I like movies that are thought-provoking.

Last week, my business partner told me about this movie called Interstellar which I had heard good things about. He said the movie was boring and he didn’t quite understand some part of it. And there I was thinking, I must go and watch this movie.

So, I went to watch Interstellar.

It is a near-three-hour movie. The pace of the movie is a bit slow but not to the extent of boring or draggy.

Most of the movie’s visuals is very realistic, including the space shuttle, worm hole and black hole. I am quite pleased that they did not show any fancy 3D GUI for the computer systems inside the space shuttle, because the man-machine-interface of mission critical systems are normally functional rather than fanciful. The planets are beautiful but I wish they can add more surrealistic feel to them.

Although the movie tried to explain the physics theories behind, I felt that if a viewer entered the theatre with zero knowledge in theoretical physics he/she will definitely be confused.

So it would be good to have a little bit of concept of the theories behind the movie:

Wormhole – It is something like a tunnel with two ends, each with separate points in spacetime. Or think of it like a portal. Wormhole makes long distance space travel possible by creating a “shortcut” between two points that are physically very far away.

Black hole – It is a region of spacetime from which gravity prevents anything, including light, from escaping.

Time dilation – This is probably the most important concept in the movie. According to Einstein’s special relativity, time will bend due to differences in gravity or velocity. To put it simply, if you are traveling at a relatively higher velocity, time will pass slower at your side. If you are at a region of relatively higher gravity, time will also pass slower at your side.

[Spoiler’s Ahead]

Most people has issues with who created the tesseract, why is Cooper able to change the past inside the tesseract, and the time paradox that comes with it.

A tesseract is actually a fourth-dimensional version of a cube. In the movie, Cooper realized that the tesseract is built by future human who has evolved to become 5th dimensional beings. They pulled Cooper into the tesseract, which is actually a series of spaces representing Murph’s bedroom at different times. As the tesseract is a fourth dimensional structure with the past, present and future all occurring simultaneously, Cooper is able to traverse to any time and interact with it by transcending gravity.

As with most time traveling films, there will be time paradox. As we are 3-dimensional beings trapped in a single time frame (the present), it is quite difficult for us to visualize and accept the time paradox that interrupts causes and effects.

Typically, there are a few standard resolutions to time paradox. One of them would be that nature will always correct itself and you can’t change anything in the past. Of course, this resolution is not applicable in this movie. Afterall, they did change the past to affect the future so that the future can build the tesseract for Cooper to change the past to affect the future and so on.

Another standard resolution will be the creation of an alternate timeline (universe), which was used in movies like Back to the Future, The Butterfly Effect, etc. I am not sure this resolution is applicable in Interstellar.

A more possible resolution would be that, the future human who created the tesseract originates from the “Plan B” which Brand is carrying out. In the far future, humanity from Plan B manages to evolve beyond three-dimension and they decide to create the wormhole and tesseract to save the humans on earth in the past. Still, that doesn’t resolve all the paradoxes but I guess as long as we live in a world where time flows in one direction there will always be paradoxes when comes to time travelling.

Perhaps, in order to resolve the time paradoxes, there has to be a fundamental change in our concept of time. Instead of looking at time as a continuous one-way timeline with causes and effects, maybe we should look at time as one of the discrete properties in nature much similar to x, y, z positions. Perhaps ever since the big bang or whatever that initiates the start of the world, multiple worlds are created in an instant with each world a static representation of the world state at a particular discrete time t. So you have a world at time t, and a world at time t + 1 microsecond, and another world at t + 2 microseconds, and so on. The states of the objects in these multiple worlds are interwined so that when someone time travels to the “past” and changes some event, it ripples over to other worlds and changes their states in an instant. Perhaps this seems to be an absurd theory, but once upon a time, a round earth is also an absurd theory. Of course, such theory would also bring about philosophical dilemma such as deterministic versus free will, the existence of consciousness, etc. Just a random thought.

Anyway, back to the movie….

The movie has quite a few emotional moments. When Cooper returns to the Endurance after 20+ years has passed, he watched the videos sent over the past two decades. In the videos, he watched his teenaged son grow old, get married and have children. He heard about his father’s death from his son. He felt the gradual lost of hope from his son. And then he saw his grown up daughter talking to him for the first time, because he made a promise that by the time he returns they would probably be the same age. That moment, in life, when you realize that you have missed all the important moments of your life and there is no turning back.

And the moment when Murph question her father in the video on whether he knew there is never a Plan ‘A’ and whether he deliberately leave them to die on Earth. The feeling of despair, coupled with the hurt from betrayal, is aptly delivered by Jessica Chastain’s portrayal of adult Murph.

And that final moment when Cooper finally met the old Murph at her deathbed……when Murph whispers to her dad, “A parent should never watch his child passed away.” To Cooper, it is merely a few years. But to Murph, she has waited her whole life for a childhood promise.

There’s something interesting said by Brand, something along the line of maybe love is a property in nature we have yet to understand that can transcend over spacetime and dimensions. As ludicrous as it may sound, I think that there are still a lot of things about nature which we are far from understanding and to keep an open mind is the most scientific way towards the unknown.

Another interesting note about time dilation and Einstein’s special relativity is that, there are in fact ancient sayings in different cultures that describes the phenomena. For example, there’s an ancient chinese saying “天上一日, 地上一年”, which translates to “one day in heaven is equivalent to one year on Earth”. Perhaps the deities in ancient China are aliens or future human living in distant universe with much higher gravity?

Interstellar : The Science and the Love

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