Sunday, December 14, 2014

The power of Interstellar

I have seen the movie Interstellar twice at this writing, and plan to see it several more times and to own a copy of it. It is one of the best movies I have ever seen in my opinion, and has already become one of my all-time favorites. From a critical standpoint, the inevitable comparison to 2001: A Space Odyssey is understandable, since 2001 was a groundbreaking (and now classic) space film, but Interstellar can stand on its own as a masterpiece of groundbreaking filmmaking. I ‘judge’ films often on the effects they have on me. Do I think about them and the messages they impart after I’ve been to see them? Are they in any way life-changing? Do they challenge my assumptions and beliefs? The answer is yes to all these questions where Interstellar is concerned.

As most of you who read this blog know, I am a science fiction fan and have been for a long time. I saw 2001 for the first time when I was twelve years old. Even though I understood little of what it really was about, I understood intuitively that it was destined for greatness, because of its subject matter but also because it was an incredibly well-made film. Even when I watch it now, I feel the same way. It inspires awe. Interstellar does the same. It deals with space travel, black holes, singularities, event horizons, wormholes, tesseracts, gravity, the theory of relativity, and time in relation to gravity. For example, the astronauts in the film age much slower compared to those they leave behind on earth; this is explained well in the film even though it is difficult to understand conceptually. Much of the physics/astrophysics/quantum physics underlying the film are real, not fantasy. Christopher Nolan, the director, worked together with Kip S. Thorne, Caltech professor emeritus of theoretical physics, who is executive producer of Interstellar and who subsequently wrote a book called The Science of Interstellar, which I am reading now. It is a fascinating book that discusses the proven science versus scientific speculation in the film. It’s a good companion piece for the film once you’ve seen it. Interestingly, my husband, who majored in physics/biophysics and who subsequently moved into the field of cell biology, recently showed me a college textbook called Gravitation co-authored by Kip Thorne together with Charles W. Misner and John Archibald Wheeler. He had read it and meant that if I really want to attempt to even begin to understand the problem of gravity, I should attempt to read it. But I know I won’t, because the mathematics will just blow me away. I hit the wall in my first year of college when we got to complicated derivations in calculus. Up until that point though, I understood and even enjoyed studying most of the math taught to us.

In contrast to 2001, Interstellar is a warm film, despite its ‘cold’ subject matter. It is not afraid to tackle the difficulties and complexities of human relationships. 2001 was an extraordinarily stylish and elegant film, but it lacked depictions of real and warm human relationships. Cooper’s warm relationship with his scientifically-inclined young daughter Murph in Interstellar is well-portrayed and real. The strong bond between them was palpable; it was heartbreaking to watch him leave her behind on earth, knowing he probably would not see her again in their lifetimes. Matthew McConaughey did a terrific job as Cooper, the loving father who leaves ten-year old Murph (played beautifully by Mackenzie Foy) behind to go into deep space in search of a new world for the remaining earth inhabitants to move to. Even the relationships between the astronauts and the computers TARS and CASE were ‘warm’; these computers did not turn on the humans as HAL did in 2001, rather the opposite—they tried to save them in several instances. I won’t give away the story of Interstellar for those of you who haven’t seen it, but I will say that it is an incredibly warm and moving movie, one that is not afraid to deal with human emotions, complex science, metaphysical issues, and space exploration in one movie. Of course there are some flaws in such an ambitious venture, how could there not be? Some parts drag on a bit too long, others are too short, but I left the theater knowing I had seen a film that was life-changing. Why? Because it brought up issues and feelings for me that I have been thinking about and experiencing ever since my parents passed away. What is our place in the universe? Why are we here? What is beyond death? Can love transcend space and time (and death)? Is love a real force to be reckoned with? Can it be characterized scientifically? Is there life elsewhere—is it possible that the earth is not alone in its ability to sustain life? It wouldn’t bother me to find out that there are worlds similar to ours in other galaxies that can sustain life. It is comforting to know that. It makes space seem less alone and empty. Ultimately, it is the power of love and our hope in the future that keeps mankind going, regardless of where we find ourselves. Finally, Hans Zimmer’s score is perfect for the movie—moving, intense, mind-expanding and uplifting. I am still thinking about the movie many days after I saw it for the second time; that is the effect it has had on me. For those of you who have seen the movie and want some ‘answers’ to some of what was brought up in the film, I recommend IMDB’s FAQ page for the movie: –a very well-written page.

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