films on the internet is an excellent index. I recommend the series Into the Wormhole narrated by Morgan Freeman. Specifically, in season two, try watching this episode “Are there more than three dimensions?” 

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I think I get it. We’ve been accustomed to three dimensions–length, width, and height for a long time. Then Einstein came up with time as the fourth dimension, and Interstellar toys with the concept of a fifth dimension. Did you know the “string theory” suggests there might be eleven dimensions with just as many, if not more, universes out there?

Interstellar included some Inception tricks like a space station with a bendable horizon. I loved the imagined foreign planets that might be suitable for human existence–a water-world with colossal tides and it’s opposite, a bleak, desert-world. There are other nice touches in the film like the replication of a dust storm blotting out sight and air tagged with the recollections of survivors of the U.S. Depression in the 1930s. There were many details that Christopher Nolan did right with Interstellar like his interpretation of a wormhole, or his characters aging (or not) to illustrate the effects of time travel. I can’t condemn him for aspects that seemed inconceivable such as the role the black hole played in the film.

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It seems unlikely that a ship could orbit the lip of a black hole and not get sucked in. It seems unlikely that anyone could travel through a black hole and survive spaghettification. But how thrilling to imagine going through one! I loved the fifth dimension played out on the screen. All of humanity rests behind the book shelf? Far fetched, yes, but I was too wowed by the story-line and the attempt of representing scientific theories to find much fault with plausibility. Instead of finding fault, I commend the audacity of Christopher Nolan for creating another mind-bending, intellectual treat. It was worth the price of admission, and you bet, I’m going to buy a copy.

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It is expected that fiction will bend the rules for the sake of the story; at the heart, Interstellar tells a love story. The reunion between father and daughter is nothing short of miraculous. So what if it probably couldn’t happen?  Its magnificence lies in the imaginative spirit of Nolan. It is as visually stunning as Kubrick’s  2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s saying a lot.  

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60 thoughts on “Interstellar and Science

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  1. The *science* of this film went over my head a little (well, a lot) but I was expecting to still be emotionally moved by it and it didn’t really do it for me. Still I admire Nolan’s ambition and it’s still an intriguing film even if it didn’t reach *greatness* that he strive for. Btw, he’ll be speaking at a local art museum here in town in May, can’t wait to see him in person!

        1. If you do, I ask you consider Jessica and Anne’s acting. I have read on other blogs where a weakness was not giving the two ladies enough room to develop as a character. I think that Chastain does a nice job acting whereas Anne’s performance was wooden and not endearing at all. That is, if I were M.McC at the end of the film, I wasn’t convinced I’d fly across the universe again to reunite with her–especially if I didn’t know she were hooked back up with Edmond, her love interest. We, the audience, know he was dead and was alone on the planet looking lonely, but M.McC sure didn’t.

          1. I totally agree about Anne’s performance, it didn’t move me at all. She had this big spiel about love and stuff but it fell rather wimpy and flat to me, instead of inspiring/moving. So yeah, I didn’t really care that Cooper went all the way back to space to be with her! But the two actresses playing the role of Murph were good, and I’ve always been fond of Chastain.

  2. Yeah, I’m still thinking about Nolan’s film. That’s saying something as it’s been month since I’ve seen. About to open my Blu-ray of the film. This only encourages me to do it sooner…well, after tonight’s JUSTIFIED series finale, that is. Thanks for spotlighting this, Cindy.

    1. I had to go and read about it, Michael. I NEVER have time to watch television series. sigh. This looks like something my Jim and I would like. Sounds like a good present for Father’s Day. Thank you!

  3. This was a film I well and truly regret not seeing multiple times in the large format. Like it is for, it’s a definite purchase in the near future. I think Nolan was mostly successful with what he was aiming for here, it was such an ambitious (arguably overly ambitious — did we need the “love conquers all” cliche in there? i’m not sure. . .) vision, and probably one of the biggest of last year.

    As far as sci-fi goes the only thing I see larger than it coming out in the foreseeable future is Star Wars: Episode 7. That’ll be a big one!

  4. Great post! The science in Interstellar is fascinating for me to learn a little bit about. The concepts seem science fiction but many of it is based on actual science which blows my mind haha. There’s this Discovery Channel Interstellar special narrated by McConaughey, posted on you tube, that’s filled with great tidbits and factoids, worth checking out too.

  5. I didn’t enjoy the film quite as much as I had hoped to but I did love some of the mind-bending science bits! I bought my other half a copy of The Science Of Interstellar written by Kip Thorne, Nolan’s consultant physicist on the film. I haven’t read it myself yet but it’s loaded with diagrams and looks pretty fascinating!

