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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Interstellar - Explanation And Summary

 The very idea of science fiction implies a narrative which does not fully conform to established laws of physics but its not fantasy either. In other words, laws of science have been bent or simply ignored to accommodate the storyline. Interstellar is different as the science layer added over the story is based  on real science. Kip Thorne, a scientist and a leading authority on astrophysics, especially on concepts such as black holes and  wormholes, as consultant and executive producer definitely helped. However, this doesn't change the fact that the human part of the movie is as powerful as the scientific one. Nolan's unique story-telling style includes non-linear narratives but within a symmetrical structure,archetypical characters and awe-inspiring visual effects have left permanent mark in cinematic history. Interstellar is as much a voyage through the minds, beliefs and priorities of different characters as much as it about the interstellar travel to another Galaxy.





Towards the end of the 21st century, Earth is ravaged by blight, population of mankind has been
reduced to a tenth and the remnant are fighting for survival. Though not explicitly stated, there are  hints to suggest that half a century's food crises has probably lead to conflicts among nation-states, groups for control of resources which combined with blight has led to  annihilation of the majority of human population.  The movie begins in a post-apocalyptic agrarian world, in which the remnant of mankind has largely, but not entirely forsaken technology and gone back to farming to put food on the table.  Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) , an ex-pilot and engineer - turned farmer and his 10 year old daughter,Murph, detect gravitational anomalies and also decrypt coordinates from the Morse code that it contains. The coordinates lead them to a secret NASA facility where he learns that the space agency has been planning something big to save the world.

He also learns about a race of an advanced 5 dimensional entities, about whom nothing is known except that they are able to communicate through gravity and have also placed a  worm-hole near Saturn which leads them to a new galaxy with 12 potentially habitable system, to each of which astronauts have already been sent a decade back. Cooper a trained pilot to fly rangers is convinced by Professor Brand (Michael Caine)  of NASA to pilot the space ship Endurance to one of the systems which has 3 potentially habitable planets but 2 of them orbiting a massive black hole  called Gargantua. Murph, who decodes the messages from what she calls "ghost" gets angry at her father leaving despite the message asking him to stay, an anger born out of love and that would stay with her for decades. Cooper leaves emotionally shaken which is the first indication of the role, the father-daughter relationship would play later on.

As the Endurance begins it journey, NASA has two plans :

Plan A - NASA is construction giant space stations on Earth which could carry people of Earth and its simulated ecology to space and then to the planet most suitable for harbouring life. The problem is such a massive vehicle cannot be lifted off the planet without harnessing gravity, which is what the equations on Professor Brand's blackboards are about. However, we later learn that for the equation to work the quantum data is needed which can be observed only from a singularity.

Plan B - The Endurance carries about 5000 frozen embryos that can be incubated on board, then through surrogacy allow the population to grow exponentially.

The crew of Endurance, Cooper, Dr Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway ), Doyle (Wes Bentley), Romilly (David Gyasi) and two robots, TARS and CASE fly to Saturn and then traverse the wormhole to reach the Gargantua system.



Gargantua  
Miller's planet orbits the supermassive rotating black hole Gargantua with a mass of 100 million times mass of our Sun. Black hole as the connotation implies cannot be seen, yet Nolan and Thorne came up with something extraordinary that explains how habitable planets can exist around such a black hole and also a create visual delight for film viewers that can actually help physicists gain insight into black holes. The massive rotational speed of Gargantua whirls space and time around it which captures the radiating photons in the same direction, creating accretion disk with is about the same temperature and conditions as the Sun. The visual effect created through CGI has been described as being so accurate that Kip Thorne will release two scientific papers, one for astrophysics community and another for computer graphics community.

