I haven’t had the privilege of seeing a comet in the sky. It’s not a terrible misfortune, as comets that are bright enough to be seen by casual observation, the Great ones, are rare phenomenon. Yet I’d very much like to see these celestial objects because they embody astronomical wonder. Their fierce streak and brilliant tails have brought awe and terror to people throughout history: they have been seen as omens of the death of kings, or the conquest of countries.
But astronomers, beginning in the Middle Ages, looked up at these objects and decided to study them, patiently tracking them through the years and performing calculations on their appearances. They speculated, and made observations to support their theories. They explained the legendary appearances as natural fact. Centuries later, and we now have scientific organizations sending their instruments right to the hearts of such heavenly objects.
Consequently, it would be a laughable thing now to be afraid of comets. They are not prophetic signs of destruction, but bodies of matter guided by gravity across the solar system.
It appears that this pattern of reducing fascination by logical explanation is a fixture of growing up in modern society. Through years of education, wonder after wonder fade away as individuals gain the ability to explain nature, through the coherent set of beliefs we call science. Perhaps, when we gain maturity and wisdom, we trade it for our basic capabilities to be fascinated.
With maturity and wisdom, our concerns shift from possibilities, to limits. We used to dream grand and cosmic dreams; now, our aspirations are earth-bound. As children we believed that we could easily conquer the world. We’d grow up to be doctors, and heal the despondent sick, or become astronauts, and explore the reaches of outer space. But then we do grow up, learn the rules of life, and realize that sometimes medical school may be too expensive; or that being an astronaut is such an exclusive role, an opportunity limited to so few that it is in fact more likely for anyone to win the lottery instead.
It is funny therefore, and even a bit ironic, that so many of the books we read and the movies we watch these days are not just fascinating, but also let go of all semblances of maturity and wisdom. But it is understandable: we delve into these fantastic worlds of fiction because it is here where we can reclaim fleeting moments of our innocence. Here, we can suspend our disbelief and the rules we have picked up as grew up—for entertainment, for a temporary escape from these limits of life.
But every now and then, we come across those special stories that transcend entertainment. These are the rare specimens, the Great Comets, that are so convincingly told, meticulously crafted, and critically, rigidly thought-out that they are able to weave childish dreams with the logical rules we have learned with maturity and wisdom. These are the experiences that leave us profoundly in awe of the universe, once again.
Interstellar simply is one of those stories.
With such a premise it is so easy to create a film consisting of little more than spectacle. But Interstellar’s creators know better; they showed us consequences, they gave the story a beating, clenching heart. The spectacles themselves are produced not merely out of imagination, but out of scientifically-sound theory. Here is a tale of interstellar adventure, fantastic yet still governed by rules as we know it outside of the movie theater.
The result is ultimately still a tale of romantic speculation: it is still a work of fiction, replete with dramatic flourishes and not without artistic license. But for building upon some of the deepest curiosities that haunt all of us, the most eternal yearnings of humans, those that deal with the cosmos and our destiny in it—Interstellar is an invaluable contribution to human imagination.
This is as close as film can get to approximating the magnificence of celestial bodies, be it stars, planets, or comets. Everyone who has ever gazed at the night sky with wonder will do well to see it.