    1. Yes, Kip Thorne from Cal Tech. He’s the man, apparently. I found the theories brought to life on the screen mesmerizing even if the fiction part of the story fell askew at times.

        1. I preferred Inception as a whole concept, too. Many people like to pick on Nolan, but I admire his efforts to blow us away. Maybe he tried to hard this time. Simple plots with interesting characters usually win the day. Still, I love “going through” wormholes and to imagine the fifth dimension was highly entertaining. The film moved me more than most have of late.

  6. I also really enjoyed the film, more than I have for most of Nolan’s films. I thought it was really emotionally resonant. I do wish that Nolan would try to possibly not fit so much plot and ideas into one film. I feel like essential details go by so fast that it’s hard to know what’s going on at some point. I still don’t quite get what was the ‘surface’ that the Matts were trekking toward on the ice planet.

    As far as a space station built on the ‘inside of a paper towel roll,’ the sci-fi novel 2312 does a great job bring this concept to life. The tube spins around and centripetal force makes everything (grass, livestock, lakes) stick to the rolled up walls. Pretty cool!

    1. Hi James, interesting how some were emotionally moved while others were emotionally cold with the whole thing. Too many ideas, too much stuffed into one project? Gosh it’s a tough call. On one hand, science fiction is supposed to blow your mind, stuff it with the hypothetical, and leave you exhausted. Also, today’s penchant is to have a franchise with multiple chapters in a series. Interstellar could have been split up into three films, yet its length makes you feel like you had journeyed across the universe. That’s hard for any audience to endure. What I liked about ‘Interstellar’ that I didn’t care for in ‘The Theory of Everything’ was that this was science plus a love story instead of the weak bio of Steven Hawkins which was an underdeveloped love story and never flushed out anything about the science. I think of ‘Avatar’ which was mind-blowing and much better received than ‘Interstellar’ and I think Interstellar is far better. So why does it have a lukewarm following? You suggested essential details went by too fast and a general audience couldn’t process it in one sitting for such a long duration. I think you might be right there. I know it will take a few views to get the jist of everything. I’m glad there was a happy ending, too. So much of Science Fiction ends on a devastating, depressing note.

      1. Even with a few quibbles, I’d still say it’s one of my Top 5 favorite movies I saw this year. I think it would have been an even better 6-part mini-series on HBO, or something like that!
        I make a point to see all of Nolan’s movies, but I always go in thinking ‘This movie is going to be really long, and I have to pay attention to every second.’ So you’re right, you end up feeling exhausted. And even then I think there are parts that require a 2nd viewing to completely understand. Avatar was also realllly long, but you could kind of mentally check out for long periods of time and just watch the pretty colors and explosions. 😉 Maybe that’s why it was more popular, more of a straight-forward popcorn flick?

      2. You are absolutely right. How interesting to consider your audience. If you want mass appeal, it has to have the right amount of excitement, the right amount of intellectualism and layers, and the right amount of variety of characters who do things you can love or hate or at least make you care about them. Films that are fantastic for me often have a limited following. I must have dialogue, ideas presented, dynamic characters and interesting plot twists for me to rave about a film. Avatar, while pretty and stimulating, was a story I have been exposed to over and over. I was bored. Same with the Hobbit franchise (toward the end). Films like that should never be boring. CGI worlds aren’t enough.

  7. Fine article Cindy. I was completely swept away by Interstellar…every aspect of it. The science was interesting and it definitely spurred a small bit of intrigue. But I didn’t get wrapped up in it as much as the central relationships. Nolan handled those so well and the way he weaves them together with the science was incredible. I was so moved with emotion and so wowed by the sci-fi.

    1. Welcome, Keith, I remember your review and you gave it top marks. I was impressed with Jessica Chastain’s performance and it was a treat to see Ellen Burstyn’s bit performance. Matthew was a fine father. The only relationship which didn’t move me was Anne Hathaway. I didn’t feel enough chemistry to warrant his trek across the universe for the implied hook-up. What did you think about the comic-relief robot? I loved the looks of him, but I didn’t care much for his personality. Truly, just nitpicking. OTHERWISE, the monstrous movie was a spectacle for all my senses. 🙂

  8. I agree it’s “mind-bending, intellectual treat”. A superb sci-fi set in space. And I agree I was really disappointed by Matt Damon’s little role. Yet, it’s an excellent movie. I blogged about it back in November 2014.

  9. I love that Morgan Freeman series you alluded. Some great stuff.

    For me, this movie looked great. That was all I took from it, the script was pretty poor IMO, some of the lines are close to groan-inducing.

    But, I too loved the spin on science and am not the sort of person who likes to pick holes in films. I also admire Nolan for having the balls to make this film – he no longer has his Batman franchise to fall back on. In many ways it is a great film, but it is certainly uneven.

