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24th November 2022

A film for every course: Interstellar – Physics

How can you put down your textbook, but still get in your astrophysics revision? Watch Interstellar of course!
A film for every course: Interstellar – Physics
Image: Giri Trisanto @ Flikr

Known notoriously as a time-consuming, social-life-ruining, mental-breakdown-inducing maths hell, Physics has a pretty bad reputation as a subject. However, in my opinion, it is all worth it to study the vast complexity of space. So, if like me, you find yourself in awe of the beauty of our night sky, or find yourself wondering if there exists dimensions beyond our own, look no further than Christopher Nolan’s cinematic masterpiece, Interstellar (2014).

With a star-studded cast including Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain, Interstellar is a science-fiction epic, with a run time of almost three hours. The film follows NASA ex-pilot, Cooper (McConaughey), as he is forced to work on a farm due to a global food shortage. All scientific research permitted is solely based on finding a solution to the famine, and areas such as space exploration are deemed a waste of money.

Image: Sassy @ Wikimedia Commons

After following gravitational fluctuations found by his daughter, Murph (Chastain), he finds a secret facility containing the remnants of NASA, led by Brand (Caine). Explaining the imminent extinction of humanity, he asks Cooper to pilot an exploratory spacecraft into a newly discovered wormhole to find potentially habitable planets.

As the film progresses, we see Cooper feel the effects of the gravity from a supermassive black hole as decades pass on Earth in the space of minutes on the spaceship, and he watches as his eight year-old daughter becomes a woman before his eyes. As Cooper and his crew attempt to investigate habitable planets, unforeseen problems cause the initial plan to falls away, and they are left with impossible decisions to make. Although the film touches on many scientific topics, the main theme is still one most relevant to us today: the unyielding will of humanity to persevere.

The film manages to question the entire concept of gravity and dimensions, while still being one of the most scientifically accurate fiction films on the scene. Nolan consulted with theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne (scientific consultant and executive producer), when making the film.

Thorne asked Nolan to promise two things –  “First, that nothing would violate established physical laws. Second, that all the wild speculations … would spring from science and not from the fertile mind of a screenwriter”. Aside from some creative freedom with “ice clouds”, Nolan stuck to these words, and even used CGI rendering software to recreate an image of a blackhole from the scientific equations that define them. This alone took over 100 hours.

Completely captivating while utterly heart-wrenching, if you are yet to see this film, you are missing out.


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