WARNING: There are spoilers in this post that stretch the boundaries of space and time. For every hour you spend reading this, you may actually be receiving seven years of spoilers!
THE BOOKSHELF FROM THE INTERSTELLAR MOVIE
As promised, I’m back with a review of the film Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. Here’s a fun anonomaly: the other day I posted the text of “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight” by Dylan Thomas, a poem that features prominently in that film.
There’s a scene at the end that involves messages being sent through space in time via a bookshelf and well, because this blog’s name is “Bookshelf Battle” and I had a post about Interstellar, I saw a surge in web traffic from people googling things like “bookshelf and interstellar” or “what’s the deal with the bookshelf in interstellar?” or similar searches. Totally coincidental. I would never purposely try to move traffic to my site by mentioning “bookshelf” and “interstellar” a bunch of times on my site because honestly, what would be the point of going on all day about the bookshelf from the Interstellar movie? Frankly, it would be ridiculous to keep going on and on about the bookshelf in the Interstellar and to mention the bookshelf from the Interstellar movie would just be a sad attempt to drive up web hits – so believe you me this will be the last time that I’ll mention the bookshelf from the Interstellar movie.
Bookshelf. Bookshelf. Bookshelf. Interstellar. Interstellar. Interstellar.
A CONCEIVABLE FUTURE
I’ve noticed a trend in modern science fiction – namely, to introduce inventions that aren’t around today but to do so in a conceivable manner. The science fiction of the past dreamed of a day with flying cars and people walking around in funny looking aluminum suits. For some reason, people in the 1950’s thought that aluminum clothing would be very popular by now.
Interstellar presents technology that we don’t have yet, but said technology is relatable given the way it is presented. For example, the film features robots with artificial intelligence, but they look like walking/talking ATM machines, not metallic humanoids ala Terminator.
Meanwhile, the ship used looks essentially like a larger version of the Space Shuttle rather than the U.S.S. Enterprise.
The premise of the film? The Earth is on the way out. Centuries of abuse and excess have withered the planet’s resources, caused widespread blight and famine, and ruined the economy. McConaughey plays Cooper, a former engineer and NASA test pilot who only briefly dipped his toe into a space exploration career when the world went into a decline. His community is relatively stable and he eeks out a living as a farmer, living with his two kids, Murph and Tom, and his father-in-law. His wife died from an ailment that normally would have been treated in better times.
Cooper isn’t a big fan of the farm life – he regrets never having had the chance to explore space and laments that civilization collapsed before he could do so. Cooper’s father-in-law, played by John Lithgow, is the yin to Cooper’s yang, lecturing him about how “the world is not enough for him” and how that kind of thinking led to the downfall of the human race – i.e. so many people on a planet with a limited supply of resources and each person is never happy with what they have – they always want more.
There’s probably a lesson for world leaders to think about when considering how to best protect and care for the environment. Also, Cooper training for a career that he never got to have is certainly a problem that many of today’s college graduates can relate to.
A timeframe of when the movie takes place is not provided, though I got the impression it takes places at a time when today’s millenials have become the grandparents, so maybe 2050-2060 or so? Just a guess.
THE SCIENCE OF SPACE EXPLORATION
Long story short, Dr. Brand, played by Michael Caine, recruits Cooper to use his underutilized pilot skills to go on a desperate mission – fly through a recently discovered wormhole and find a new, habitable planet for the human race. The humans will probably be good to the new planet for a year or two then proceed to mine and drill the crap out of it all in the name of cheaper iPads and dollar discount Wal-Mart merchandise but that goes beyond the parameters of the film.
He teams up with Anne Hathaway, Dr. Brand’s daughter, who is, herself, another Dr. Brand. Also, there are two miscellaneous astronauts whose names I neglected to learn because they buy the farm early in the film.
If you’re a nerd such as myself, you’ve probably thought a lot about space travel. Though we often think about space travel beyond the moon as being impossible, it isn’t so much impossible as it is improbable. In a myriad of science fiction movies, Hollywood has portrayed two different ways. Let’s discuss them along with why they are unlikely:
- WARP SPEED – Han Solo punches a button and all the stars around the Millenium Falcon stretch out in lines as the ship he won in an intergalactic card game wizzes through them. The problem? It would be extremely difficult to drive a ship that fast and not crash into something – a star, an asteroid, a piece of space garbage, something. The ship would need incredibly accurate sensoring mechanisms and an advanced auto pilot that could maneveur at high-speeds because humans have yet to manage getting out of the grocery store parking lot without bumping into something let alone get around obstacles at mind-bending speeds.
