atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,


So Mrs. Fungus and I just re-watched Interstellar and HOLY SHIT IS THAT A GOOD MOVIE.

Spoilers, but this movie is four years old now, so too bad. My commentary here assumes you've seen it. If you haven't seen it WHY THE HELL NOT??? Rectify this crime immediately! (Synopsis is here.)

My desire to see it again was prompted by an article I read--someone linked it on Faceboob but like an idiot I didn't save the link--where they talked about the scene on Miller's planet (the one with the huge tidal waves) and how each "tick" in the music represented the passage of one day on Earth.

The ticking starts at about 45 seconds in. The pace that it has at that point in the scene is a tick about every 1.25 seconds. Because of the time dialation caused by Miller's planet's close orbit around Gargantua, the black hole, for you it's 1.25 seconds, but for Earth it's an entire day. About 8 years in an hour, 192 years in a day. For every year that passes on Miller's planet, 70,080 years pass on Earth.

So I looked for the scene on YouTube and found it (the one embedded above) and that got me interested, and reminded me just what an INCREDIBLY AWESOME MOVIE it is.

So, let's talk about Interstellar.

Main character is Cooper--we never learn his first name--who is an astronaut turned farmer.

At some point not so very long ago, a new organism arose on Earth. They call it "the Blight", and it destroys plants. Wheat was the first to go; other foods followed suit, and now corn is just about the only thing humans can grow. Great civil unrest is alluded to; dire times, famine, and so forth. Human society is in a rebuilding phase now.

Dust storms are frequent (because, we assume, of the decimation of non-crop plants by the Blight). Okra is no longer viable as the Blight has adapted to it. We're told by Cooper's father-in-law that we're seeing the last harvest of okra, ever.

The Blight is a nitrogen-breathing lifeform. The same way aerobic life wiped out anaerobic life most of a billion years ago--by producing oxygen, which was poisonous to the anaerobes--the Blight is the first of a line of organisms which will wipe out most oxygen-breathing life.

Meanwhile, "about fifty years ago" a black hole appeared near Saturn. It turned out to be a wormhole, and it leads to another galaxy, where there are at least twelve planets within reasonable distance of the wormhole. Manned missions were sent to those planets for further investigation in hopes of finding an earthlike planet on which humans could settle. Meanwhile, Professor Brand, theoretical physicist, is working on finding a way to unify gravity with quantum mechanics in order to make it possible to save as many living people as possible. (Rockets won't do it. It's economically impossible.)

That's our setup. We don't know all this at the beginning; we just know Cooper was once an astronaut, that he has two kids--a boy, 15, and a girl, Murphy, 10--and that Man faces doom.

What I really, really like about this film is that nothing--absolutely nothing--is dumbed down. As I've said before, the people who created it went to great trouble to make it as scientifically accurate as they possibly could. They tossed in a few explanations of relativity for the uneducated, and some other things, but even those were seamlessly and intelligently integrated.

Cooper leaves Earth when Murphy is 10. He's accompanied by Dr. Brand, the professor's daughter (played by Anne Hathaway) and two other men.

Once they've arrived on the other side of the wormhole, there's some discussion about which planet they should check. They decide on Miller's planet first--the one that's closest to Gargantua and therefore experiences severe time dialation.

They get there, land in water about three feet deep, and find out pretty quickly that Dr. Miller's ship has been destroyed; and it's not a very long time before they realize that it was destroyed by tidal waves much like the one that's bearing down on their lander right the hell now.

Dr. Brand tries to recover the flight recorder and gets stuck. The robot they brought with has to go rescue her, but because of the delay the ship gets caught in the tidal wave and the engines get waterlogged. The guy that came down with them, Doyle, gets carried away by the tidal wave and killed, probably by being pummeled against the ocean floor. It will take an hour--eight years on Earth--for them to clear out enough to fire again.

In the recriminations phase of the scene, Dr. Brand realizes that Dr. Miller's ship probably only landed a short time before theirs did, because of the time dialation, and she had probably perished in the wave they saw receding from them after they'd landed.

The really nice thing here? Those are actual tidal waves. That close to a black hole, there would be a fierce tide, and who knows how oceanic tides will look on a spinning planet orbiting a spinning black hole? Anyway it's pretty bad news; and when I realized the waves were tidal in nature I was just in awe that the writers would do that without explaining it to anyone--either you figured it out, or you didn't, and they let it be that way.

Anyway Cooper and Brand get off Miller's planet and find the guy they left on the mothership, and he tells them it's been 23 years since they left. Whee! They use this as another opportunity to explain how relativity works. Cooper's daughter, Murphy, is now the same age as Cooper is; since she's 10 at the beginning and 23 years have passed, that makes her 33. Whee!

Next stop: Mann's planet. The clouds are frozen, and in fact they land on one, near Mann's habitation module. Mann himself is in hibernation, per the mission guidelines.

Mann turns out to be a skunk, and the other guy gets killed shortly before Mann blows out an airlock aboard the ship and nearly dooms the entire human race.

Impressive part: the atmosphere is breathable--or would be but for the rather high concentration of ammonia in it. So when Mann tries to kill Cooper by smashing his helmet's faceplate, Cooper doesn't just die. He chokes on ammonia fumes but is not permanently injured. More good writing here.

Mann gets to the ship but docks incorrectly, and when he opens the airlock's inner door he causes a blowout that kills him and sends the ship spinning towards the planet.

The ship is messed up. Cooper determines that they can just make it to Edmond's planet, but they need to use the engines in both of their scouting shuttles and drop them into the black hole, leaving the cargo shuttle for use at Edmond's planet.

