Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
I used to read science cartoons when I was little, like many others. Every time I read about black hole in those books, I remember reading that no one knows that black hole really exist and if it does, what would be beyond it. I haven’t really dived deep into it, but those kind of mysteries had been always excited me.
I knew Interstellar was a story about an astronaut travel into a black hole, because the trailer obviously showed it. So I was really curious how Chris Nolan would imagine the world beyond the black hole. That was the most exciting part when I saw this movie for the first time.
And I was totally blown away by the movie’s imagination. My 5 stars for this movie solely came from that.
Here’s Nolan’s own quote about how he has been dealing with those mysteries in his films.
“We can’t step outside our own heads,” he told me at Fotokem. “We just can’t. Now, a great film will reveal that the world is way fucking worse than you think it is and you missed it. It should be depressing but the reason it’s not is, we want the world to be more complicated than it is. We don’t want to know the limits of your world. You don’t want to be like Truman in the boat at the end, hitting the sky. What it’s really saying is, there’s more to this place than meets the eye. I make films that are huge endorsements of that idea.”
I think with Interstellar, Nolan showed the most enormous and ambitious imagination so far in his filmography.
Nolan’s movie always shows very deep analysis and a lot of foreshadows. And Nolan presents them very roughly, so it’s not easy to get them all as an audience. And he also leaves the audiences enough room to use their own imagination to understand his movie. Interstellar was not different.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. Including spoilers for ‘2001: Space Odyssey’.
2001: Space Odyssey
Interstellar’s overall plot line is very similar to Stanley Kubrick’s movie ‘2001: Space Odyssey (1968)’ in many different ways. I saw the 2001 after I’ve watched Interstellar, and I was amazed by it. Very abstract but powerful movie. I even felt that Interstellar is like a modern remake of 2001. The main character of both movies travels the universe, then warps beyond the event horizon. And both created a very attractive artificial intelligence character, HAL 9000 and TARS.
Of course Interstellar has more sub-plots and longer story, but you somehow feel the similar thing after you watch both movies. 2001’s wormhole(or a black hole) is near Jupiter, but in it’s original screenplay it was near Saturn, just like Interstellar. Kubrick was not satisfied by the visual effect of Saturn so he changed it to Jupiter later. However in Interstellar, Nolan portrayed Saturn so overwhelmingly and beautifully. To me, it was very interesting to see how Nolan took 2001’s backbone of the plot and interpreted it in his own way.
IMAX and Computer Graphics
Nolan’s obsession to IMAX film is quite well-known. He shot a major chunk of this movie in IMAX format, and it was really effective for a movie that portraits space. I’ve watched Interstellar twice - once in 70mm IMAX and the other time in normal screen - and the difference was even bigger than I expected. 70mm IMAX screen showed all the details in the film so crisply and brightly. It was like a difference between seeing a HDTV and a real-life action.
In this movie Nolan showed another obsession. He used very small number of computer-generated imagery in this movie. It’s amazing considering that it’s a Sci-Fi movie and half of the scenes are happening in space. Nolan has not used green screen at all, and even made close-to-real size of spaceships. He made the imagery of space and projected it to the outside of the spaceship set, so that the actors and the actresses can act in a feeling that they’re actually in space.
I think Nolan was trying his best to make this film look like real. Because the story and the scenes in the movie are something that audiences have never seen before, he might thought that they need to feel that it’s real. And that’s also a reason why he even worked with most-admired astrophysicist Kip Thorne and generated most scientifically-accurate image of black hole in film’s history.
I think Interstellar can be explained in four keywords which have used in the movie very importantly.
1. Gravity: the Bridge
In the movie, Nasa’s Lazarus mission had started because a wormhole appeared next to Saturn. The wormhole had been there for around 40 years, and earth was experiencing some gravitational abnormality because of the wormhole’s gravity. In the very first scene of the movie, Cooper dreams about his memory of an accident while he was working as an astronaut. That accident can be explained that it was caused by the gravitational abnormality.
