Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Interstellar' spoilers discussion

Interstellar was one of the most anticipated films of 2014, and it did not disappoint. Not everybody loved it, but it has incited fierce debate between film fans. I've seen the film three times now, and I believe that it's a masterpiece. A fantastic balancing act between genuine human emotion, dizzying spectacle and breathtaking twists, Nolan hit another one out of the park in one of his best movies yet. I love it when I don't fully understand a film the first time around. The first time I saw Interstellar, I didn't get it all. I missed some pretty obvious stuff because I was so amazed by what I was seeing. My two subsequent viewings have solidified my opinions and I'm ready to discuss every facet of this movie. Let's delve into spoilers for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar.

Warning: If you have not seen Interstellar, turn back now.




Let's first break down the exact plot of this film and then dwell on a few certain aspects. The Earth is dying. Wheat is gone, okra is about to die and all that's left is corn. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a farmer and one of the few educated men left on Earth. He lives on a farm with his two kids and their grandfather (John Lithgow). He has a special bond with his gifted daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy). One day, a gravitational anomaly in Murph's bedroom leads Cooper to discover a series of coordinates that lead him to a mysterious location. When he gets there, he's detained by the monolithic robot TARS (Bill Irwin) and then led by Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) to a room where all is explained by Professor Brand (Michael Caine). The professor reveals that Cooper has stumbled upon the underground headquarters of NASA.

According to Professor Brand, the Earth is dying and NASA is prepping for an interstellar journey to the farthest reaches of space. NASA already sent twelve astronauts to the other galaxy to find a home on the Lazarus missions a few years back. The astronauts were sent through a wormhole that leads to another galaxy with habitable worlds. The wormhole was placed by "they" (otherworldly beings, future humans, aliens) out near Saturn. The astronauts, led by Dr. Mann (played by none other than Matt Damon), were told to sent out a signal if their world was habitable. Professor Brand needs Cooper for this mission (Coop flew for NASA before becoming a farmer). Cooper is hesitant to leave his family and is curious about the plan to get people off the planet. That's where Plan A and Plan B come into play.

Plan A is the ideal plan. The one where the people on Earth get saved. While Cooper finds a new Earth, Professor Brand and others will work on a gravity equation that will solve the problem of gravity and find a way to send people to space on a giant space station (a detail that is easy to miss). That's Plan A. The other plan is just to find a world to live on and start a colony using the resources on the Endurance spaceship and the incubated eggs on board. In the end, Cooper decides to leave his children and save the human race. His parting with his daughter is rough, but he has to leave no matter what.

Cooper, Amelia, Romilly (David Gyasi), and Doyle (Wes Bentley) are blasted into space with TARS and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart). They spend time in hypersleep before they arrive and travel through the wormhole. When they're in the wormhole, Amelia seemingly has contact with "they" during a handshake that distorts space time. They arrive on the other side of the wormhole and find themselves with a dilemma. The first planet is Dr. Miller's world, which is very promising. She's still sending out a signal and appears to be in good shape. However, her world is close to Gargantua, a nearby black hole. The black hole makes time go faster and one hour on Miller's planet is seven years on Earth (the theory of relativity). In the end, despite a lot of hesitation, they visit Miller's planet. Cooper takes the shuttle down and lets Romilly stay just far enough out of orbit to work on the gravity equation.

Cooper, Brand and Doyle visit Miller's planet. It's all shallow water and large crashing waves. Turns out that Miller's planet is a death trap. Miller's dead and her satellite and shuttle is wrecked. Brand gets stuck in some wreckage, but is rescued by CASE. They rush back to the ship before the next wave crashes down but Doyle doesn't get back in time and gets killed. The wave waterlogs the ship and Cooper and Brand are forced to spend another hour on Miller's planet. Eventually they head back to the Endurance. When they get there, they realize that they've been gone for 23 years. Romilly has been alone for 23 years and all of the people on Earth are 23 years older. Thanks, relativity!

Cooper goes and looks at his messages and sees that his kids are all grown up. His son Tom (Casey Affleck) has two kids and a wife and his daughter (Jessica Chastain) is grown up as well. Turns out that Murph is now working with Professor Brand to solve the gravity equation and find a way to make plan A work. Back on the shuttle, the crew faces a dilemma: go to Dr. Mann's planet or go to Dr. Edmonds' planet? In the end, they choose Mann's planet because he's still transmitting and because Amelia is in love with Edmonds and Cooper feels that her love compromises the mission.

