The idea to make a movie based on a scientific theory was invented by the American physicist Kip Thorne. He also actively helped Christopher Nolan write the screenplay for “Interstellar” and did it so well that even Stephen Hawking and Neil Degrasse Tyson did not find any contradictions in the scientific component of the film. Kip Thorne later wrote a book explaining the physical and astronomical basis of “Interstellar.” The book came in 2015 under the title “Interstellar: The Science Behind the Scenes,” published by Mann, Ivanov & Ferber.
Not all of us, however, have the baggage of Hawking’s knowledge, there may not be time for a book, but we want to understand the meaning of the film “Interstellar.” In this article, I will try to answer the questions that you might have while watching it.
In what century do the events of the film take place?
“Interstellar” begins with pictures of total starvation and devastation on Earth. An unknown disease affects one after another valuable cereal crops: wheat is already extinct, and corn is next in line. We do not know the year when the catastrophe started and what century it is now. We can, however, wonder.
During a baseball game, Cooper’s father-in-law Donald declares that “in his day,” people knew how to play baseball, but now the players are pathetic to look at. Cooper objects to this: “In my day, people were too busy getting food to play baseball.” Cooper is now in his 40s; you can deduce from his words that the drought and famine began when he was young, that is, 20 or 30 years ago. Donald’s generation still caught the world healthy and well-fed. At the same time, the universe of “Interstellar” is too similar to ours to refer to the events of the movie in the distant future. Most likely, the action takes place at the end of the 21 century, but it is only a guess. But we know for sure what actual events inspired Nolan.
The Dust Bowl is the name given to the devastating dust storms, that swept across the prairies of the United States and Canada in the 1930s and 1940s. If you have read John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” you may remember these terrible pictures of hunger and poverty – Steinbeck was writing about the events of the Dust Bowl. American farmers had not properly cultivated their fields and had dried the soil; this coincided with a long lack of rain. As a result, dust storms hit farmers’ fields and homes, which blew away the top layers of soil, led to starvation and disease and forced several million people to flee their homelands. Remember the old men talking about drought, dust, and famine from the screens in Cooper’s new home? Nolan borrowed some of this footage from the Dust Bowl documentary.
What is the wormhole, and who created it?
Professor Brand explains to Cooper that the only way out for people is to flee Earth and establish a colony on a new suitable-for-life planet. Since no such planets are found in the solar system, it is necessary to escape beyond the solar system to another star. Here we come to the meaning of the movie’s title: Interstellar means “between stars.” Humans have the task of flying from one star (the Sun) to another, but they don’t have the technical capabilities to do so. Human life and fuel reserves are not enough to reach a new solar system. Travel to another star becomes possible when scientists discover a wormhole near Saturn. A wormhole is a gravitational anomaly that allows astronauts to travel pretty quickly from the solar system to a distant part of the universe. The wormhole, or blackhole, is a real concept in science, growing out of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Romilly demonstrates to Cooper how a wormhole works by rolling up a piece of paper; you can see the same model in the wormhole section of Wikipedia.
Professor Brand says that wormholes do not appear by themselves; Kip Thorne confirms this statement in his book. The characters in the film decide that the wormhole was created by some “they,” a more advanced life form that exists in five dimensions. But in the finale, it turns out that “they” are the humanity of the future. It appears that the people of the next era have laid this bridge in the form of a wormhole for the humans of the past so that they can escape and build this very future civilization.
Why does time pass at different speeds on different planets?
One hour on the planet Miller equals seven Earth years – and Cooper doesn’t forget that for a minute while his comrades are wandering knee-deep in the water looking for the wreckage of a ship. The characters explain: that time goes faster on the planet Miller because it is very close to a black hole called Gargantua. To be honest, it’s not the most exhaustive explanation.
According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, massive objects cause space-time to warp. It is like putting a ball on top of a stretched cloth: the ball is heavy, so it will push through the cloth a little. Planets and black holes squeeze the canvas of space-time around themselves. This is already a proven fact: for example, in 2004, the Gravity Probe B satellite collected data that confirmed that space-time is curved around the Earth. The Gargantua black hole is much more massive than the Earth, so the curvature of space-time around it is incomparably greater. This is what makes time on planet Miller run faster.
Where does Cooper go from the black hole?
This strange place is called a “tesseract” in the movie script. Generally speaking, a tesseract is a geometric figure, a four-dimensional version of a cube. That is, the tesseract in relation to the cube is the same as the cube concerning the square. In “Interstellar,” the tesseract is a three-dimensional model of four-dimensional space that the people of the future explicitly built for Cooper.