Miller's Planet
Continuing with the plot, back on Earth, NASA had been able to receive only binary pings from these planets as technology to transmit data through the wormhole is rudimentary, so they really didn't know much about the ecosystem of the planets, only the fact that the astronauts have landed on the planets. After reaching the system they find more meaningful data and head for the closest planet, visited by Dr Miller and which also indicates availability of water. The problem with the planet is that it is too close to Gargantua, orbiting in it's cusp hence under immense gravitational pull of the black hole. As such a massive gravitational pull bends space well as time, the time flows in Millers's planet much slower than on Earth. In this case, a hour in Miller's planet is 7 year on Earth. To avoid time slippage while travelling to the planet, Cooper comes up with an excellent plan. He intends to fly in a parallel orbit of the planet about just outside the cusp an hence the extreme gravitational pull and then drop straight to Miller's planet.

Romilly along with TARS, stays back aboard endurance to study the black hole while the other crew members start for the planet. After landing on the water planet they discover Dr Miller's spacecraft wreckage but also a mile high wave about to crash, CASE saves Brand by bringing her into the ranger but Doyle is unable to make it back and the ranger's engine is flooded. Just before the water is pumped out completely another wave approaches and Cooper evading the mile high wave in his ranger is another audio visual sequence that leaves you spell bound. Reaching Endurance they find they have lost 23 years, because of the accident and the duration of the journey.

Back on Endurance, Cooper views the cached video messages, how relativity of time can affect a human being is brought best when Cooper views cached video messages. While he has spent just hours or days in the journey, back on Earth his son, has grown up, married, become a father and later lost not only his son,grandfather but also faith that his father would return. One of the most emotional scenes in the movie is when a grown up Murph (Jessica Chastain) messages her father for the first time, reminding him that he had said that when he returns they might be the same age and that she was now the same age as when he had left. The intensity of father daughter relationship is brought out captivatingly as Cooper finds himself helpless to reach out and tell her that he still intended to return. The very next sequence is pivotal to the theme of the movie that deals with human emotions. When realizing that they have only enough fuel to visit either Dr Mann's planet or Wolf Edmunds' (besides fuel to go back to Earth), Cooper insists they visit Mann's planet because he is the leader of the Lazarus Mission but Amelia want's to visit Edmunds' planet,when Romilly proposes a vote Cooper reveals that Amelia is in love with Wolf Edmunds and it is for that reason, she want to go to his planet.

Brand: So listen to me when I say love isn't something that we invented. It's observable. Powerful. It has to mean something.
Cooper: Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing...
Brand: We love people who have died. Where's the social utility in that?
Cooper: None.
Brand: Maybe it means something more - something we can't yet understand. Maybe it's some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can't consciously perceive. I'm drawn across the universe to someone I haven't seen in a decade who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing that we're capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can't understand it. All right Cooper. Yes, the tiniest possibility of seeing Wolf again excites me. That doesn't mean I'm wrong.
Cooper: Honestly, Amelia, it might.  [source: IMDb]

Mann's Planet
     SPOILERS!!!!! 

The fact that Dr Mann's character was reprised by Matt Damon was kept under wraps until the movie was released. Described as legendary, Cooper discovers a distraught Dr Mann when brought out of cryosleep but quickly regains his composition. It is here that Murph's video message (Murph  is now a scientist and most likely second-in-command after Professor) is received informing Amelia that her father was dead and she also asks Amelia if she knew that the plan  A was a sham and the mission's objective was to start human population on a habitable planet and not come back to Earth as Professor Brand confesses to Murph on his death-bed. Mann explains that though Brand had completed the equation even before they left, it was ineffective unless the quantum data could be observed close to the singularity in the black hole, which was impossible. Cooper, whose main motivation is to save his family is outraged by the idea and wants to go home, to which Amelia Brand acquiesces.  Dr Mann, takes Cooper along on a short exploratory trip and attacks him, revealing that the planet is inhospitable and he had sent fake data so be could be rescued. He leaves Cooper with a broken visor to die breathing ammonia but is saved in nick of time by Amelia piloting a lander.