Professor Brand tells Cooper that he will solve the “gravity equation” before Cooper comes back from the wormhole trip, and he asks Cooper to believe in him. That gravity equation was to leverage the wormhole’s gravity to move the entire humanity through the wormhole. However that promise from professor Brand turned out to be a lie.
Gravity is something we feel everyday and very essential to our existence, but it’s also a very mysterious thing. According to the string theory, among the four fundamental forces in nature, only gravity cannot be explained physically. Randall–Sundrum model explains that our three-dimensional world might be only a brane of the five-dimensional space, and the gravity might be coming from the five-dimensional space.(Still following?) We all know that the earth has gravity, but if you think a little bit more, no one knows how the sphere objects in space called ‘planets’ could have a force that pulls everything.
Murph, Cooper’s daughter, keep seeing paranormal effect in her room like books falling from shelves. She thinks it’s a ghost. On the day there was a baseball game and a bad sand storm interrupted the game, Murph and Cooper see the weird barcode-like shape of sand in Murph’s room, and Cooper says “It’s not a ghost. It’s gravity.” Turns out, it was actually a gravitational force which Cooper has been sending from the Tesseract(will be explained) to Murph and Cooper in our three-dimensional reality. The movie is saying that the gravity might be the only communication channel that can work across our three-dimensional world and five-dimensional space out there. It’s like a bridge.
2. Time: the Key
Time in this movie is the key to mankind’s survival. In the scene where the grown-up Murph talks to professor Brand in front of the chalkboard which was full of the gravity equation, Brand says “I’m afraid of time” meaning that he’s afraid of being close to death. But then Murph looks at the chalkboard and figure out there’s something missing in the gravity equation. It was ‘time’. In the Tesseract, Cooper also mentions that ultimate solution to the gravity equation needs the ‘time’ as the one last element, and that was the knowledge that can only figured out in a five-dimensional space. Cooper sends the data to Murph, and Murph shouts “Eureka!“ and the mankind could be saved.
As the ‘time’ is the ‘key’ of this movie, Many metaphorical appearances of the time shows through out the whole movie. When Cooper leaves Murph for the Lazarus mission he gives a watch as a proof of promise. Later the watch is used as the communicational method between the Tesseract and our world. And if you see the spaceship Endurance, you’ll know that it just looks like a clock. It has 12 units in a circular shape and it rotates, just like a clock. Those were all Nolan’s foreshadowing saying that “Time is the key“.
3. Love: the Compass
Love is like a compass for the journey to the answer in this movie. In the spaceship Endurance, Dr. Amelia Brand claims to go to Edmund’s planet first and she tries to convince the crews that love can be an important element that leads scientific discoveries. Cooper is not convinced, but later in the Tesseract he admits that he could find the exact location in time where he could communicate with Murph, because of love. And turned out Dr. Brand was right, Edmund’s planet was the one that human can survive and settle down.
Many people don’t like this part of the movie because they think it’s too soft and emotional as a Sci-Fi movie. But the thing that people regrets the most in their dying bed is the fact that they haven’t love the people around them enough. Love is a really important thing in our life and the one you should follow when you make important decisions in life. No one would argue with that.
4. Resurrection: the Gift
Foreshadows about resurrection can be seen in many places in the movie as well. Lazarus, the name of the Nasa’s mission to save the mankind from extinction, is a name of a character from the Bible who had been raised up from the dead by Jesus. Professor Brand knew that existing mankind will not survive. He knew that the plan A cannot be succeeded, and he died confessing the truth to Murph. But thanks to Cooper and Murph, whole mankind could be raised up from the dead, just like Lazarus from the Bible.
When Cooper’s team landed on the ice planet and woke up Dr. Mann, he said to the team “You have literally raised me from the dead”.
If you think the five-dimensional space beyond the black hole as the world after death(More explanation to come about this), Cooper can also be considered that he has been raised up from the dead. He was found near Saturn after the Tesseract was destroyed and he wondered ‘What’s next?’