    I’m not sure about your lat statement though. I love the look of both movies, but to me, Insterstellar looks cold. The FX used are amazing (that giant wave across a giant IMAX screen – WOW), but it looks nothing like the movement in Kubrick’s film, which holds up to this day and looks like a cosmic ballet, especially in the way visuals sync to the soundtrack. However I definetely appreciate where you’re coming from, and this was a very interesting read 🙂

    Another thing about 2001 – was it just me or were there some parts in Interstellar that kinda crossed the line of influence? The docking sequence for example is ridiculously similar to 2001, as are many other moments. This is a movie that I need to rewatch definetely, but I can’t see the script improving on a second viewing, or the sound editing for that matter. I won’t buy this but I need to rent it out to watch it again, plus I’m sure the BR has some cool features.

    Sorry for the super long comment! This was just a super interesting post :))

    1. 🙂 Comment away! Jordan, you bring up some very valid points. First, I’m glad someone called me out on 2001. Yes, it did borrow from Kubrick’s masterpiece–the docking scene, the anti-gravity, counter spinning ship, etc. What a score! Kubrick is focused while Nolan does too much, but it doesn’t mean anything other than Kubrick is still the master while I enjoyed Nolan’s film. (I thought Inception was better.) If a film has me thinking about a character or message or concept therein, if a film leaves a residue for whatever reason, then it wasn’t a waste of time no matter how many holes are in it. Hope to see you here, again, Jordan. BTW, your blog is right up my alley. I like the eclectic feel to your posts.

      1. Hehe thanks, eclectic is what I’m aiming for! So I’ve succeeded there 😛

        I agree, any movie that has you thinking has done a decent job, and this one did for sure. I need to watch it again tho, with subtitles, some of the dialogue was hard to hear at times in the cinema.

        Heh, I am the opposite re- Nolan. I actually haven’t really liked anything he has done since Memento. But I really enjoyed Interstellar, despite the flaws. It certainly looked great!

          1. The fact I dislike for superhero movies doesn’t help. I’ve tried to watch TDK a bunch of times but seeing a guy rock up in a purple cape and wierd mask just ruins it for me. But I’m not one to hate on directors, I did also enjoy The Prestige. Inception though I really disliked, but that was five years ago, I really should revisit that one.

          2. Hahaha I don’t know. It was five years ago, and five years ago I was a drug addict, so I really should watch it again to actually have a proper opinion.

            What did irritate me wasn’t so much the film, it was the people who talked about it as if they were superior because they ‘got’ it. Ugh my flatmate was one of those people, so goddamn patronising. But of course this isbn’t the movie’s fault.

            Okay now you have turned me, I need to see it again. Hell I’m a fan of Leo, I have no idea what I didn’t like five years ago, I can’t remember shit!!

  10. My kids have each seen this film a handful of times and have returned each time equally amazed at the storytelling (daughter with an opinion on the science end is a road I avoid at all costs as she ruins the enjoyment of suspending reality for me all too often). I’ve yet to see it. I missed it in the theater, but I will gobble it up hungrily in a couple of days on Dish. I think what I’ll do first though, is read the link to the Time article (thank you!) and watch Mr. Freeman narrate the documentary. I love getting prepped so that I might be able to enjoy a film even more.
    Which is what your blog does for me each and every week, Cindy. As always, many thanks for that.
    Cheers!

    1. Shelley, thanks so much for your kind words. Your blog is one I make sure to read every weekend. You and Rob make a fine team; I really like your insights to the average day. I’ve said this before you are a new twist to Erma Bombeck. I’m sure only great things will happen for you. Your support and kind wishes mean something to me, friend. I look forward to your visiting each week, too!

  11. I have heard mixed things about this flick, but through all of it my conviction has not changed. I really want to see this film.

    And you’re positive comments certainly make me continue in that desire. Someday. Like summer.

  12. I had eagerly awaited the appearance of this movie… and then was very disappointed. I just couldn’t connect with it. You mentioned ‘Inception’ – loved that movie.

    I don’t know what it is about ‘Interstellar,’ but as much as I love sci-fi, it left me cold.

  13. I have to limit the amount of time I spend thinking about time and space because it completely screws with my head!

  14. Interstellar is now in my Netflix queue together with your other recommendations in the comments. I have always loved science fiction and the thought that so much of the technology written about actually came true, like Jules Verne’s moon landing, Aldous Huxley’s Antidepressants and George Orwell’s Surveillance State, gives pause for thought about Interstellar and the Fifth Dimension. Technology is advancing geometrically so we will not have to wait as long as we did with Verne, Huxley and Orwell, to see whether these ideas pan out 🙂

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