Look beyond the theatre screen and you shall see a whole new universe. The universe created by the director with all his imagination. This imagination is brought to life by the actors who skilfully embody their characters and live a whole new life when the camera is running. Such is the beauty of cinema. It will make you want to be there with the characters, do everything they do, feel everything they experience and live their life with them.
Interstellar is by far the best movie I have seen till date. Expert direction, articulate storytelling, impeccable acting, profound music and most importantly – a multi-dimensional narrative. A balanced coalescence of passion, love, and incredibly accurate science makes Interstellar more than a movie. Interstellar, for me, is an epic in its own merit.
One can easily understand that the protagonist (Cooper) has had a hard past as seen in his dream sequence with the crash landing. This is confirmed when his daughter asks him about it and he is understandably reluctant to speak about it. Look for the details in the beginning of the movie. The lander toy crashed in Murphy’s room, the dust patterns and the bookshelf. All these are a part of a clever foreshadowing of what the movie is all about.
When Cooper chases a rogue drone, completely ignoring his daughter’s school meeting, speaks for his passion for flying and technology. Forced to take up farming for reasons unknown, it is only fitting that he runs after the drone-like it is his holy grail. Understand the character developing curve here. Not many people can say so much about a character in such a short time. Notice how Cooper says “Delhi mission control went down around the same time as ours”. This along with the references to crops being destroyed, lack of food and other basic necessities shown in the later part of the movie, one can assume that the timeline of the story could be in some sort of a semi-post-apocalyptic era where mankind is striving hard to breathe clean air and eat good food. And remember, all this with the spine-chilling background score of Hans Zimmer. Also, later in the meeting room at school, you can see Cooper saying that there are no armies – also suggesting some sort of a war which might have plunged the planet into an existential crisis. The timeline in question can be further speculated about when Cooper says “These things need to learn to adapt Murph! Like the rest of us” when he is dismantling the drone; suggesting that its original purpose, whatever it was, is long gone and now it has to fulfil something else. Notice the subtlety in suggesting the background story. Also how seamlessly the character of Murphy is developed in such a short time.
Notice the cavity in the bookshelf. This moment, right here, is some advanced level story telling. This movie revolves a lot about Gravity, Magnetism and Time. I have dedicated a whole post writing about it and it is remarkable how Nolan has managed to introduce the science aspect of the movie in such gentleness; not dropping the viewers right in the middle of a giant cosmological vortex.
“We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt”
This quote is so much more intense, so much deeper than what meets the eye. Notice how the phrase ‘Caretaker Generation’ has been used multiple times. Now, when Cooper says this, sitting on the porch, one can imagine how mankind has lost its spark, the burning desire to go out into space and beyond and how it has settled down and is counting its days. Talk about giving a backstory without giving a backstory!
Coming to the super secret NASA research and development facility (why am I not surprised?) It is worth mentioning how intelligently Nolan introduces a different dimension of the movie. An age-old professor’s wise prediction that we are to leave the planet. A daring space exploration program (Lazarus). A giant spacecraft in the making and finally, an ambitious plan to save (or leave) the Earth with a seasoned NASA pilot in the picture. Now we are talking!
In one scene Cooper is talking to a team of NASA scientists about going on a shady space mission for years, possibly decades together, abandoning his children and the next thing you know he is convincing his daughter that he has to go. If this isn’t following one’s passion no matter what the cost then I don’t know what is.
“Mankind was born on Earth; it was never meant to die here”
Funny thing – If you are watching the movie for the first time, you will be absolutely puzzled as to what all is happening in the movie. Books falling out of nowhere, a super secret NASA establishment, a former space pilot turned farmer talking about saving the Earth etc. There lies the skill of the filmmaker. That is to introduce plot points and elements in the movie which might not seem relevant at first, but in the end, it all comes together to make one big collage of cinematic brilliance. It goes without saying that you need to watch Interstellar at least a couple of times to completely understand what is happening and why it is happening.
The first handshake
Now, Romilly in the background, says “distorting space-time”. By the look of it, it looks almost supernatural seeing the hand being distorted into some sort of fluid. This is just my hypothesis and I could be grossly wrong – Notice how the hand assumes a sinusoidal waveform in the space-time distortion. What may seem to be sci-fi, in reality, could very well be very much adherent to the laws of quantum physics.
Albert Einstein theorised that the space-time fabric upon which rests the observable universe is in the form of a sinusoidal wave. A wave which later came to be termed as ‘Gravitational Wave’. So the wave pattern which is visible is not something arbitrary but is an accurate depiction of how the space-time fabric looks like. Now, in reality, it is invisible. However, remember what they are going through is the bulk of a wormhole – a space beyond our three dimensions. So when a 3-dimensional hand came in contact with the distortion in the space-time fabric, who knows what could happen! The gravitational waves might as well have some visible, physical manifestation. If all this sounds jibber-jabber to you, here is a video of Brian Greene – a well-known particle physicist and a professor at Columbia University explaining gravitational waves.
