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There certainly has been no shortage of scientist commenting on Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Interstellar, but Dr. Clifford V. Johnson has taken that idea a step further, breaking down the science fiction and science fact in the movie. In case you were wondering, yes, he does talk about the infamous bookcase. If you haven’t seen Interstellar yet, there will be a few spoilers ahead.
Whenever a science fiction movie hits the big screen, the scientific community is always pretty quick to respond, pointing out any and all scientific inaccuracies. From Bill Nye to Neil deGrasse Tyson, the response to the film has been largely positive (especially compared to the loads of scientific inaccuracies Tyson pointed out in the film Gravity). While the average moviegoer likely doesn't give a second thought to the scientific accuracy represented in their favorite science fiction films, it's still really cool to hear that a great deal of the science and physics represented in Interstellar are fairly accurate. For instance, as seen in this video, courtesy of Screen Junkies, one of the stories main antagonists, time itself, does in fact run differently depending on the gravitational pull of a planet. So even though it seems hard to believe, Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway’s characters, Cooper and Brand, making a quick stop on a planet and losing 20 years on their ship is both unsettling and scientifically accurate.
One of Dr. Johnson’s main complaints regarding the film’s science centers around run time. It turns out that Dr. Johnson is probably the only individual on the planet who has ever said the words, "If only Christopher Nolan could have made the movie a bit longer." Despite my inability to comprehend that sentiment, it does bring to light an important factor when picking the fact from fiction in a sci-fi film. If movies took the time to fully explain the scientific rationale behind their actions, sci-fi films would have longer run times, and would probably be a lot less compelling. Dr. Johnson seems to understand that Nolan couldn’t possibly have taken the time to fill in all of the scientific gaps, but that those gaps did cause most of the scientific inaccuracies.
Of course, Dr. Johnson does call out the bits of Interstellar surrounding Murphy’s "ghost" and her bookcase as "speculative" (not nonsense, as host Hal Rudnick called it). Speculative or not, I find it fascinating that physicists tend to agree, as the movie tries to explain, gravity could be the thing that connects every dimension together - even those dimensions we do not yet understand.
I’m usually fine with my science fiction films being outside of reality, but it does show what a cool, vast universe we live in where some of the crazy stuff shown in Interstellar proves to be true--or at least true-ish. While the real science behind the film is both exciting and hard for my mind to understand, the hardest part for me to understand is still Dr. Johnson actually asking for a Nolan film to be longer.