Pras on WorldFilms: INTERSTELLAR

InterstellarAn online piece written by a friend brought back to life thoughts long filed-away in the recesses of my memory. His mention of a poem written a long time ago by India’s poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore “Ekla Cholo Re” (Walk The Road Alone).

Tagore wrote the poem back in 1905, and went on to win the country’s first ever Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.

It is a curious coincidence that I am thinking about this poem now, more than any other day.

This weekend I watched Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus INTERSTELLAR. Being a huge and longtime Chris Nolan fan since I watched his ground-breaking films (MEMENTO, INSOMNIA, THE DARK KNIGHT, INCEPTION, others), it was merely a matter of time that I would show up to watch his latest. (PS: No Spoilers Here !).

Its been a while since I watched a Sci-fi film that wrapped physics and the sheer power of story-telling around a core built on poetic sentiment. Read on.

Nolan has an unconventional style of creating his narrative & visuals in films he directs, or writes or produces. There are always deeper undercurrents flowing beneath the actual story playing out on the surface. Much like the century-old sewers that crisscross deep underneath the City of London where Nolan resides, moving huge volumes of waste totally oblivious to most Londoners living on its solid-surface. He also loves to challenge the audience with a cerebral, non-linear storytelling style, often provoking them to keep up with him.

Interstellar proved no different. But this time he had the advantage of added access to a formidable array of conceptual tools with which to weave all his complexity in the story. At the heart of, the film is a story of pioneers who chose to venture out into the ultimate unknown mankind has ever known – intergalactic space. But this attempt was prompted not by a sense of adventure (as most films would like to depict), but by an urgent need. Earth is close to its last gasps,food is running out, mankind is on the verge of doom.

But Nolan had the use of Time, Space and multiple other dimensions to transport our protagonists through. His non-linear style was made surprisingly easier this time around by the knowledge that theoretical physicists often use the concept of bending space & time around certain galactic objects. Something scientists have known a long time (thanks, Albert Einstein), observed in surrogate forms, but have never ever experienced directly. A group of brave scientists & engineers were being asked to now take a journey into that unknown aided only by a theoretical notion that still has many “holes” by way of proof.

Galactic Pioneers The protagonists were pioneers in every sense of the word. They were stepping into uncharted territory. They were surely scared. They were also terribly conflicted about leaving their closest human connections (family, friends, the familiarity of things around them), and to have to make an uncertain promise that they would ultimately return back to them.

THE SCIENCE OF INTERSTELLAR

Christopher Nolan clearly had a lot to draw from in the area of theoretical physics and astrophysics concepts. Kip Thorne ( a renowned physicist) who was also an adviser on the Interstellar project. One of the main themes in Interstellar is that characters can age at different speeds depending on where they are in the universe.

Interstellar Dimensions In 1912 Einstein predicted that gravity is a product of huge bodies, like Earth, bending space-time. What is even more extraordinary is that space is bending into a different dimension. On Earth the effect is minimal, adding just a few microseconds a day to the time of space. Consequently GPS satellites orbiting the Earth need to be adjusted to take into account that they are moving through time slightly more quickly – 40 microseconds a day – compared to a person with a SatNav on earth.

Bending Space The crew of Interstellar’s Endurance spaceship faced a headache when trying to get to Miller’s planet because it is trapped within the control of the huge black hole Gargantua. To avoid being sucked into the black hole, the spaceship had to be travelling at high speed to escape the huge gravitational and centrifugal forces.

“Wormholes” In Interstellar, the crew overcame the vast distances between galaxies by jumping through a “wormhole”. If you imagine the universe is a flat sheet of paper you could travel between two points by moving in a straight line. However if you bend the paper so that the points touch through it, and then make a hole, you can reach that point much quicker. Essentially, a wormhole is where space and time are being bent so that points are now closer together.But Prof Thorne hastens to add: “I doubt the laws of physics permit traversable wormholes. If they can exist, I doubt very much they can form naturally in the astrophysical universe.

THE POETRY OF INTERSTELLAR

We have come to expect science fiction films to create representations that challenge assumptions we have grown accustomed to living in. In that broader sense, Interstellar is no different. What brought out the core sentiment of Interstellar was really a few lines from a Dylan Thomas poem (see below), that were repeated several times in the film. In a way its also the core of what we know as the “pioneering spirit”.

Interstellar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its what led Steve Fosset to attempt the risky balloon-ride across the globe. It inspired Felix Baumgartner to attempt the highest ever jump from a balloon hovering 39-miles up at the edge-of-space. It inspired James Cameron to take that perilous submersible trip 7-miles deep to observe and film the Marianas Trench (the world deepest point in the ocean). It inspired Amelia Earhart to attempt her transatlantic flight back in 1928. It also inspired an intrepid 14-year old Dutch girl Janice Dekker to sail solo around the world in an old unpowered yatch her sailor-dad restored for her. (Her filmed-footage was turned into an amazing documentary MAIDENTRIP). And it keeps people like Richard Branson ticking restlessly with a vision of commercial space travel. Damn the celebrity, full steam ahead.

The poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) was published in 1951-52, but couldn’t be more true for these pioneers. Here’s how it goes.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Dylan Thomas, 19141953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing

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Pras on WorldFilms: HAWKING

Hawking is the extraordinary story of the planet’s most famous living scientist, told for the first time in his own words and by those closest to him. Made with unique access to Hawking’s private life, this is an intimate and moving journey into Stephen’s world, both past and present. Hawking relates his incredible personal journey from boyhood underachiever, to Ph.D. genius, to being diagnosed with ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and given just two years to live.

Despite the constant threat of death, Hawking makes amazing scientific discoveries and rises to fame and superstardom.

cropped-HawkingA58001Stephen Finnigan’s film about Prof. Stephen Stephen Hawking is a heartfelt tribute to the most famous scientist of our times. Hawking’s remarkable career is well summarised too: the brilliant young Oxford academic who was struck down with a degenerative disease in his early 20s. His severe case of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, has trapped his bold mind in an uncooperative body, a circumstance that’s an inseparable part of his fame. Told he only had a few years to live, he survived as a legendary wheelchair-user to develop new theories of the universe and to write a bestselling popular study of theoretical physics: “A Brief History of Time”, now enjoying its 25th anniversary. Now 71, he’s the rare scientific luminary who’s also a celebrity, thanks to his best-selling book, and appearances on comedies like “The Simpsons” and “The Big Bang Theory.”

Hawking IndiewireWhile there is little left about him that has not been written about, the winning approach of this film was that it allowed the movie to be told in Mr. Hawking’s own voice, at least his computer-generated one. “Welcome to my world,” he says.  In an early sequence from the film, interaction design engineers from Intel huddle with Mr. Hawking to give him a faster means of communicating (based on facial tics, mostly).

He tells us about his childhood and his Oxford student days, when his illness was diagnosed; about his first marriage; about his students; about his science. We see him in daily tasks like eating, assisted by caretakers patiently lifting food to his misshapen, passive face.

Among several interesting vignettes from the film about his life are a few of the following.

1.  “I was close to death after bout of pneumonia in 1980s. I was rushed to hospital and put on a ventilator. The doctor said they thought I was so far gone they offered to turn off the ventilator.

Stephen Hawking talks to Royal College of Surgeons

Stephen Hawking tells the Royal College of Surgeons about his near-death experience following pneumonia.

Stephen Hawking had a tube inserted into his windpipe 30 years ago after he had developed motor neuron disease. The physicist, once  became very ill during a bout of pneumonia during the 1980s while visiting Switzerland.  He was considered to be “so far gone” that medics weighed up disconnecting his ventilator. Doctors later agreed Hawking, should be flown back from Switzerland, to England for further treatment. There he was able to lead close to a full and active life. The 72-year-old told the Royal College of Surgeons: “I was rushed to hospital and put on a ventilator. The doctor said they thought I was so far gone they offered to turn off the ventilator. But I was flown back to Cambridge. The doctors there tried hard to get me back to how I was before.” He was speaking at the launch of the European Global Tracheostomy Collaborative (GTC) in central London, where he was given a standing ovation by more than 200 delegates. He said: For the last three years I have been on full-time ventilation but this has not prevented me from leading a full and active life.

Stephen-Hawking-008

Stephen Hawking dismisses belief in God in an exclusive interview with the Guardian.

2. “We should seek the greatest value of our action.” “There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story. I think the conventional afterlife is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.”   He rejected the notion of life beyond death and emphasized the need to fulfill our potential on Earth by making good use of our lives.  He says there was nothing beyond the moment when the brain flickers for the final time.”I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark“. Hawking’s comments go beyond those laid out in his 2010 book, The Grand Design, in which he asserted that there is no need for a creator to explain the existence of the universe. The book provoked a backlash from some religious leaders, including the chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, who accused Hawking of committing an “elementary fallacy” of logic. The physicist’s remarks draw a stark line between the use of God as a metaphor and the belief in an omniscient creator whose hands guide the workings of the cosmos.

3. ” It’s theoretically possible to copy the brain on to a computer,..”

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking with his sister Mary at the premiere of the documentary Hawking in Cambridge.

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking with his sister Mary at the premiere of the documentary Hawking in Cambridge.

Stephen Hawking said he believes brains could exist independently of the body, but that the idea of a conventional afterlife is a fairy tale. Speaking at the premiere of a documentary film about his life, the theoretical physicist said: “I think the brain is like a program in the mind, which is like a computer, so it’s theoretically possible to copy the brain on to a computer and so provide a form of life after death. “However, this is way beyond our present capabilities. I think the conventional afterlife is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.”

4. All my life I have lived with the threat of an early death, so I hate wasting time.”  The incurable illness was expected to kill Hawking within a few years of its symptoms arising, an outlook that turned the young scientist to Wagner, but ultimately led him to enjoy life more, he has said, despite the cloud hanging over his future.  The 71-year-old physicist also backs the right for the terminally ill to end their lives as long as safeguards were in place, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and given two to three years to live.