Professor Brand, Mr. Mann, and Cooper, they all prepared for death. They didn’t expect that they could be resurrected. So for them, the resurrection is a gift. Whether the consequences were good or bad, they all have got one more chance.
In physics, a tesseract stands for a 4-dimensional cube which cannot be exist in the three-dimetional world. But in Interstellar it’s the name of a three-dimensional structure in five-dimensional space, build for Cooper by unknown existence who have been quoted as “Them”.
Dr. Brand once mentioned about the idea of the Tesseract in Miller’s planet, after Cooper and she survived from the huge wave. She says the time can be fast-forwarded or slowed down by the gravity but we cannot go back in time. But maybe in five-dimensional space, time can be just a location on a land, so we can move back and forth like we climb up the mountain. The Tesseract is a realization of the idea. In the Tesseract, Cooper could move back and forth in time just by changing his three-dimetional location in it. And he was able to find his daughter Murph in it using the power of ‘love’ as a compass.
In Nolan’s recent article he wrote in Wired as a guest editor, he mentioned a very interesting metaphor.
Film’s relationship with dimensionality has always fascinated me: two-dimensional representations of three dimensions printed onto a strip whose length adds the dimension of time. Time is strikingly represented by the rapidly unspooling rolls of celluloid on a projector.
The reason why Nolan has encouraged people to watch Interstellar in film format - Not only the IMAX 70mm, he even asked to screen them in 35mm format as well. - was not only the high resolution of IMAX, but also because of the relationship between film and dimensionality.
If I borrow Nolan’s metaphor, We are living in a world of a rolling film, and ‘They’ are the editor of the film. We cannot stop or rewind the film, but ‘They’ can jump back and forth in the film and even trim or fold it. the Tesseract can be compared to something ‘They’ made for Cooper from pieces of the film.
I was so impressed by the idea of Tesseract. I have imagined many possible scenarios about the world beyond the black hole before I see this movie, but the Tesseract was not close to anything I could imagine.
Time Travel Paradox
The most critisized plot hole in this movie would be the time travel paradox. In the Tesseract Cooper mentions that “They” are actually future humanity. Humans in the future could get a higher intelligence so that they could understand the five-dimensional space and control the time and space, and they saved the mankind in the past using Cooper and Murph. But if Cooper and Murph didn’t save the mankind, the future humanity could not exist in the future. It’s like a chicken-and-egg problem.
There’s a scene where Murph complains to Cooper why he made her name out of Murphy’s Law, which is known as meaning bad luck. Cooper told her that Murphy’s Law actually means “what ever can happen, will happen”. I was pretty sure that this dialogue has a hidden meaning, but I couldn’t figure out what it means.
Then I found a Quora answer about that topic, and I think I finally got an idea about it.
In five-dimensional space, if you can move across time and space, it will be really easy to mess up the whole universe. Because if you change something in the past that will change the future as well. So I guess ‘Murphy’s law’ can be considered a very important law of nature and something you cannot break in five-dimensional space.
If I borrow Nolan’s film metaphor again, If you cut the film into many pieces and edit them however you want, the whole movie will be messed up. The movie has to have a story. Causes and effects. “what ever can happen, will happen”.
Now let’s go back to the time travel paradox. Cooper could send a very small gravitational force to the past in the Tesseract, but he actually didn’t change anything. He sent a message saying that Cooper had to stay, but he just left Murph. Cooper didn’t change the past. All he did was just sending the ultimate equation from five-dimentional space to three-dimensional world. That’s something that supposed to happen from the first place. Mankind meant to survive. There was no time travel paradox.
Who are “They”?
Through out the movie, “They” have done some significant things. They created the wormhole, they created the black hole ‘Gargantua’, and they created the Tesseract for Cooper. Cooper speculated that they are future humanity, but we can try to guess more specifically.