- HYPERSLEEP – Ripley in Aliens preserves herself in a pod that keeps her body in the same physical shape over the course of a long, multi-year journey. The ship goes on auto-pilot and drives at a normal pace while the occupants of the ship take a nice, long nap. The characters in Interstellar actually utilize this technology in the film. A machine that can actually preserve a body and prevent it from aging would be remarkable, and would have many medical applications in addition to the obvious use in space-exploration but until society figures out a way to not make people wait in an ER waiting room for six hours, there is probably not going to be any headway in such a device anytime soon.
Rather than focus on warp speed or hypersleep technologies, Interstellar takes a look at another means of space travel that has heretofore been unused by Hollywood – the wormhole. As the film explains, scientists believe that worm holes have the possibly to bend points in space such that a tunnel can be created between them. (At one point, a character draws a line between two points on a piece of paper, then bends the paper so that the two points meet to illustrate how a worm hole makes it possible to go from one point to another without travelling the long distance of the “straight line” in between.
All of this is theoretical but the movie’s allure is taking all of these highly theoretical concepts and imagining – what if someone actually managed to physically follow through with them?
I applaud the film’s producers for taking all of these hard-boiled, difficult to grasp concepts, typically the stuff that makes the average high school student’s eyes glaze over and fall asleep in science class, and portray them in a very real and tangible manner.
SPACE AND TIME
Also at issue in the film is the concept of differences in the passage of time – i.e. that it is possible for time to move differently at one point than it does at another. Cooper struggles with making the ultimate sacrifice – namely, that while he is in space, his children are aging and may eventually even surpass him. At one point, the crew reaches a planet and Cooper is faced with the difficult realization that for every hour he spends on the surface, seven years will pass on Earth. True to form, at the start of a brief mission to a water logged planet, Murph is just a kid but after the mission, she’s all grown up and played by Jessica Chastain. Talk about the cat being in the cradle.
INTERSTELLAR AND THE BOOKSHELF AT THE END
I said I wouldn’t mention Interstellar and the bookshelf at the end of the movie and well, I’m not going to, not only to not utilize a cheap method of driving up my web traffic but also because I haven’t decided if this was the film’s “jump the shark” moment or if it was highly creative and imaginative. You watch. You decide for yourself.
I’m a big supporter of space exploration but I am a lowly nerd with a book blog so really, my opinion doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. For me, it was sad to see the Space Shuttle program scrapped in recent years and it boggles my mind that we are paying the Russians millions of dollars to launch our American astronauts into space, especially at a time when the Russians haven’t exactly been playing nice with their neighbors lately.
I think there’s a lot that could be learned from not only localized space exploration (i.e. around the Moon and just above Earth’s orbit) but also deep exploration – i.e. let’s go to Mars! Hell, if we’re willing to spend the money and are able to find astronauts willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, a mission to fly for ten or twenty years out into space to report findings back to Earth is not impossible. Improbable, yes but not impossible.
I do get it – the economy is terrible, people can’t find jobs, there are all kinds of wars and turmoil going on in the world and in light of all that it seems selfish to toy around with space. But as Cooper points out in the film, space exploration technology also usually gives rise to technology that helps out everyday life on Earth, such as the MRI machine. Perhaps there are discoveries to be made by exploration of planets within our own solar system that could improve the quality of our life.
Or, perhaps Stephen Hawking has a point, namely that maybe there is alien life out there, but maybe we don’t want to know them. Maybe there are nice aliens who will share all their technology with us and make our lives better. Or maybe they’ll invade our planet and make us their slaves.
Who knows? All I know is the film filled me with a sense of wonder about all the possibilities that space exploration has to offer. Brilliant and uplifting, there was only one part of it that made me sad – that in the future, there will be so many amazing inventions and discoveries and alas, they’ll probably arrive long after I’m gone and I won’t be able to see any of them.
Oh well. People in 1801 would have marvelled at the iPad, so at least we’ve got that going for us.