Interstellar is a lesson in physics from the bowels of your most vivid high school hell. This review is an educational adventure and a guide through one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.
Spoilers will be everywhere
I’m both excited and amazed at how this movie stands out and doesn’t blend into last years outer space sensation, Gravity.
It all takes place in the future. Cooper [Matthew McConaughey] is a former space pilot, that is now a full-time farmer with a family. The career change came with the decline of the planet earth. Crop blight, a term for diseases that kill off crops, has ravaged the worlds food supply, leaving corn as the sole survivor. Being a farmer is more important than being anything else when there’s no food. The lack of vegetation has caused the loose soil to blow frequent dust storms, which are also affecting everyone’s health because they are breathing in all of that dirt. It’s clear that the earth is deteriorating and that means, that humankind needs to find a new place to call home.
Other than assisting in the food struggle, Cooper’s primary concern is his two children and father-in-law. The widowed father has an intelligent teenage son, and an ambitious little girl named Murphy (she’s named after Murphy’s law, how cheesy.) Murphy, who is a science guru at the age of ten, has been complaining about ghosts in her room. During one of the sandstorms, she accidentally leaves her bedroom door open, and when Cooper rushes to close it, he gets to see the ghost-like phenomenon. This supernatural force leaves behind a coded message in binary that ends up being the coordinates to NASA headquarters.
NASA is not supposed to exist. As far as mankind is concerned, all efforts need to be applied to the production of food. Which makes a lot of sense, but at the same time, they need a new home, and the only available real estate property is in outer space. Cooper and his daughter enter NASA and meet Cooper’s old teacher, Professor Brand. NASA has discovered that a wormhole has mysteriously appeared near Saturn, during earth’s decline. This wormhole leads to another galaxy with a whole new group of planets and presumably has come to existence with some alien help. Professor Brand, the intellectual head of NASA’s space mission, had sent out astronauts to these planets to find a livable space. Although they cannot communicate, they carry beacons that transmit back to earth. Three have returned positive communication. Cooper has to travel to these planets, Goldilocks-style, to find which world is just right. While he takes this little trip, with Brand’s daughter [Anne Hathaway], a group of astronauts, and a loyal robot, Professor Brand will continue pondering an equation that is the solution to getting everyone out. If Professor Brand can’t solve the equation in time, they will have to resort to Plan B, the repopulation of humans on the new planet through embryo specimens.
Here goes the science behind this story through simplified physics. This wormhole is a shortcut to another galaxy. According to all the physics I never paid attention to, wormholes can create these shortcuts due to the use of multiple dimensions. The problem is that there is a black hole in the new galaxy that is incredibly close to the location of these planets, causing time to be skewed. One of the planets that Cooper visits is 7 years for every hour on earth. Cooper is in this desperate situation to return to his family. As flimsy a plot point as that may seem to some when the existence of mankind is at stake–selfishly speaking–missing out on the lives of one’s own family is devastating. The idea that you could be 35 when you return home and all of your family would be dead due to old age is disturbing. Cooper is in a race to get back to his family.
Time travel forward to Murphy as an adult, working with Professor Brand because like her father, she is a fanatic of science. Professor Brand reveals to Murphy, that he had figured out the solution to the equation ages ago, but since he can’t know the specific data of the nearby black hole, he can’t put it into play. It just doesn’t make sense without that information. Brand sent her father out on a mission, knowing that Plan B would ultimately be the only option. He sent Cooper into this time-consuming mission, knowing well that he would be taking a father from his children– for the sake of humanity. Murphy transmits this information into a recording that can be received by the enterprise space vehicle Cooper is on, even though he can’t reply. The transmission is her venting about this messed up situation.
In an attempt at making Plan A (find a planet return home) successful, Cooper shoots his robot into the black hole to collect data–the data that Professor Brand needed but no human has been ever able to obtain to make the equation work. But Cooper also intends to make Plan B work either way. To successfully execute Plan B, Cooper ejects himself into the black hole, so that Amelia Brand could reach the last destination with the remaining fuel. His added weight would have made her mission fail.