When they get to Mann's ice planet, they find Dr. Mann (Damon) and start preparing to set up camp. However, back on Earth, Professor Brand dies and reveals on his deathbed that plan A was a sham to motivate people. He solved the equation years ago and just didn't have the data needed to finish the job. Cooper and Amelia get this transmission and Mann knows all about this. He claims that it was an ingenious plan to motivate people to fight for the greater good. Cooper can't take the lying anymore and decides to go home. However, Romilly gets him to take one last crack at the gravity equation by sending TARS into the black hole, where he could possibly get the quantum data needed to solve the equation. The astronauts head off to different places on the ice planet to set up satellites to communicate the quantum data should TARS find it and relay it back to them in the black hole.

Cooper and Mann go off on the planet and start talking. Turns out that Mann is one evil dude. He beats up Cooper, cracks his mask and leaves him to die. Mann faked all of his data just so someone could rescue him. There's no chance for life on this planet. Mann goes off to the shuttle to leave. Romilly dies trying to recover data from one of Mann's machines, which was rigged to self-destruct. Brand rescues Cooper and they head off to stop Mann from docking his ship on the Endurance. Mann ends up depressurizing something and he dies in a massive explosion and part of the Endurance blows up. Cooper docks the Endurance while the ship is spinning in an amazing sequence. After that, they decide to slingshot around Gargantua and send Brand to Dr. Edmonds' planet and send Cooper and TARS into the Black Hole.

Cooper and TARS fall into the Black Hole. Cooper's ship is decimated and he then ejects out. He then falls into the Tesseract, somewhere in the fifth dimension of time. Cooper then realizes that he was the ghost causing the gravitational anomalies in Murph's room, sending books off of shelves and writing messages in Morse code and Binary. Cooper realizes that he was affecting the past from the present. He led himself to NASA and he led himself to this moment. It was all destiny. TARS reappears and tells him that he has the quantum data. At the same time, we see that Murph has also realized that her dad was her ghost. Cooper sends her the data in Morse on a watch that he gave her before he left. She gets the message and solves the equation. The fifth dimensional tesseract begins closing, which is when Cooper has his final revelation that the Tesseract, black hole and Wormhole were all created by future humans with a superior knowledge of five-dimensional physics. The Tesseract closes and Cooper is rescued just outside of Saturn.

Cooper wakes up on Cooper Station, the giant space station just outside of Saturn. He's 124 when he reunites with his dying daughter, who tells him to go find Brand. Edmonds planet ended up being habitable and a colony was set up. Cooper blasts off to find Brand and start the human race anew.

Phew. That was a lot to break down. Every detail of that summary is important and this is one of the most dense films I've ever seen. Let's break down some questions, theories and other ramblings I had about specific things in this movie.

-Wormhole vs. Black Hole

Interstellar deals with some very weighty science, but it also deals with some really cool theoretical stuff that we've never seen on film before. The basic premise of this movie is that Cooper and a select group of NASA's finest will travel through a wormhole to another galaxy to find a new home for Earth. The wormhole was placed there by "they", a group of beings that we kinda learn more about later in the film. When Cooper and the astronauts finally reach the wormhole, Romilly explains Cooper how a wormhole works using a simple diagram. He describes the wormhole as having the ability to bend space and time to create a portal between two places. They go through the wormhole and one really interesting thing happens, which I'll talk about later.

On the other side of the wormhole is another galaxy of planets and a black hole. The black hole is different from the wormhole. It's very easy to get the two confused and I'm not sure I completely got this the first time, but I get it now and that's all that matters. The black hole is known as Gargantua and has a strong gravitational pull and orbit. But where does the black hole lead? It's pretty clear where the worm hole leads. It's a quick short cut between two galaxies. I've always seemed to understand that a black hole was a naturally occurring phenomenon that essentially leads to nowhere. However, Cooper actually gets inside the black hole and then finds a way out of it. I know what's inside the black hole, but where does it lead and how different is it from a wormhole? Was the black hole actually constructed by fifth-dimensional beings with a superior sense of space-time or was it a natural occurrence? Those questions remain unanswered.


One of the coolest aspects of this film for me was the way that Nolan depicted relativity. From what I understand, Einstein's Theory of Relativity means that time is relative and can go faster and slower depending on the gravitational orbit. Relativity is depicted many times in this film, most shockingly when Cooper, Brand and Doyle go to the water planet. Cooper and Brand return (Doyle is murdered by a wave) and Romilly is 23 years older. It's a chilling and haunting scene and it's made all the more frightening by the fact that we only spent a few minutes on the water planet. I loved how Nolan worked with this theory to do something that we hadn't seen before.

-Inside the Black Hole

Cooper goes inside a black hole at the end of this movie. If you think about it outside of the context of this film, it's a really gutsy move because there was no way to truly tell what was going to be in that black hole. When Cooper gets in the black hole, he finds the Tesseract, essentially the fifth dimension of time and space. Inside the Tesseract, he finds all of the memories from inside his daughter's bedroom. The memories haunt Cooper and he starts getting mad, punching the bookshelf and knocking books off. All of a sudden, Cooper realizes that he was the ghost that Murph thought she had as a kid.

