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Wormholes and plot holes in ‘Interstellar’

| Wednesday, November 12, 2014

web_wormholes and potholes_11-13-2014Samantha Coughlin
On opening night, I voyaged into South Bend to catch Christopher Nolan’s new adventure, “Interstellar.”

In the film, Earth has reverted to a time of scarce population and food shortages that makes farming the most practical occupation. But there’s a difference in this earth of the future: Atmospheric changes will eventually suffocate its inhabitants. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is an engineer-turned-farmer who must choose between raising his kids on earth or making an interstellar attempt to save mankind.

However, it doesn’t turn into a hackneyed saving-the-world mission. The twist is revealed in the words of NASA’s Dr. Brand (Michael Caine): “We’re not meant to save the world. We’re meant to leave it.”

At first watch, the trailer aroused some suspicion in me. Space travel movies have an annoying tendency to rely on fancy verbiage to make the dialogue seem scientific even though it’s nonsense. Reestablishing human life in a distant galaxy is quite ambitious, and “Interstellar” delves head-on into complex topics like black holes and relativity. The plot relies heavily on the most bizarre phenomena of time and space, but to a lowly engineering undergrad, all the science of “Interstellar” seemed sound.

Interstellar passed my test, but I was sure that many inconsistencies must have gone over my head. Many movie critics have attacked the science of “Interstellar,” so I was thrilled when Neil deGrasse Tyson, acclaimed astrophysicist and host of the Fox series “Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey” (which I highly recommend), expressed an approval of the science of “Interstellar” on his Twitter and later in an interview. If Neil deGrasse Tyson buys it, I have no complaints. I’m challenging Notre Dame’s scientists to find an hole in the physics.

Where you are more likely to find is a hole is the plot.

If I made this movie sound like a cold sci-fi adventure, there’s yet another dimension that Interstellar explores. It imparts intense, yet relatable, emotions of regret, betrayal, abandonment, anxiety and fear in a setting that is quite literally far beyond anything we have experienced.

Do you ever feel like you’re so busy that the days of your life just fly by? When relativity comes into play, the years of Cooper’s life escape him in a way that is actually scientifically plausible. But there are a few occasions where sub-par story writing taints the truly incredible concept.

One instance of exaggerated drama that mars the story, however, is an attempted murder by one explorer whose motives are not quite believable. The reason for the fight is explained in a way that’s more confusing than astrophysics. The conflict is not constructed well enough to compliment an otherwise meticulous story.

Another cringe-worthy moment breaks the intensity: Brand (Anne Hathaway) gives a cheesy monologue, arguing to go to the planet where they might find her lover because love transcends the limits of space and time, and it raises more of a chuckle than a tear. She presents this idea as if it’s the first time anyone has said it. I can accept this as an idea that would go through the mind of someone who is having her experience of space and time entirely defied, but a more subtle suggestion would have done better for the character.

In his praise of “Interstellar,” Neil deGrasse Tyson points out that in its power list of leading characters — all scientists and engineers — half are women. The most important of which, Brand (Anne Hathaway) is portrayed as an unsexualized, brave and incredibly smart woman. In her love-transcends-all monologue, the gender equality is shattered — Hathaway becomes a silly girl in love, whose hypotheses are now ignored by her outnumbering male counterparts.

Yet, the overall theme of the movie is heart-wrenching in an entirely genuine way. As Cooper watched his life pass before his eyes, there was no dry eye in the theater. The movie will make you question the nature of the universe, while also putting you acutely in touch with human nature. Interstellar will make you question the limits of space and time. It will make you wonder about humanity’s future on earth, or if it’s headed somewhere else.

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