Take a good look at the horizon. See something elevated from the water surface? It’s not a mountain. It’s a piece of remarkable premonition for what is to come. It is a giant wave which has just passed – probably killing Miller.
Now there is an important thing to notice with the whole Miller’s planet fiasco. Time. The movie talks about time slippage, relativity and the possibility that time being a physical dimension. All the while, Cooper is worried about time, right? He is worried whether there will be anyone left to save on Earth. He is worried about his daughter. While it could be seen as an emotional response to his predicament, the movie slowly unravels the crux of this narrative. Time.
One of the best plot twists I have seen is the fact that the supposed plan A was a sham. Prof. Brand never believed in it and he had solved the problem of Gravity ages ago. The best part of the movie is that just when you thought the movie had changed its course due to the stunning revelations made by Prof. Brand on his deathbed, in comes Dr. Mann (Oh boy!)
Apart from the fantastic picturization of the outer space storyline, what happens with Murph on Earth is equally outstanding. Look at the symbolism – when she torches her own brother’s farm because she believes at least then she can get the wife and the son out of there despite Tom’s stubbornness.
Even after Murph realises that Prof. Brand has been lying to her all along, she doesn’t give up on her study, extending further, the people on Earth. Going back to her room in the farmhouse brings about a sense of circularity. That is, that room and that closet was the origin of her’s and her father’s multidimensional coordinate system. That fact that she thinks that the answer lies there is only fitting given how everything began there.
Coming to the final 30 minutes of the movie, I am not going to write about the 5 dimensional space to which Cooper falls into or the black hole because I very well believe, despite all the theories and postulates, we are yet to understand the entirety of a black hole and what is there on the other side of it? No one knows. However, to the part where it seems to be two Murphs at the same place (near the bookshelf – young Murph and old Murph) here’s my take on the scene – The space (or space-time) in which Cooper is in is probably made of 5 or more dimensions. Now there does seem to be multiple Murphs at the same place. However, it is not the same time. Two objects CAN occupy the same space given that they are at a different time. Cooper sees his own self, talking to Murph(young). Now, this is possible too because if he really is in a multi-dimensional space-time, he could have the ability to access his own memories through time. It is like seeking a video – you can go back and forth all you want but you cannot change how the video turns out to be. That is, even if the Cooper(multidimensional say MD) had sent another thousand messages to the Cooper(3-dimensional say 3D), it would not have changed anything. It is a time loop. The MD Cooper is able to send those messages because the 3D Cooper defied to ignore them in the first place and went ahead with the mission. Had he ‘stayed’ he would not have been able to send messages from the multidimensional space-time because MD Cooper wouldn’t exist. Now, this is impossible because the messages were present because MD Cooper was sending them. Which means that 3D Cooper had to go ahead with the mission. Confusing right? Welcome to space-time and relativity folks. I have learned a lot of these listening to lectures and interviews from the likes of Neil Tyson, Brian Green etc.
This scene, right here, is evidence that MD Cooper is able to access his own space from different dimensions as he is able to see the bookshelf from the front view. Not something the 3D Cooper had seen as there is only Murph in the room at that time. Notice how the MD Cooper in his multidimensional space-time is unable to see the old Murph although technically she is just on the other side of the bookshelf back on Earth. That is because old Murph being there on the other side of the bookshelf is not in Cooper’s memory at all. Proving that he can access only what is there in his memory. And on the other side of the bookshelf, old Murph is not seeing any books fall down even though MD Cooper is hitting the books is because the two events are in two different timelines.
In this scene, old Murph is trying to make the dust fall to see if there is any pattern but there isn’t any. That is because MD Cooper is feeding data to the young Murph in that timeline, not the old Murph.
Since MD Cooper gave the 3D Cooper and young Murph the coordinates to the NASA establishment thereby starting the whole journey, it is safe to say that MD Cooper is ‘they’ (to an extent).
As to the question of who built the multidimensional space-time that MD Cooper is in, he makes it abundantly clear that it is humans who have built it. Not the humans we know now but the ones in the future who have been evolved enough to break the barriers of the 3 dimensions we know. What MD Cooper did for young Murph and 3D Cooper, THEY did it for MD Cooper. (If you can’t comprehend this I don’t blame you)
All this, for a movie.
The only part where the movie has stretched it a bit is when Cooper gets rescued by the rangers. Notice that he is rescued by the rangers near Saturn as you can see the rings of Saturn thereby hinting that by falling into Gargantua (the black hole), Cooper actually came back to our solar system. The fact that a ranger just happened to be there at the right time and place is just a happy coincidence. It is probably adhering to the constructs of cinematic experience that the protagonist survives. From the story point of view, he had to. He had made a promise that he’ll come back.
And the universe just obliged.
Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Rage, rage against the dying of the light
Though wise men at their end know dark is right
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night