Spoiler alert! Do not read if you haven’t seen the movie!
Read on if you don’t plan to.
Summary: with the earth dying, crops failing, dust-storms hailing and the human population depleted to the brink of extinction, a group of scientists must find a new planet viable for life to save mankind.
I’ve been looking forward to Chris Nolan’s latest movie, Interstellar, since the first trailer. Journeying through deep space, travelling through a wormhole, stunning graphics, alongside a stellar cast with the likes of McConaughey, Caine and Hathaway? YES.
Does the movie live up to the hype? 50 percent of the near 3 hours of screen time. The cinematography is beautiful, especially when showing what a wormhole would look like – spherical, crystal ball-shaped containing visible galaxies rather than the usual psychedelic warped tube. The visualisation of the black hole is also brand new, displaying a black centre with golden halos around its surface, rather than the traditional concept of a dark hole in which nothing, not even light, can escape. Movie-goers may be pleased to know that some of these graphics were supported by the math of ex-Caltech theoretical physicist Kip Thorne. Special relativity theories were applied (albeit with questionable accuracy), and is shown through the differentiated ageing of the crew (and those on earth) compared to those who travel to planets heavily affected by gravitational forces. The graphics seem to (or at least attempt to) adhere to science.
Movie gel – did it all stick together?
Stunning theoretical graphics aside, was the movie able to hold itself together? Not quite. All was well until McConaughey’s character, Cooper, sacrificially travels into a black hole, reaches the singularity, and finds himself not only undead but in a 5-dimensional space. A replica of his earthbound daughter’s bedroom, with infinite timelines of her life all existing simultaneously. He’s not able to interact with her but can, to a limited extent, influence the objects in the room to give her clues of his “otherworldly” existence and which eventually lead to her scientific breakthrough. The suffocating aura of The Cube ensues and we’re left wondering what would become of Cooper in this time-warped shoebox that’s somehow linked to earth though millions of light-years away. He’s God and a prisoner all at once.
I zeroed-in on this scene despite other questionable plot devices because it, to the amateur scientist, is the most unlikely. One can’t travel into a black hole without being gamma-rayed to ash or stretched like fleshy spaghetti. Death is a near certainty, and Cooper wasn’t given any alien like abilities throughout the movie to defy this. Wormholes are less well researched and I’ll give traveling and surviving through one the benefit of the doubt.
All the more disappointing was the ending. Cooper, after the black hole ordeal, is incredulously transported back to Saturn’s proximity near the wormhole, spaceship-less. He’s picked up “moments before his oxygen runs out” and is sent back to a huge space-station/earth like habitat, hosting the remnants of the human race, that his daughter built thanks to his otherworldly hints.
The movie Contact also comes to mind, where the unknown was similarly explained by pseudo-psychology x science: unfailing father-daughter bond, love always prevails, the dead aren’t really dead but are resurrected as 5th dimensional beings in another cosmos. Jodie Foster in Contact travels through a man-made wormhole and encounters her dead father, now living gracefully in another dimension/planet. Cooper’s experience in the black hole singularity feels like a more tastefully done rip-off of Contact’s plot, roles reversed.
I know this is Hollywood and a happy ending sells better than reality, but Interstellar’s conclusion feels far-fetched and desperate. Which accounts for the 50 percent dissatisfaction. Cooper should have died or at least accepted that return to earth wasn’t possible, fuel starved and starship wrecked. Alfonso Cuaron did a better job in Gravity building up the story and painting Sandra Bullock’s highly unlikely yet still believable return to earth. In fairness, Cuaron dealt with a much smaller piece of space. Chris Nolan had a much harder task of bringing everything full circle taking into account the laws of physics, and the premise that the crew travelled lengthy distances unknown to man.
Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. Would I see it again? Yes. Though somewhat disappointed that there were moments when cautious, plausible science fiction morphed into silly, unbelievable fantasy, there isn’t any candidate in my mind that can do it better than Nolan can. Accept that it’s an imperfect movie with pokable incredulities, yet balanced with a healthy amount of research supported, stunning graphics. Movie goers should see it, even if for the meticulous cinematography alone.
Feature image credit: Warner Brothers
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