Don’t you get it? Let me explain. Let us recall the words of Amelia Brand:
“To ‘the’ time can be a physical dimension… And the future is a mountain that ‘they’ can climb.” “They,” as we recall, are the people of the future. “They” have learned to move freely in time as well as in space. Cooper has no such ability, but inside the tesseract, he can move between different points in time. Now, the time has become a physical dimension for him as well.
The critical thing to understand here is that Cooper cannot physically move back in time. The only force that can move freely from his time to the past is gravity. This is what Cooper used to send information to himself and Murph in the past.
How did Murph save humanity?
Professor Brand Sr. realizes from the very beginning that the Earth can no longer be saved; it must be escaped. He also knows that it’s impossible to get all the people off Earth: there is not enough rocket power. So the key to solving this problem he’s looking for is gravity. But before he dies confesses to Murph that the equation has long been solved but that he hasn’t learned how to operate gravity.
Murph continues to search for the solution to the situation and finds it on the hand of the clock: the data her father gave her turns out to be the missing link in the equation. But the film does not show precisely how Murph managed to evacuate all the people from the dying planet. Murph’s decision is explained in his book by Kip Thorne. According to him, Murph figured out how to reduce the force of gravity on Earth, and this made it easier to launch rockets full of people into space. Admittedly, the disruption of Earth’s gravitational field also led to more disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, but that doesn’t matter to people now.
Cooper Station, where the father and daughter meet in the finale, is not the only one – we must assume that by this point, all of humanity is inhabiting several similar stations and preparing to move to the planet Edmunds.
What is the meaning of the movie “Interstellar”?
We’ve dealt with the theoretical questions, but “Interstellar” is, after all, a fiction film, not a scientific film. So there is some idea that Nolan wanted to convey to us, in addition to important discoveries in physics and astronomy over the last hundred years. To understand this idea, we have to analyze the two key themes of the film: love and the desire for knowledge.
The Power of Love
All of the characters who contribute to the cause of saving humanity do so for love. Amelia wants to see Edmunds – in the finale; it turns out that his planet was the only one suitable for life. Cooper loves his daughter and is ready to dive into a black hole to save her, and this is how he manages to transmit the most valuable data for scientists to Earth. Murph, in his turn, loves his father and returns to his room after many years to get his gift – a watch. And the watch turns out to contain information that will save people on Earth.
“I am drawn across the universe to a person I haven’t seen in ten years who may already be dead. Love is the only feeling available to us that can transcend time and space.”
These words, Amelia Brand’s monologue, are, in my opinion, the key to understanding the theme of love. Love is the main driving force in the film, but not only for other people; and there is also the love of knowledge.
The Craving for Knowledge
All the characters in “Interstellar” are very clearly divided into two camps. In the first one, there are people who make every effort to solve the problem, who are not ready to give up, and who are eager to discover new things. These are Murph and the entire crew of the spaceship “Endurance”: Cooper, Amelia, Romilly, and Doyle. Cooper and Murph, of course, are the ones with the strongest craving for knowledge. Even after becoming a farmer, Cooper cannot forget the knowledge he once possessed. He insists that his son must be educated. He searches for a way to save Murph and the rest of the people on Earth to the last minute. Murph continues to work on Plan A, even after hearing from Brand that it is not feasible. She tries to save her brother’s family from disaster, though he resists her.
In the second camp are the opponents of knowledge and just inert people, content with their lot. This is Tom, Cooper’s son, who likes to be a farmer. This is Cooper’s father-in-law Donald. The most harmful characters here are the teachers at the school the Cooper children go to. They teach false knowledge that will only prevent the children from surviving.
Professor Brand Sr. and Dr. Mann in the story go from the first camp to the second. Their original goal was to save humanity, and they contributed significantly to that task. But later, both gave up: Brand became disillusioned with his equation, and Mann simply went insane on a deserted planet.
In a single sentence, the point of “Interstellar” is simple: knowledge and exploration are good, and limitation and inaction are bad. The lives of millions of people depend on people like Murph and Cooper–ready to tackle a problem to the end and take risks to solve it.
Knowledge alone is not enough: without love, it does no good. We know that Dr. Mann has no family or loved ones left on Earth, so he does not care about the fate of humanity; his own life turns out to be more precious. On the one hand, Professor Brand Senior provides his daughter with a relatively good fate: she has a real chance to survive, while those left on Earth, according to his plan, will inevitably die. But on the other hand, he hides his plan from her, making her an unwitting accomplice to her father’s crime. Brand’s love for Amelia is not as strong as Cooper’s love for Murph, so Cooper and Murph become the saviors of humanity, not Professor Brand.