This is when the movie gets really wacky. First off, is it actually possible for there to be something inside a black hole. I always assumed that black holes were just emptiness. Nonetheless, when TARS shows back up, he tells Cooper something very interesting: "They didn't send us here to change the past." Cooper replies by saying: "They didn't send us here at all. We brought ourselves." My interpretation of this is that "they" only set the path, humans finished it. Cooper is the one who sent the coordinates of NASA, he's the one who sent the Morse code back to his daughter and he's the one who saved the world. It goes back to the theme that humans can achieve anything.

-Who are "They"?

Wormholes are not naturally occurring. That is revealed early in the film and Professor Brand says that it was placed there by "they." Who is they? Why did they place the wormhole there? Are they trying to save us? All of these questions remain unanswered until the final act, when Cooper finds himself inside the Tesseract. There isn't a lot of ambiguity about who "they" are, but their motives are mysterious.

As the Tesseract closes, Cooper realizes that "they" are incredibly advanced future humans with a superior knowledge of five-dimensional physics. They aren't aliens. They're humans. And they're trying to help the humans of the 21st century. They placed the wormhole out near Saturn so that we could get to the galaxy.

What the future humans did with the black hole is a little more ambiguous. When in the black hole, Cooper finds himself in the fifth dimension of time. For the future humans, time is a physical dimension. As TARS describes, the humans have constructed the three-dimensional space to help Cooper understand their five-dimensional world. Somehow the future humans have harnessed the ability to explore black holes and construct spaces in them. Here's my theory as to how that happened.

Using the quantum data that TARS and Cooper get in the black hole, Murph is able to solve the gravity equation and transport a space station to Saturn. What other data did TARS acquire inside the black hole? Could the black hole data have contributed to the future humans immense knowledge of five-dimensional physics? That's my guess.

-The Gravity Equation

A large portion of the plot centers around the gravity equation, a mathematical system constructed by Brand. Solving the gravity equation will allow them to massively transport people to space. But according Mann, the equation couldn't work because of a lack of quantum data. Later in the film, Cooper and TARS get the data in the black hole, relay it back to Murph and then send a huge space station to space. What did solving the gravity equation do? And why was the data needed inside a black hole?

I feel like this is just something you have to go with, unless you have a really strong grasp on theoretical physics. Nolan probably could have explained what was going on with this a little bit better, but I think that it would have made the film feel like a science lesson, which he certainly didn't want to happen.

-The Future of the Human Race

At the end of the film, Cooper wakes up on Cooper Station, a massive space station just outside Saturn. It's obvious that Murph has saved the human race and that the space station is in a safe location. But is that it? Are they just gonna hang there or is there a way to get the station through the wormhole? It's clear that Cooper is heading to the colony to be with Brand, but what about the others? That question is left unanswered.

-"The Tesseract is Closing"

Once Cooper has relayed the necessary information back to Murph, the Tesseract begins to collapse. Cooper finds himself flying along in space and he makes a very interesting connection. Earlier in the film, Brand appears to make a connection with the otherworldly beings. Turns out that was just Cooper's hand sticking in the wormhole. Cooper then finds himself floating outside of Saturn in a very 2001-esque moment. He is then rescued by two rangers.

This scene is quite bizarre. It's one of the more ambiguous moments during the film. My interpretation is that because the five-dimensional beings had constructed the Tesseract for the purpose of saving the human race, they also rigged it to send him back. After the Tesseract collapsed, Cooper was ejected from the black hole, moved through the wormhole, made contact with Brand and then arrived outside of Saturn. I'm not sure that this all logically works within the continuity of the film, but it's my interpretation of it. We'll see if Nolan ever comes out with a full explanation for this scene.

That's my analysis for Interstellar. I'm sure that this movie will incite lots of discussion in the future and it's a film that will be remembered for a long time. It's a very complex film and you will miss several obvious details on your initial viewing because of the sheer amount of information being thrown at you. However, Interstellar is an experience like no other and it's a unique and brave film that is dealing with amazingly fresh topics. Not to mention that it is exciting and perfectly executed. After three viewings, I understand almost everything that this film has to offer and I can't wait to watch it again and unpack it as a pure piece of amazing entertainment.

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  1. Dumb and Dumber to > Interstellar

  2. There's something weirdly touching about the movie's corny proclamations, because they contrast so sharply with the hell scapes Nolan keeps showing us.

  3. While the ride is a bumpy one and the destination is a bit of a letdown, getting there is a trip.

  4. The spirit of exploration and discovery lives in Interstellar and that alone makes it a cinematic trip worth taking.

  5. An unsatisfying blend of Gravity, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and The Collected Poems Of Dylan Thomas.