I’m a little bit behind on my movies, but what are you gonna do?
This post does contain spoilers for Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film, Interstellar, as well as spoilers for James Cameron’s The Terminator—which you should have already seen by now, so I wouldn’t feel bad about spoiling that film, anyway.
So, Interstellar—another fantastic film by the great Christopher Nolan! I’m a HUGE fan of his. I mean, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception; all fantastic films! And I was super pumped to watch Interstellar back in 2014 when the first trailer launched. Unfortunately, I did not end up seeing it until just the other night at about one o’clock in the morning. But, boy, was it worth the wait!
Where do I start? First off, let me say that this is not a review. I will not be stating what I liked and disliked. Instead, I will be presenting a breakdown of what I believe was going on in the film.
Before I begin, though, let me say, in the spirit of a review, that I give this film four out of five stars, overall, primarily for its fantastic visual work, stellar performance by Matthew McConaughey—pun totally intended—and the unique vision of and look into space and time theory.
That said, let’s start by addressing the time travel paradox. Movies tend to run into problems when dealing with time travel, especially when someone from the future changes or influences a present day character’s life or experience in some way—more so when the present day character and the future character are one and the same.
When dealing with time travel, one must wonder if there were a series of original events, events where a focal character was born into a single universe, lived his life, discovered time travel, and then altered the past. Most movies take place in the altered past, and we see the focal character experiencing changes made by himself or someone else from the future, thus prompting the question, “Is there an original timeline?”
In most cases, the original timeline theory is the one we have to go with, and the audience accepts that there are multiple universes, each one being altered with every travel through time. However, I believe that Interstellar exists in a single universe.
The first time we see something like this is in James Cameron’s The Terminator, where character John Connor grows up to be the leader of the human resistance, and then sends young soldier, Kyle Reese, back in time to combat the Terminator sent to kill his mother before she can birth him.
But this is a paradox. It doesn’t make sense linearly. Why? Because we learn that Reese is actually John’s father. So how can a man born after him, or at the same time, be his father? Multiple universes? Well, no, because who then would have been the first father, since Kyle Reese would not have been born until much later? So, how is this explained? The same way we can explain Interstellar.
In order to understand both films, we must reject the idea of a linear universe, as well as the multiple universe theory (Linear Universe: The universe has a distinct beginning and end; it exists on a straight line. Multiple Universe Theory: An infinite number of universes with slight to severe variations of the same material and forces of life exist simultaneously; and traveling through time is really traveling between other universes’ timelines, meaning the traveler only alters one of the many universes, instead of a single universe over and over again).
But if we reject both theories, what do we accept? First we look at this one:
The Circular Universe Theory (a theory I made up, as far as I know) states that all things that are, were, and will ever be coexist on the same line at the same time, thereby making what we humans perceive as life and time nothing more than an infinite amount of prerecorded still frames that can be watched as one would watch a movie. There is no beginning or end. None at all. Not for the universe itself, or anyone in the universe. All of us, everything we have or will ever say, do, think, feel—it’s all been prerecorded on this circular universe.
Think of it this way. If you were to look at a filmstrip, lay it out flat, you’d see a collection of pictures sitting side by side, none of them moving. But run your eyes along the linear strip, or have the strip sped in front of your eyes at a rapid pace, and it looks like an animate photograph. So too would the circular universe be if we were to slice one side of it and stretch it out flat. There would be a linear beginning and end that we could watch like a movie.
However, the circular universe is sealed together, and it exists outside the human concept of time. To us, the idea of infinite existence is incomprehensible. Sure, we can grasp the concept in theory, but we can never hope to understand what it means to have always been. Humans are hardwired into the idea of beginnings and endings, starts and finishes. We’re born, and then we die. We rise, and we sleep. Sun comes up, sun goes down. Breath in, breathe out. Everything we’ve ever had or known is something that has come and will someday go, if it hasn’t already gone.
But this is not the case in the circular universe. Here, everything has and will continue to exist. The paths we take, our rising and sleeping, living and dying, are just images waiting to be observed.
So, how does this relate to Interstellar? Well, near the end of the film, we see Matthew McConaughey's character tumble through a black hole. Here, as envisioned by director/ writer Christopher Nolan, he is transported outside the physical third dimension, and into the fifth dimension, where he can observe the third outside of what we call time.
This is precisely why he can see many different days over many different years at a whim. And it is also why he can interact with time itself. He is, in fact, etching his own lines on the portrait of the universe. He is, in the few minutes he spends floating through the years from behind the bookshelf, not changing but creating the events in the three dimensional world.
But why not alter other world events, as well? Why not alter humankind's destructive course, the one that led to his having to leave Earth in the first place to find inhabitable planets? Simple, he has limited mobility in the fifth dimension. I mean, we taking an entire universe, here. This corner of the fifth dimension represents the course of approximately thirty years in the part of the painting that is his daughter’s, Murph’s, room. Again, time is not linear in this universe. It’s a painting. And the corner of the painting McConaughey falls into is the one whereon his daughter’s room was sketched.
All of this, however, this theory of a circular universe, is incomplete. What we take from this theory, though, will help us understand the overarching answer to Interstellar’s inter-dimensional time traveling question.
