I just saw Interstellar. Even though there were only 10 people in the cinema room for hundreds, I think it was a great film.
The movie was touching, visually impressive, and boasting a clever plot that depended on time dilation and subtle closed time-like curves. In this blog post, I won't discuss the general relativistic visualization of the black hole and wormhole at all because it was talked about previously and it's a small part of my final impression, anyway.
The blog post below is full of spoilers. Do not continue if you don't want to get spoiled.
At the very beginning, we are shown a family of U.S. farmers who are struggling in very difficult conditions that resemble the Dust Bowl of the 1930s but it's worse.
For a while, I didn't understand why the story is about farmers but let me explain.
In the future, a global conflict apparently turns the Americans into the only surviving nation on the globe. Indians were alive just a few years ago and they would be sending solar-powered spy drones to many corners of the world but they no longer exist.
Moreover, the new Dust Bowl has arrived – worse than the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. That wouldn't be life-threatening, you could think. However, nitrogen levels are going up, oxygen goes down, and something more dramatic has occurred, too. The environmentalists have conquered America, with the goal of morphing it into a depopulated primitive stateless anarchic society.
In a short civil war, the good folks managed to kill Al Gore and 97 other most notorious climate criminals. But Rajendra Pachauri and Paul Ehrlich took their Greenpeace army, stormed the government buildings in Washington D.C., and changed America to a Luddite, environmentally totalitarian regime led by the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). Pachauri became the president and Ehrlich became his vice-president. Under this "leadership", America finds itself unable to deal with very simple challenges such as the dust storms.
It's time for me to present the main characters.
The main important farmer – who is a trained pilot, I tell you in advance – is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). He has an ordinary son (whose name is not important) and a curious daughter, Murph (official name: Murphy, named after Murphy's laws). Cooper's wife has died but his old father is around.
If you continue to read for a few more paragraphs, you will also learn about Prof Hathaway (in the movie: Professor Brand, probably meant to be Kip Thorne: played by Michael Caine) who has an important daughter, Anne Hathaway (in the film: Amelia Brand). In a different galaxy, we also encounter Dr. Michael Mann (Matt Damon).
But back to the farm.
Cooper the farmer is struggling with the agricultural business and sometimes has a nightmare when he remembers his final flight in which the aircraft failed, for unclear reasons. Cooper manages to catch and tame an Indian solar-powered drone. Daughter Murph is excited when she controls the drone by Cooper's (dad's) laptop.
She sometimes observes "ghosts" near the bookshelves in her bedroom. She defends her observations: poltergeists may exist, after all, science never settles things "completely", she believes. You might think that she is a superstitious, scientifically illiterate girl. But you should give her another chance!
The viewers have a reason to think of her more highly soon afterwards. Cooper is invited to the school to learn how his kids are doing. The son is pretty good (2nd in the class or so) but the school officials inform Cooper that it's not good enough to be a scientist – climate scientist. Almost everyone has to be a plain farmer, the IPCC dictates: the world no longer needs any engineers, they say (see the trailer below). The son is OK with that – he wants to be a farmer, anyway. (Unlike the dad, Cooper himself, who hates the humiliating and uninspiring job that the environmentalist jerks have forced him to adopt.)
The school's report about the daughter, Murph, is more dramatic. Cooper learns from the school officials that:
She's been physically fighting with her classmates because of an old science textbook that she found in Cooper's bookshelves and that has described the Apollo missions, among other things.Murph believes that the Apollo mission was real and the classmates call her a denier for that reason and beat her. Of course, when Cooper learns that his daughter loves the truth as much as he does, he is happy and stops sending Murph to the school.
The IPCC has replaced these textbooks by new ones that say that the U.S. has never gone to the Moon. It was just a trick to force the Soviets to waste lots of money with the rockets. The message of the new textbook is that engineering and technology doesn't work and never worked. Everyone has to be a sustainable and renewable treehugger.
The new IPCC-sponsored textbooks also describe CO2 as a pollutant and hide that it is an essential gas for all life on Earth.
They investigate the ghosts in her room and it turns out that one may say that they're perhaps some gravitational anomalies (although they look like if they had a human soul, Murph notices). Some signals in the Morse (or binary) code are being sent through these anomalies. They manage to figure out that they are the longitude and latitude of a place N on Earth.
So they drive to N and find something rather stunning. There is some crazy facility with lots of light and energy over there. Cooper and Murph are captured. For a while, they only communicate with seemingly hostile twisting rectangular robots. But after some moment, Anne Hathaway appears there, too. It is becoming clear that the place is actually much more friendly towards Cooper than the IPCC-led totalitarian regime in the U.S.
Do you know what the place N actually is?
