Catalano is a TV writer/producer and Professor of Literature
and Music at Pace University. He reviews books and music for
several journals and is the author of Clifford
Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter,
Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham
New Yorker at Sea. Nick’s reviews are available
published his theories on relativity over a hundred years ago.
In the past several decades various measuring devices, computer
projections and expensive particle accelerators such as CERN
have provided storehouses of scientific fact which elevate Einstein’s
theories to the level of absolute astrophysical laws and his
reputation above the level of Newton, Planck and other physics
huge parts of the earth’s most sophisticated intellectual
populations to say nothing of average college students have
no conceptual knowledge of relativity whatsoever. This situation
with regard to the lack of human understanding of important
complex scientific discovery is not historically unusual. When
the great poet John Milton constructed his epic Paradise
Lost he followed the Ptolemaic theory of the sun revolving
around the earth even though Copernicus had proven that this
theory had the facts exactly backwards. Somehow, perhaps seminally
influenced by his religious faith, Milton could not bring himself
to accept the Copernican discovery even though it had been around
for almost 200 years before he wrote his epic poem. In another
instance, Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859 and
any biologist worth asking will tell you that 150 years later
no contemporary biology makes any sense without a Darwinian
framework. Yet these days still very few understand Darwin’s
science and many not only turn their back on it but oppose it
outright in the mad rush to their belief systems.
told us 2500 years ago that we could gain deep awareness of
complex reality from great art. He knew that total acceptance
of natural and human mysteries could never be achieved by the
mere publication of ‘provable’ mathematical equations.
gain awareness through emotional, sensate, imaginative and psychological
conditioning. Only when their whole being (not just their intellect)
has been reprogrammed, perhaps by a dramatic work of art, can
their awareness be deepened and their lives concomitantly changed.
Only then can they be expected to act on their new awareness.
such action is needed to support thwarting the climate change,
conserving water and other vital resources, and discovering
new ways to produce food for a planet which is rapidly overpopulating.
creators of the original idea for the new film Interstellar
were noted astro- physicist Kip Thorne and film producer Lynda
Obst who collaborated on the 1997 film Contact. They
have known each other since Carl Sagan once set them up on a
blind date. Dr. Thorne, like many scientists, environmentalists
and thinkers everywhere, is extremely aware and deeply concerned
about the future of our planet. But his presence in this decade
long project is most significant because of his dictum: no bogus
pseudo-science. The film would be produced without any of the
usual compromises needed for artistic license.
was a very tall order from the start because the science involved
here is right out of Einstein’s playbook, and we’ve
already discussed how far-fetched that is for most moviegoers.
Still, despite deep challenges for director Christopher Nolan
who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan, the essential
appeal of the film lies in its firm adherence to scientific
theory and probabilities based on that theory.
theory, as we noted, is indeed complex. It involves such esoterica
as quantum gravity, wormholes, warped time and space, the fifth
dimension, event horizons, singularities, tesseracts and other
astrophysical phenomena that most of us humans couldn’t
comprehend even if we somehow magically raise our I.Q.s to 150.
But in the presence of artistic film creation, and reliance
on the suspension of belief for such creations which is our
omnipresent imaginative tool, we can wonder, we can absorb,
and even though we certainly can’t grasp many of the mathematical
details, we can ‘learn.’
the end of the film, we leave contemplating its best line -
“Humans were not meant to save the planet, they were meant
to leave the planet.” Strangely, though we may initially
reject this notion; as Interstellar progresses we are
made to realize that planet earth, though it has uniquely supplied
us with resources which have enabled life to evolve, is after
all one of billions of such celestial bodies. Who can doubt
that any day now scientists will discover organisms on other
planets? As I write this, probes are searching Jupiter’s
moon Europa because NASA has reported the detection of phyllosilicates
which are often associated with organic material. And the latest
Mars lander Curiosity is currently examining sedimentary layers
thought to have once housed water . . . And these planets are
in our own solar system. At present (as of November 2014) over
1800 exoplanets (planets that orbit other suns) have been discovered,
with new sightings arriving daily.
tells us that despite all of our efforts to save the planet
(and at present there are millions who couldn’t care less)
it is necessary to explore other places in order to insure the
continuation of the human species.
it is mainly because of the successful dramatization of this
crossroads-for human-survival theme that Interstellar
are, of course, elements in the film which are receiving the
usual critical byplay – acting, writing, production etc.
which is natural because this is, after all, a movie we’re
talking about. In this regard, I suppose I must join the critics
and attempt some perspicacious comments. This, although as I’ve
argued, is of secondary importance. Certainly, Christopher Nolan
has delivered a fine production although some have complained
that sound editing could have been better i.e. Matthew McConaughey’s
mutterings. His words are often muddled and, in a script which
abounds with impossible-to-comprehend astrophysics jargon, this
is a problem. In addition, Hans Zimmer’s organ music (especially
in the IMAX format) has eardrum busting resonation.
plot line involves several melodramatic, emotional sequences.
The love-hate relationship between astronaut Cooper (Matthew
McConaughey) and his young daughter (Mackenzie Foy) has been
targeted as overly sentimental by some, as has the affection
that Dr. Amelia Brand has for her lover Edmunds. In addition
there are some suspenseful moments which may cause some to squirm
in incredulity. But these portrayals of desperately emoting
humans struggling for survival nicely counter the plethora of
astrophysical science that we must constantly deal with.
are some stretches in the probabilities which Thorne injects
into the narrative. Astronaut Cooper’s daughter Murph
espies some dust patterns near her bedroom bookshelves which
she calls “ghosts.” These turn out to be “gravitational
anomalies” which cause the coin her father tosses to plunge
suddenly to the floor and later are the forces which permit
colonizers to lift off from earth. Although evidence of these
anomalies originates with Einstein’s equations, the scientific
employment of them is based on Dr. Thorne’s speculations.
Also, when Cooper and TARS (the prescient robot on board the
spaceship Endurance) enter the black hole Gargantua, they emerge
in an extra-dimensional “tesseract” where time appears
as a spatial dimension and portals lead to Murphy’s childhood
bedroom. These are more of Thorne’s speculations but,
as with his other suppositions, they follow the aforementioned
will have a long half-life and join 2001: A Space Odyssey,
Contact, and some of the Star Trek productions
– films which capitalize on serious but prolix science
to deliver their narrative magic. Initially, as first geeks
and then budding fans acquaint themselves with the ‘cool’
insights that the astrophysical references provide, the film
will spawn various cult followings and eventually take its place
as a sci-not-so-fi classic.