Review of Interstellar by an astronaut. From Quora.
What do the astronauts think about the movie Interstellar?
Garrett Reisman, Former NASA Astronaut
A few days ago, a group of us from SpaceX took the afternoon off to watch Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’. We loved it. Then again, we don’t get out very often. We probably could have sat through ‘Gigli’ and loved it.
As for myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but there were a few things that struck me as inaccurate. First and foremost – the casting. I mean, is it really necessary to fill every astronaut movie with actors like Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Bacon? How am I supposed to live up to that? I’m only 5 foot 5 inches tall, for crying out loud! Once, just once, can’t someone make a blockbuster space action-adventure movie starring Paul Giamatti or Wallace Shawn? Please?
There were lesser flaws worth noting. (Spoilers follow!) For example, there is no way a big government bureaucracy like NASA has a meeting with less than a dozen participants. Secondly, as with many movies that depict artificial gravity achieved through a rotating spacecraft structure, the Endurance’s diameter was much too small to create a non-nauseating equivalent of Earth’s gravity. Finally, if an advanced civilization can create a time-space bookshelf tesseract, why can’t they equip it with a whiteboard? I know that using flying books, misbehaving watches, and binary dust patterns are much more dramatic means of communication, but explaining a completely new unified theory of gravitational force would be much easier with equations and diagrams than with a seemingly random set of binary data.
But there were a lot of things that ‘Interstellar’ gets right. Many of the relativistic effects were spot on. (Or at least so I am told by some of my old Caltech buddies.) It was interesting to see many examples of space hardware that were familiar. The deep freezer that holds the frozen embryos of our progeny looks just like the one we have on the International Space Station. (Although we don’t have genetic material to populate a planet in there, yet perhaps that would be a good idea…) The hemispherical windows on Endurance look just like the Cupola on the International Space Station and many of the switch panels would have seemed at home on Endeavour. And as we all know, Love truly transcends time and space.
It was particularly interesting for me to note how often Cooper takes manual control of his spacecraft. Bucking the real-world trend toward ever-increasing automation, it seemed like every 5 minutes he was grabbing the stick and taking manual control. As metaphor, clearly this represents the characters’ desperate attempts to control their own destiny, and the destiny of their species. ‘Interstellar’ is an expression of our very strong American notion of free will – that we are all free agents able to make choices that shape our destiny. With this free agency comes a heavy burden of responsibility; witness the crushing defeat in Professor Brand’s vain struggle to enact the destiny he so desires for the human race. But free will is an essential ingredient of the quintessential American hero archetype – the explorer, the pioneer – the lone individual who rises to the challenge and saves the day through skill, grit, and initiative - Cooper. While other cultures place value in collective group effort or trust in fate rather than cherish individual achievement, we do not. We accept the burden of our choices as well as their rewards. This archetype is part and parcel of our national character and it is important to hold fast to this mythology to inspire our next generation of Coopers as we confront the new frontier of space.
Of course, the other main theme of ‘Interstellar’ is the relationship between fathers and their children. This aspect of the movie definitely rang true to me too.
A short while ago, I returned from a speaking engagement wearing my blue NASA astronaut flight jacket. When I arrived at home to tuck my 4-year old son into bed for the night, he looked up at me and asked if I had just been to space again. When I told him no, he asked, “Well, are you going to space again soon?”
“Not without you,” I replied sincerely.
At first a look of reassured contentment came over his face only to be followed by the furrowed brow of concern and worry.
“But I don’t have a flight jacket,” he said.
I love that kid. I’d definitely fly into a black hole in order to save him.