It is NASA!NASA managed to preserve this highly advanced facility even though NASA has officially been disbanded. Why? Vice-President Paul Ehrlich ruled that overpopulation was the cause of the Dust Bowl so he ordered NASA to exterminate 90% of the U.S. population by aerial attacks (which would help him to prove his prediction from the 1960s almost true, too). NASA has refused to do so and was disbanded. However, this unit of NASA was saved in the most secret location on the Earth.
The existence of these refined technocrats in the boring mediocre society reminded me of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" – I guess that the mediocre left-wing aßholes will hate this feature for the same reason why I love it. (Update later: confirmed.)
Anne Hathaway brings Cooper and Murph to a nice room with lots of NASA people in suits. One of them is Prof Hathaway, her father, who is designing clever methods to save the mankind. They already know that with the available technologies that are left, the starvation would be getting worse. They have plans to save the humanity.
Well, there are two plans: Plan A and Plan B. Plan A assumes a happy end – the astronauts return home, meet their relatives, and everyone is saved in some way – the mankind is relocated using some formula extracted from the black hole singularity. Plan B assumes that the Earth is sacrificed with everyone who is left over there and some astronauts only start the human civilization at a different place of the Universe. The official plan of NASA is to realize Plan A.
The NASA is surprised that Cooper – a former pilot of NASA – could have found their new location which is the most secret place on Earth. Recall that they got the coordinates by decoding the Morse (or binary) code in the message hiding in the "ghost" gravitational anomalies in Murph's room. How is it possible that the gravitational anomalies send such signals about the new NASA location seems completely mysterious at this point.
It is getting clear that Cooper is the best pilot that NASA has and he will fly in the crew whose goal is to save the humanity – the most important mission ("Endurance" spaceship) in a series (following "Lazarus" flights, referring to resurrection). We learn that NASA has already sent a few other spaceships to a traversable wormhole (this is forbidden by the laws of physics, but OK) whose "domestic throat" lies near Saturn. Through the wormhole, one may get to three potential new habitable planets that were visited by previous astronauts:
- Ms Miller
- Mr Edmunds
- Dr Michael Mann
Cooper, Hathaway, and two more astronauts – plus two intelligent robotic friends – fly towards Saturn. It's a two-year flight. At some moment, they get very close to the wormhole. The wormhole is largely meant to be the Einstein-Rosen bridge, a non-traversable wormhole that looks like a black hole from both sides, except that for certain reasons, the wormhole has to be traversable because the communication in both directions is possible to some extent and they may continue their lives on the other side of the wormhole.
They penetrate through the wormhole and think which of the three candidate planets they visit. An important technicality is that near the black hole horizon, the red shift is so intense that one hour in the gravitational field is like 7 years of life on Earth. This is already pretty bad for Cooper. There are rather touching recordings of his family that he manages to see – and he can see how his kids are getting older very quickly.
At the beginning, Anne Hathaway is the more "professional" astronaut while Cooper is biased, ready to put his chance to see his kids again above the success of the mission to save the mankind. They quickly exchange these roles. We learn that Anne Hathaway is in love with one of the three astronauts that were sent to discover the habitable planets, Mr Edmunds. She thinks that her love is a more important message than the cold fact that Edmunds hasn't sent any positive signals for quite some time.
OK, which of the three planets they visit? They first visit the planet of Ms Miller. They find a pretty nice planet with a huge shallow ocean – but giant ocean waves. This is caused by the tidal forces from the nearby black hole horizon which also makes the red shift intense and devours lots of asteroids that were important for Earth to get many elements and organic compounds. Ms Miller died a short time ago. They save their life and escape, decided that this isn't a good planet. One of the two accompanying nameless astronauts dies here.
Then, after dealing with some technicalities about the proper time on the trajectory and the fuel they need (which aren't right, I think, but it makes a rough sense), they visit Dr Michael Mann's planet (they seem to have enough fuel for one more planet only and Cooper decides that Anne Hathaway isn't impartial when she recommends Edmunds' planet). Note that when Dr Gavin Schmidt was hired by Paul Ehrlich to disband NASA, Dr Michael Mann was taken as a hostage by the good "rebel" folks in NASA and he began to cooperate on saving the humanity. You might think that Dr Michael Mann has become a good guy. But don't make premature conclusions.
They visit Dr Mann's planet which is frozen, full of ammonia or methane ice or whatever it was. They wake Mann up and everything looks optimistic. However, after some time, Mann kills the second of the two nameless astronauts whom I didn't mention and tries to kill Cooper, too. We learn that Dr Mann has been sending fake signals about the hospitability of the planet – in order to have a chance that they send a spaceship to his place and he will be saved (after he kills the crew and steals the spaceship)! He has completely hid the decline of the habitability at the places where he recommended the people to live.
