3 Powerful Life Lessons from the Movie Interstellar

Image by Joy Farrah Turner. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Almost 7 years after the release, Interstellar feels somewhat relevant again. As the climate crisis becomes catastrophic and creates an uninhabitable world for humanity, every second turns out to be more precious than ever. Cooper and NASA’s mission to resolve the livelihood crisis could either make or break humankind.

In our unpredictable world in search of stability, the pandemic has separated human intimacy and taken away many precious moments we could’ve had. When every decision made by our leaders create heavy consequences on humanity, we naturally become more vulnerable to the monstrosity of time — something directly portrayed in the film.

Interstellar is a very intricate, divisive film that journeys through time and space, yet its emotionally gripping aspect transcends the importance of space exploration. The profound themes of family love, hope, agony, saying goodbye, determination and human endurance are all ever-present in this masterpiece. Even as science fiction, Interstellar is a life-changing inspiration.

Three life lessons ahead with spoilers.

1. “Our Survival Instinct is Our Greatest Source of Inspiration.” — Dr. Mann

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

We get it — he’s the antagonist in the plot. Watching the moment Mann tears off Cooper’s helmet transmitter and shoves him into a shallow chasm, we all felt the adrenaline rush and hate towards his betrayal of the crew. Nonetheless, the meaning behind his dialogue with Cooper is nothing but astounding.

The human survival instinct always pushes itself to its limits. When facing life and death, we have no choice but to let ourselves do the involuntary work. Even in other situations, our mentality strengthens naturally, and our minds always push a little harder regardless of fear and torment.

When we’re about to surrender to our physical abilities, our mental willpower helps us endure the pain and sends us through the finish line. When we begin to believe that it’s impossible to juggle multiple tasks at once, our mental willpower suppresses that negativity and introduces enthusiasm in the process. When we start to become more complacent in life, our mental willpower kicks in to catalyze a new, purposeful journey of adventurous exploration.

When we realize that our survival instinct is an intrinsic quality, it naturally becomes an inspiration for ourselves AND for others.

2. “They Didn’t Bring Us Here to Change The Past.” — TARS

Image by Richard Hendricks. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

When Cooper falls into a tesseract and finds himself in a room full of familiar bookshelves, he appears to have a tiny bit of hope when he tries to push them and make himself heard. And that tiny bit of hope perishes as he helplessly bangs on the bookshelf, only to find that he is unable to communicate with his 10-year-old daughter Murph — let alone to be back with her in person.

Cooper is only recreating some of the past moments earlier in the movie, most iconically when he turns back and sees a book knocked off from the bookshelf by gravity — or rather, the “ghost” (aka himself in the spacesuit) — while unsympathetically staring at his future self before leaving Murph’s bedroom.

It is only when TARS starts communicating with Cooper does he recognize the only solution — to communicate quantum data for escaping earth, using Morse code as the transmitter and Murph’s watch as the receiver.

But if Cooper wanted to make himself stay, why would he still gravitationally disturb the falling dust, sending the NASA coordinates in binary that led him to this mission?

Because the “past” cannot be changed, even in a five dimensional reality. Spelling out S-T-A-Y in Morse by pushing the books also doesn’t work because his actions are always meant to happen, and his memories are always meant to be there.

Life isn’t about living in the past, but rather living in the present while broadening new horizons and creating incentives. The past has already gone by — we cannot physically linger in the past, nor can we create new possibilities in that realm. We can only use the past as an inspiration to spark creative actions in the present.

Once we begin cherishing the moment, we may find past memories preparing us for the future.

3. Time is Relative, even in Everyday Life

Image by jplenio from Pixabay

Interstellar is an extreme example of time dilation due to the crew’s proximity to Gargantua, a black hole orbited by planets Miller and Mann. The gravitational pull is so strong that it even warps time.

According to Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, time moves relative to the observer. Essentially, a person in motion — perhaps traveling close to the speed of light — would experience time dilation compared to a stationary person. If we use a light clock experiment with a flash of light, one mirror at the top, and one at the bottom, we can visualize the longer, zigzag path that the light beam has to take when the system is in motion.

(John D. Norton, via pitt.edu/~jdnorton/teaching/hps_0410/chapters/special_relativity_clocks_rods)

Thus, its time interval between each flash of light is longer, demonstrated above. So technically, time passes more slowly for a person running compared to a person sitting at home, but with a negligible difference.

Time is still relative even in everyday life. Our perception of time is ultimately subjective as we’re engaged in different activities — that’s why time flies when we’re focused or having fun.

If we can truly seize the different moments of our subjective time perception and start fulfilling what we desire, we would not only boost work productivity but also realize the shortness of life. We would not only become a dauntless dreamer but also an ambitious achiever.

Everyone has 24 hours a day. But our subjective perception of time can either prolong or shorten the exciting journey. Sometimes it’s now or never.

But if we find ourselves disoriented and losing track of time, sometimes it may be better to simply let it go.



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Tingyo Tan

Tingyo Tan

Writer in aerospace, technology, and inspirational stories. Always fascinated by the wonders of the uncertain future.