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Interstellar 2014, Part 5: Time Travel Saves — But Also Destroys

Time travel solves some problems for planet Earth but it turns out to be no match for human mortality and sundered relationships

As we saw last Saturday, Cooper has shot himself into a black hole to try to save the day. His shuttle is slowly destroyed, and he’s eventually forced to eject.

After falling through a void, he eventually finds himself behind the bookshelf in Murphy’s bedroom, reliving the past from a completely different angle. He sees Murphy as a child and tries to communicate with her by knocking over the books so he can spell STAY in Morse code, hoping she can make his earlier self refuse to go on the mission. This doesn’t work, and Cooper finds himself at a loss until TARS, one of the crew’s robots, begins speaking to him over the radio. He explains that Cooper is in a world that the mysterious “They” built.

How did TARS know where Cooper was? I have no idea.

Can time travel help save Earth?

After discussing recent events with TARS, Cooper realizes that “They” have given him the ability to communicate with Murphy through space and time. We looked at this twist in the story earlier, but the bottom line is that Cooper now knows how he can save Earth.

He spells out the coordinates to NASA, using the dust in his house—creating a time paradox—then uses the watch he gave Murphy to communicate the data from inside the black hole, the data that was picked up by TARS. Using the second hand, he translates the data into Morse code. Once Murphy realizes what the watch is, she can use the data from the black hole to solve the equation that had stumped Professor Brand. This equation will enable mankind to manipulate gravity, ensuring that humans can leave Earth before the planet is uninhabitable.

Sure enough, Murphy finds the watch and realizes what it is. This is a big moment for her because she’s spent most of the film expressing bitterness at her father for leaving her when she was a child. But when she returns to her bedroom as an adult in her thirties and puts together that it was her father speaking to her as best he could, she comes to terms with what happened. Her father hadn’t left her to die. He was trying to save the world, and, by time travel, he’d given her the information she needed to do it. She solves Professor Brand’s equation, and the people of Earth are saved.

Earth is saved but what about Cooper?

As for Cooper, he’s still stuck in a black hole. To make matters worse, “They” close down the strange dimension they’d set up for him. He finds himself flying through space again. Along the way, he sees the moment when he and his crew were first entering the wormhole “They” had constructed. Sitting by the window of their ship is Dr. Brand. He reaches out to her, and she reaches out to him. Earlier in the film, the audience saw this moment from Dr. Brand’s perspective. She simply noticed a blur and touched it. It turns out that the blur was Cooper…

Cooper then wakes up in a hospital bed and…

There he learns that he was picked up near a space station orbiting Saturn. It turns out that “They” dumped him where he was sure to be found. I’m glad they didn’t just let him suffocate in space or have him randomly rescued by some other crew. The doctors also tell him that Murphy is still alive and is on her way to see him. They also let him know that TARS had been picked up as well.

TARS and Cooper are staying in a replica of his old house while waiting for Murphy. Apparently, he is now a famous historical figure, and students even write college papers about him. Cooper isn’t impressed by that though. He finds himself wondering how much humanity has developed since his departure.

When he sees Murphy again, she is an elderly woman, lying in a hospital bed, surrounded by family.

I both loved and hated this part. On the one hand, Cooper was able to keep his word, but on the other, I couldn’t help but feel sad over the time stolen from these characters. I suppose grief was the emotion the writers wanted to convey. Then Murphy says Cooper needs to move on. After all, Dr. Brand is still on Edmund’s planet.

I call foul on this point!

We are given to understand that there are spaceships and all sorts of advanced technology on this station orbiting Saturn. And Murphy knew that Dr. Brand is still on Edmund’s planet. So why hasn’t somebody gone after her already? Why is this part of the mission still left up to Cooper?

Really, I thought this was a cheat. Cooper needed to spend time with his daughter. He has stories. She has stories. This scene would’ve been a really good opportunity to reestablish their relationship. Cooper and Murphy’s brief interaction was nowhere near enough closure for me.

And why weren’t there more people on that planet by the time Cooper woke up? If they have a space station near Saturn and plenty of ships that can travel to Edmunds’ habitable planet, then Dr. Brand should have plenty of company! In fact, she shouldn’t have even landed yet.

Allow me to explain.

While Cooper is flying around the black hole, he says that the maneuver will cost them 51 years. So, given Dr. Brand’s timeline, she’s flying towards Edmunds planet 51 years into the future. But when Cooper ends up in his special dimension, he communicates with Murphy when she’s in her thirties. So, she has the opportunity to solve the equation that created all this new technology years before Dr. Brand even left the black hole.

If they had shuttles and space stations around Saturn by the time Cooper reappears, presumably 51 years after Murphy solved the equation, and if at some point Murphy found out that Dr. Brand was heading towards Edmunds planet—who can guess how?—that’s a plot hole all by itself. Then there should’ve already been countless ships, far more advanced ones, that had begun visiting Edmund’s planet even before Dr. Brand arrived.

I should also point out that Edmund’s planet wasn’t close enough to the black hole for there to be any time distortions, so that can’t be used as an excuse. Basically, by the time Dr. Brand arrived, there should’ve been a population of people on Edmunds planet. Her work was already done!

But for whatever reason, the writers decided to have Cooper leave Murphy in her hospital bed and go after Dr. Brand instead of spending time with his daughter. Cooper steals a ship—I’m not sure why because he’s so famous at this point that all he needed to do was ask—and the last scene of the movie shows Dr. Brand burying Dr. Edwards before returning to her isolated campsite.

I wish the movie were better written because I really do enjoy it. But the third act falls into the trap of spectacle over substance. It does a good job portraying the realities of relativity, but it eventually abandons that law in favor of the plot. If the writers were going to do that, then why not send Cooper back into the past? I mean, who knows what the laws of physics are inside a black hole? So just say forget it and give Cooper the time with his daughter back.

Still, in spite of everything, I like the movie a lot. The music score is amazing, and the visuals are equally so. Of course, the actors are incredible too. I have to recommend it, even if the ending thoroughly annoys me.

Here are the four previous parts of my extended review:

Starting Out at the End of the World. As Earth’s surface is turning to dust, a former NASA pilot is offered another mission, to help find a way to transport humanity to a habitable planet. Interstellar’s visuals and music score are excellent but more backstory would have helped orient the reader. We are largely left to guess how the disaster occurred.

Interstellar (2014): The plot thickens— well, relatively… Aside from adventures and misadventures exploring Miller’s planet, discovery of a dreadful secret awaits the crew. Interstellar succeeds in the difficult task of creating sympathy for an initially unlikeable character via a harrowing plot turn.

Interstellar (2014): Dr Mann uses nature to justify murder. The awful secret that comes to light while the crew visits Dr. Mann’s planet has nothing to do with the planet. If the data from the black hole was all Professor Brand was missing to finish his equation, then someone could read it and solve the problem.

Interstellar (2014), Review Part 4: So Who Are “They” Anyway? Will we at last find out? Cooper says that the mysterious “They” have “evolved.” How in the world did natural selection select the fifth dimension?

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Interstellar 2014, Part 5: Time Travel Saves — But Also Destroys