In the movie, Dr Michael Mann has remained the same dishonest jerk and f*cked-up hockey-stick aßhole that he has always been. Fortunately, Cooper manages to miraculously save himself, while Dr Michael Mann fortunately kills himself while manipulating with the spaceships unprofessionally.
As you can see, there is one promising planet left, the planet of Mr Edmunds whom Anne Hathaway loves. A spoiler inside this spoiler: that's of course a very good planet where one may live and Anne Hathaway flies there. I say "Anne Hathaway" only because Cooper calculates that the fuel or something (inertia?) is insufficient for both of them, so he disconnects himself from the big spaceship, allowing Anne Hathaway to ultimately land on Edmunds' planet (he's dead by now). At the end, we learn that "her love instinct" was just right: her darling's planet was the right one even though Edmunds is dead.
Meanwhile, the disconnected Cooper is expected to die. But instead, after some unpleasant vibrations and trips through wormholes, he lands in some bizarre tesseract, a set of parallel copies of the 3D universe that are rotating into each other in a way that supersedes the Lorentz transformation. He is (and you are) able to recognize that the place looks like the bookshelf of his daughter in his house back in the States! Equipped with one more dimension in his perception, he is able to see the spacetime region around Murph's whole life as if the time coordinate were spatial, too.
The daughter who is as old as he is – according to some coordinate system – learns from the dying Prof Hathaway that he has always known that the Plan A was impossible. Planet Earth was always doomed and the old professor was always thinking about Plan B only – starting the new planet and sacrificing Earth. She is even more angry because she is afraid that her dad Cooper knew about that and he left her (and everyone else) to suffocate on Earth!
Aware of his new "higher-dimensional" location and of the fact that he was scheduled to sacrifice the Earth, he tries to prevent his own departure. So from the tesseract, Cooper is sending Morse code signals saying "STAY" to his daughter. She has always known that these messages sounded very "human" and that's why she called the phenomenon a "ghost" – the reason wasn't her fear! – and this punch line seemed extremely clever to me. It was a very gentle logical reconciliation of the closed time-like curve.
So all the gravitational anomalies and signals were sent by Cooper himself. He was the ghost! In the tesseract, he can treat time as if it were a spatial direction (not sure what they do with the wrong signature). So we're shown all the stories about the "ghosts sending signals via gravitational anomalies" from the other side – from Cooper's side. Pretty cool. ;-) The coordinates of the NASA facility were sent by the "ghost" Cooper, too. And by the way, the failure of his last "pre-farming" flight was caused by the gravitational anomaly, too.
Whether the "tesseract" is natural or was built by humans or some higher-dimensional ETs remained ambiguous, unless I missed something.
Finally, Cooper also sends some sophisticated data from the black hole singularity to an older Murph, data that were collected by the friendly robot TARS in its final mission. (If you want to know how, he uses the Morse code controlling the second hand of her watch that he gave her before he departed. Well, they had two identical watches and wanted to use them to measure time dilation – the twin paradox etc. – after he returns. But the same device may be used to send Morse code messages, too.) Murph is capable of completing the equation to mass transfer the mankind – something that her ex-boss in NASA Prof Hathaway has been working on for his whole life. (This mass transfer of the mankind is very similar to the 1984 Czechoslovak sci-fi sitcom, The Visitors, where it was discovered by 10-year-old boy Adam Bernau.)
I don't know what exactly happened to Cooper but he probably reached the edge of the tesseract in some way, and was woken up in a fancy modern hospital. He quickly learns that he's not on Earth. He's on the Cooper station orbiting Saturn, or something like that: they found him in a spaceship soon enough for him to survive. This new big Saturn-orbit-based civilization proves that the Plan A to move the mankind actually did work at the end. He thanks them that they named the station after him. They laugh, of course: the station was named after his daughter (who has, by the way, presented her dad as an enthusastic farmer – a complete lie – to help her own career, I guess).
They take him to a replica of his house and to a hospital where his daughter Murph, about 95 years old, is just dying with her family (he is just a few years older than when he departed). So his promise that he would return to his daughter was technically true! Parents shouldn't watch their kids dying, Murph tells her father who is about 60 years younger by now, and she recommends him to go where he belongs. He is going to chase Anne Hathaway who is just getting ready for hibernation on Edmunds' planet. I really hope he will have had found her but we don't learn about the outcome.
I have surely omitted many important things.
In the U.S. version of the movie, many parts of the plot above – including the details of the civil war and the IPCC totalitarian regime – have been censored and the movie was cut from 196 to 169 minutes. So you are invited to see your movie theater and compare the version above with the version that is allowed to be shown in your country.