Funny thing: when you have a mass near a rotating black hole, if you drop some of that mass into the black hole, the speed of the remainder will increase. So not only are they doing a slingshot maneuver, but they're also doing something else that's extremely complicated and hard to explain, but damned cool.

Cooper and the robot TARS end up in the black hole, and Brand goes on to Edmond's planet. There's the big scene in the tesseract where Cooper gives his daughter (aged 33) the data she needs to solve the gravity problem and save humanity.

Afterwards the tesseract collapses and Cooper wakes up on Cooper Station, named after his daughter, living in his old house in comfortable retirement.

To complete the whole twin paradox thing, we have Cooper meet Murphy, now an aged crone, on her deathbed. He's 124 years old by the calendar but thanks to hibernation and relativity he's still biologically about 33, but she's an actual 100% authentic 101 years old. She tells him to go find Brand and help her. He steals a ship and goes.

End of movie.

So: it's a huge frigging story. I have no idea how the hell they manage to fit it all into 2.75 hours, but they do, and it's amazing as all get-out. This movie never puts a foot wrong; they use real science when they can, and they handwave only when they must. All the elements of the story fit perfectly together and the characterization, casting, pacing, writing, and technical direction are 100% flawless.

At the end Cooper looks out of his hospital room on Cooper Station and sees people playing baseball. The batter hits a homer, and as it flies upward, it curves due to the Coriolis effect! Cooper Station is an O'Neill colony and gravity comes from spinning the thing, so this is 100% correct.

The visuals are simply stunning. Saturn and Gargantua, especially--and knowing that their depiction of the black hole IS what they look like is simply marvelous.

When it comes to movies I do not impress easily, but Interstellar just blows me away every time I see it. It is the unqualified best science fiction movie I have ever seen.

So, then we have the people asking, "What does it mean?" Why the hell does it have to mean anything? Accept the kickass story and move on with your life, you narrow-minded dipshit. The story means that people are survival machines even though sometimes they're assholes.

It's promethean science fiction, because it's forward-looking and it's about people doing their level best to ensure our species survives--and they succeed.

There was some person who theorized that everything after the tesseract was a "dream" or Cooper's "after-death experience". Some people were saying the tesseract was created by "love".

But that's all horseshit. I'll tell you who created the tesseract, and who put that wormhole near Saturn: we did. Or, rather, the descendants of humanity did. Sometime far in the future they did this thing to save their ancestors, were able to do it in fact because Murphy Cooper solved the gravity equation.

We don't know how far ahead they had to be. My own personal prejudice tells me it's humans from maybe a thousand or so years in the future, having finally worked their way through all the ramifications of Murphy's work (and Einstein's before her), figured out how to build wormholes to order and how to get someone out of a black hole, intact, after he's crossed the event horizon.

I'd bet a fiver, in fact, that the human colony on Edmond's planet was involved.

But it doesn't have to be humans, you know. It could just as easily be an alien race. Perhaps that alien race went to xenoform Earth and belatedly realized it was occupied after they started, so making the tesseract for Cooper was their way of fixing things: give the displaced race the information they need to develop the technology that they can use to save themselves.

Or? "Intelligent design"--whoever guided evolution on Earth is moving humans along by seeding Earth with the Blight and giving humanity a convenient escape hatch.

--I can probably come up with half a dozen more alternative explanations, but suffice it to say why doesn't matter. The story is so damned good, and so f-ing entertaining, it almost makes you want to punch yourself in the face, and it's a complete story so no further explanation is even necessary.

And if you're one of those people who wants to sit there and say, "Well, that's all well and good, but this isn't possible and that is wrong, and-and-and," just be quiet. It's not a frigging doctoral dissertation; it's a movie meant to entertain. They get so much right, and made such a good and engaging story, that it's perfectly okay to gloss over a few things. Look up "willing suspension of disbelief" and STFU.

So: as far as I'm concerned, and as I said, Interstellar merits my "best SF movie of all time" badge. It just is; it's an epic story and it's magnificently told.

You know what movie comes in behind it? The Martian, which ironically stars Matt Damon, who played Dr. Mann the creep in Interstellar. Another example of rock-solid science fiction. Not an epic story, but a very good one nonetheless, and promethean.

And then, to satisfy the law of threes, we have The Arrival, the one where the woman is a linguist and the aliens speak a time-invariant language. Again, it's hard science fiction, it's extremely well-done, and it's promethean.

Notice a trend?

Too much of the SF we get from Hollywood these days is epimethean. Everything is doom and gloom--"grimdark", to borrow a phrase. Like Westworld, where there are no good guys, only varying degrees of bad ones. Like The Expanse, where the bad guys are standard Hollywood villains and the good guys are basically "anti-heroes". Like Black Mirror, which is 100% dystopia. Like Dark Matter which is "Grimdark Firefly", only not even remotely entertaining. Practically every show with alien life in it is about how that alien life is hostile to humans and is so superior, it's going to wipe out humanity.


Sure, Interstellar could have ended with Cooper being dead. And if it had, it would not have been nearly as good a movie as it is. The main character can die at the end of the story and still have it be promethean SF--read Heinlein's The Long Watch--but it really is better if your hero survives. And for the story to be right Cooper had to see his daughter before she died.

From a technical point of view: this story encapsulates a modified version of the twins paradox; and because of that, there must be a scene where the young twin comes back to Earth and meets the old twin. Looking at it that way, it's obvious that Cooper couldn't die, at least not before seeing old Murphy.

* * *

I could go on and on, but I won't. Suffice it to say this one's a keeper.

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