I present to you The Infinite Universe Theory.
Not unlike The Circular Universe Theory, The Infinite Universe Theory (another C. K. Conners original) tackles the issue of how and why McConaughey was able to survive his plunge through the black hole, see and interact with his daughter via her room over a period of decades in a matter of minutes, and shake Ann Hathaway’s hand as she sails along during the first leg of the voyage to save the human race.
How is this answered? When McConaughey fell through the black hole, he didn’t just end up on some random corner of the universe, he landed in the perfect spot—right in the bridge point between the two worlds of mankind.
Although infinite time is like a circle, the infinity symbol shown above represents, in my opinion, Nolan’s view of this universe’s painting. Two sides exist on this portrait: the side where we—you and I—currently live (aka the side that saw man’s self-destruction), and the side where man escapes Earth and inhabits other planets in the Milky Way solar system.
This bridge point in which McConaughey lands provided him the perfect vantage point for observing all there is to see on our universe’s wondrous painting. Hovering anywhere else in the fifth dimension, on either “side,” and from any other perspective, one would only be able to observe one “half,” if you will, of the universe’s painting, according to Nolan’s design.
If indeed shaped like the infinity symbol, no other vantage point gives a viewer the full scope of or access to the universe—only the one right at the bridge point, as shown below, does (red lines indicate other, inadequate vantage points):
And so, McConaughey drifts through the bridge point, from one part of humanity’s history to the other, where he arrives on a space station orbiting Saturn to meet his dying daughter, who, though still much younger than he, has aged away as he has not yet begun to do, thanks to relativity.
This theory does, however and admittedly, have a few holes. If McConaughey arrived at the bridge point and could see the universe in full, why could he not see other world events? Why is the bridge point at or near his daughter’s room? How did the black hole just so happen to transport him there? And would two halves really exist in an infinite universe?
Let’s take these one by one. First, while at the bridge point, we never see McConaughey observe the entire scope of humanity. He merely messes around with the books and a watch in his daughter’s room before passing by Hathaway with a high-five, and then arrives “on the other side” at Saturn. Perhaps the whole painting can only be seen by one whose eyes are not bound by human’s lacking potential. Maybe it’s like standing in the midst of a many mile long work of land art that cannot be fully appreciated until standing at a distance; and he is just facedown in the brushstrokes of his daughter’s room, never looking up or stepping back to see the whole painting.
Second, why is the bridge point at or so near Murph’s room? To move the plot, maybe? Or perhaps it’s because Murph’s room played such a key role in moving man from Earth and into outer space that the bridge naturally fell there. We must also consider the line spoken by the robot TARS, who says that "they" (which we later learn from McConaughey are humans) constructed the three dimensional space through which he hovers (behind the bookshelf) inside of the fifth dimension so that he would better comprehend the concept of gravity communication and how it transcends time. In my opinion, this does not change the theory of The Infinite Universe, because this question about future humans would still have to be answered: "How did humans survive Earth before McConaughey's trip into the fifth dimension?" Answer: The Infinite Universe. They were always there. They existed at the same time as every other human along the span of the concept of time.
Next, how did the black hole just so happen to drop McConaughey in his daughter’s room? Well, if we assume that the bridge point is the room, and the black hole is a direct transport to that point, then it makes perfect sense. Otherwise, it’s just a plot device.
And finally, would two halves really exist? This, I think, is just a product of how we as humans cannot comprehend something without a beginning or an end. Two halves, the design of the infinity symbol, makes it easier for us to come to terms with this mind-boggling idea. Flawed? Sure, you could say that, because it would suggest that man has a primitive beginning and a cultivated future; and in this design, if flowing, the two would have to meet up or reset somewhere.
Take a look at this image:
Now, the green arrow represents man’s early stages, however that looks (cavemen, single-celled organisms, whatever). From there, man can be seen, in a linear fashion, becoming more like what you and I are today, until he reaches the yellow arrow, the area in which Interstellar takes place, the point where man leaves Earth after McConaughey’s work in the fifth dimension. After crossing the bridge point, man ascends to technological levels we in the present day can only dream of. But what happens as man enters the area represented by the red arrow? Will the linear flow cause the world of man to reset? Movie over? Start again? It can’t, though, because this is supposed to be infinite. No beginning, no end, remember?
So, what happened there? Well, I can’t say I have the answer, because saying that man would reset if viewed linearly on an infinite plain would suggest that things do begin and things do end.
But perhaps that’s what this universe is all about. Maybe that’s why we are programed to understand beginnings and endings, because our giant, ever moving universe follows the same pattern, like a gigantic film on repeat.
What does this do to infinity, then? Maybe infinity is already in us. Maybe we are infinite beings, only able to view our existences linearly, but ever repeating the pattern this universe drew for us. It’s not the most comforting or uplifting thing to say or hear, because it suggests that our lives will ever be the same, and we will never have any knowledge or ability to change our parts in the majestic portrait. We live and we die, and then do it all over again in the exact same way we did before and the infinitely many times before that. And if our brushstrokes lead us outside the third dimension, then that’s where we go forever and ever and ever, and ever again.
Or maybe, we just can’t tell stories without a beginning or an end.
C. K. Conners
©2015 by C. K. Conners