What we know about “Them” is that they exist in five-dimensional space and understand nature’s laws what current human being could not understand. So we could imagine “Them” as extra-terrestrials. But if “They” have been only living in the five-dimensional space, how could they understand the three-dimensional space we’re living in and build the Tesseract for Cooper? I don’t think it’s possible like we don’t understand the life of bacterias.
“They” could be future mankind as Cooper speculated. I think we can solve the time travel paradox I mentioned earlier with a story like this: In the original parallel universe, the plan A failed so mankind went extinct with earth but Cooper and Brand executed the plan B on Edmund’s planet so the new mankind prospered. But Cooper felt so bad that he left his daughter Murph dying so his left a testament says that if the mankind’s intelligence evolves as they can travel back in time, he would like to complete the plan A save Murph and the whole mankind on earth. Cooper and Brand would be Adam and Eve for the new mankind, so I think the future mankind would execute the testament.
But in hindsight, I think the Murphy’s Law’s analysis I mentioned earlier makes more sense.
I’ve read the review of Interstellar from Jay’s Anaysis, and I thought his point makes a lot of sense. He says “They” might be computer/human hybrid. In other words, the future mankind Cooper mentioned in Tesseract might be the artificial intelligential existence created by human in fact.
There are a lot of foreshadows about that in the movie. The Indian Air Force Drone and Cooper’s tractors show mysterious malfunction and gather towards Coopers house, where the gravitational message was being sent from the Tesseract, through the bookshelves in Murph’s room. They could have been reacting to signal from the world of their descendants.
The Monoliths in the movie ‘2001: Space Odyssey’ are objects built by the transcendental existence, and TARS and CASE in Interstellar look just like them. That might be a hint that those robots are the future human who created the Tesseract. Actually the names of TARS and CASE are the anagram of Tesseract(TESSERACT -> TARS ET CASE: ‘et’ in latin means ‘and’).
In the Tesseract, TARS talks to Cooper and helps him but we could not see his figure. We can guess that the voice was actually from the future A.I.s, borrowing the one that would be familiar to Cooper. In the scene at the Cooper Station, TARS looks like it’s broken during the fall into Gargantua(the black hole). TARS didn’t answer to Cooper’s radio when he was falling towards Gargantua, so it might be broken by the gravitational force earlier than that. Which means he wouldn’t be able to talk to Cooper in the Tesseract.
Stanley Kubrick once had an interview with Rolling Stones magazine about the movie ‘2001: Space Odyssey’ and said:
“On the deepest psychological level the film’s plot symbolizes the search for God, and it finally postulates what is little less than a scientific definition of God.”
A transcendental existence in the higher dimension. The best word to describe it would be ‘God’. The ‘God’ here wouldn’t necessarily mean the God in religion.
If ‘They’ stands for God, this movie’s conception might be explain like this. The space beyond the black hole is actually the world after death. As mentioned earlier, Cooper might be dead in the black hole and resurrected. The world after death is the five-demensional space, the world outside of our world. It’s the place where you can exist across space and time, like God does. It might be somewhere we call heaven. God occasionally creates a place where we can control a small gravitational force to the three-dimensional world, like the Tesseract. That’s why we sometimes see ghosts and paranormal activities.
Interstellar also contains a lot of religious references. It starts from the name of the mission Lazarus. The twelve astronauts who traveled earlier than Cooper to the other side of the wormhole refer to the twelve disciples of Jesus. Cooper Station refers to Noah’s Ark.
I think Nolan put all of these references to make the audiences imagine in many different ways about the movie.
Kubrick also said in the same interview:
“The film revolves around this metaphysical conception and the realistic hardware and the documentary feelings about everything were necessary in order to undermine your built-in resistance to the poetical concept.”
I think Nolan tried the same thing in Interstellar. he made the most poetical movie in the most realistic figure, to help audiences’ immersion and imagination. Neither of Kubrick and Nolan would have their own answer to all the questions for their movies. They just created a playground for our intellectual play, like I did in this article.
Update: I have added “Murphy’s Law” section, written something I have figured out after I published this review.