Cooper doesn’t die by throwing himself into a wormhole but is pulled into the gravitational singularity of the wormhole as ->explained here <- and enters into the fourth dimension through a tesseract, also placed by the alien beings that have set the wormhole where it is.
So, what exactly do the dimensions mean? We are beings that live in a three-dimensional space. Length, Width, and Height, are the three dimensions we live in–the space we occupy. The concept that there could be 4 dimensions means that length, width, and height, would exist with time. Now in our 3 dimensions, time is linear, always moving forward and infinite. If a being exists within 4 dimensions, they would be able to manipulate time, so that it is no longer linear but would be a series of events that could be accessed. If you wanted to, you could pinpoint an exact time in the future and exist within it. Time would exist outside of its usual state.
These “alien beings” that placed the wormhole where it was and created the tesseract are 5th-dimensional beings. According to Cooper, they are future decedents of humans that have advanced past 3 and even 4 dimensions. In other words, humans created the wormhole and the Tesseract to save their human ancestors lives.
Confusing? Let me make it better. Our future ancestors are so advanced that they can create wormholes and four-dimensional areas, wherever they like. Plus, they can travel forward and backward in time. They put out the wormhole and tesseract as tools, to help the past generations get to the planet where in many generations in the future, they will be able to have advanced to their fifth-dimensional state.
Two points within the movie explain where Cooper ends up in the tesseract. An astronaut by the name of Mann contemplates that when you are near death, those that you love are all you think of when you think you are going to die. Amelia Brand, Professor Brand’s daughter, suggests that love is a force similar to time, in that it is infinite even when there is no survival related purpose. When someone dies, we continue to love them, even after the reason for love no longer exists.
Since the fourth dimension couldn’t possibly look like anything that we have seen before, the tesseract reflects a translation to third dimensional understanding for Cooper. In the Bible, Jesus said that he explained life using proverbs because beings of earth could not understand the concepts of heaven, because they are out of what we have seen before. Let’s say tomorrow a new color is discovered, how would you be able to describe it if no one has ever seen it before? You would use comparisons to the colors we already know.
Similarly, the tesseract lets Cooper see the 4th dimension through his connection with his daughter, he is transported to Murphy’s bookcase. He can manipulate time in the multidimensional space from behind Murphy’s bookcase because she is the source of his love and it’s a visual concept he could understand. Because as Cooper falls into the Tesseract, he believes he is going to die, and she is all Cooper thinks of, and because the easiest way for him to understand what he is looking at is through her. And in that space behind the bookcase, he can physically move time to whatever point in the past or future that he wants. Down to the exact moment.
Cooper realizes he is the ghost that Murphy had seen all along. From behind the bookcase, he can communicate by pushing her books off the bookshelf. He eventually uses the dust through the window to write to her, providing himself (from the past), with the coordinates for NASA. Cooper then maneuvers through time to the future, when the adult Murphy, returns to her bedroom looking for answers. In this 4 dimensional space, he can communicate with the robot who is collecting information from within the black hole. To get that information to Murphy at this point and time, he uses morse code on the hands of the watch that he gave Murphy before he left for his mission. Murphy sees the hands of the watch twitching and knows its morse code. Cooper is then released from the Tesseract and ends up near Saturn.
A few astronauts pick him up and take him to a space station that is orbiting Saturn. Inside Cooper station, he is reunited with his daughter who is now elderly. Because Cooper was inside of the black hole in the tesseract, he is in his hundreds but still looks the same age. The time spent there was multiplied in earth years. Murphy was able to get all of the humans off of Earth and onto a space station, while everyone waited for Cooper’s return with the news of the planet, through the information that was transmitted to Murphy on the watch. She used the blackhole data to finish Professor Brand’s equation.
This black hole story is a very complex idea to try to bring to light in a movie. That is why I was so in love with it. Forget all of the scientific contradictions and the possible inconsistencies, its a plot unlike any other. Even if you still don’t get any of the physics concepts, it’s an entertaining action movie.
What did you think of Interstellar? How do you think they did with the physics in this movie? Comment below or message me here to talk more physics and Interstellar gossip ->
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