Meanwhile, Romilly dies in an explosion when trying to access Mann's dysfunctional robot KIPP's archival function (robot named Kipp as a nod to Kip Thorne) . Mann tries to dock his Ranger with Endurance without knowing the mechanism. While Mann is trying to manually override the mechanism, the airlock blows killing him and destabilizing the starship. Cooper's attempt to dock the ranger with Endurance spinning at the rate of 67-68 rpm is one of the most terrific sci-fi stunt, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. However, the spaceship begins to fall into Gargantua's pull, Cooper quickly analysing that they don't have enough resources to make it back to Earth, suggests they use Gravitational pull to slingshot towards Edmunds' planet. He allows the ship to be pulled to the critical orbit (losing 50 years according to Earth time)  and then attempts to shed load by first letting TARS detach with a lander and fall into the black hole, then he himself detaches with a ranger into the black hole.

The Black Hole, Fifth Dimension And Tesseract

In this part of the narrative, the boundary between real science, science fiction and science fantasy become blurred. Let us first begin with exploring scientific theories about our universe. According to Brane Cosmology (drawn from string theory, superstring theory and M-theory) , our four dimensional universe (3 spatial + 1 time dimension) is a brane (derived from the term membrane)  residing in a higher-dimensional space called the Bulk or Hyperspace. No matter how under-qualified I am, I will attempt to elucidate in a later post, for the moment, think of a rubber sheet enveloped within other sheets.
Remember, this is a 2D illustration 

To understand black hole think of the rubber sheet  stretched out and a small but heavy object dropped on it. The objects cause the regions of the sheet to dip almost making it funnel shaped. Black holes act similarly on our brane except instead of matter its the the immense warping of space and time and travelling downwards towards the singularity that lies at the centre. A point of infinite warping of space and time. An important point Kip Thorne makes is that, Gargantua is a "gentle singularity", it is possible to survive after crossing its event horizon but not singularity. Cooper ejects just in time to see his ranger ripped apart by the tidal forces of the singularity but he himself survives because he doesn't reach the edge of the singularity, the Bulk beings, pull him into the the fifth dimension (remember the black hole is in our brane which is contained within the extra-dimension)

However, since Cooper cannot understand the nature of the bulk, the entities have created a tesseract in which time is represented as a physical dimension and which also acts as a traveling capsule. The construct moves rapidly in the bulk space and docks with Murph's bedroom. Cooper discovers that each hypercube of the tesseract is a moment in time and offers six views of Murph's bedroom, he can navigate to any point in time physically  and view the room. However, he cannot communicate with Murp because according to rules of physics, no object or field can travel backward or from the bulk to the brane. Since gravity is the only thing that can travel across space and time (gravity is effect of curvature of space) , Cooper generates gravitational waves to knock off books,sending morse encoded message to 10 year old Murph. Once he has succeeded opening communication to Murph and found that TARS has survived and has the quantum data, he asks the robot to encode the data in morse and give to him.

Cooper then manipulates gravity to transfer this data through the movements of the second hand of the watch he had given Murph as parting gift. Brand's statement of love being able to transcend space and time is proven true. Cooper makes the effort to get close to singularity and obtain quantum data out of love for his children who would otherwise die along with all human life on Earth. Similarly, Murph visits her old bedroom and picks up the watch because of her love  for her father. After the data is successfully transmitted, the Bulk beings close the tesseract ejecting Cooper and TARS, probably, near wormhole since they are found drifting near Saturn by a ranger. Cooper finds himself in Cooper Space Station, named after her daughter who is now more than 90 years old,in frail health and a towering figure in the scientific community.  After meeting Murph and being assured that the people of the Earth have been saved, Cooper takes a ranger to join Amelia in Edmund's planet which is revealed to have a habitable environment.

This is merely a summarized plot synopsis, the 169 minutes epic of journey through interstellar space, navigating concepts of spacetime curvature, wormholes, black holes, extreme time dilation and fifth dimension and keeping complexities of human emotion as the central theme makes Interstellar too much to handle in a single viewing. That's why I set down to write this post, simply touching the concepts crammed into the nearly 3 hours of space drama. As is obvious I have merely touched upon the various concepts, the science part especially is not accurate enough nor is character analysis. I will try to follow up with more post focusing on those aspects. If you like it or  find errors in this post, please do leave your feedback.

Do check out my second post on Interstellar

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