There’s only one thing I don’t get…

I’ve spent a lot of energy decrying lazy critiques of Interstellar.  After two viewings, there was nothing that confused me; everything fit perfectly.  Except one thing.  After well over 30 viewings, it still vexes me.  And I’ve never seen it discussed among Interstellar fans.

Every hour on Miller’s planet is 7 years on Earth.  If 23 earth years pass between Cooper’s departure and return, that means he is on Miller’s planet for just over 3 hours.  Yet the events on Miller’s planet, which are presented from start to finish in “real time,” last only a few minutes.

Additionally, CASE informs Cooper that it will take 45 minutes to 1 hour to drain the water from the engines.  This is immediately followed by Cooper’s and Brand’s argument, whichagainseems to occur in real time.  As soon as the argument is over, CASE reveals that they still need “a minute or two” for the engines.  That was fast!

Are we meant to infer that these scenes do not happen in real time?  There’s nothing in the filmmaking to suggest a time lapse to me.  However, I can’t conceive of another explanation.

Help a guy out.  This is killin’ me, people.

11 thoughts on “There’s only one thing I don’t get…

  1. I think a lot of the time is spent getting to and from Miller’s planet. There’s definitely a gravity shift around Miller’s planet, not just on it, but the level of time dilation would vary. You’re right though, this is the one part that confuses me. It’s like they’re on the planet for 10-15 minutes maybe and apparently it was 3 hours? I guess you’re just supposed to accept it… a strange continuity choice on Nolan’s part for sure.

    1. I’d thought about that, too: the travel time being long. And come to think of it, there IS a cut at the beginning of the sequence. After Romilly says “goodbye, ranger,” we fade to black for a brief instant before Cooper begins his descent into the atmosphere. It’s possible that there’s a time jump there. But that still doesn’t explain the part about the engines taking 45 minutes to an hour to drain.

  2. Oh yes YES.
    This exactly the part that drove me crazy right after the Miller’s Planet sequence.
    I also tried to calm myself by imagining that the flight between the Endurance and the planet takes approx. 1h. To me, this movie is so perfect, that even a little speck in logic like this could ruin the entire movie for me. Sadly.

    So I’ll just continue believing that it’s a 1h 7.5min + 45min + 1h 7.5min trip.

    Thanks @ComeOnTars for pointing out the short fade to black. Gives me hope :’D

    1. And consider the fact that they blew the cabin oxygen through the main thrusters. That definitely bought them some amount of time. And as there’s apparently no sign of passage of that 45 minutes of time between Cooper and Brand’s argument and Case telling Cooper that the next wave is coming, maybe Case had reevaluateed his estimation about the draining time when he told Cooper that they need 1 or 2 more minutes, thus the time they spent staying on Miller’s planet was less than that, maybe 10 or 15 minutes.

  3. There are approximately 12 mins of screen time that go by between the scene where the Ranger detaches from Endurance to go down to Miller’s planet and when we arrive back on the Endurance with the aged Romilly. Nolan does not specifically tell us where the time slippage happens, i.e. only on the planet’s surface, near the stratosphere, or even slightly outside the planet’s atmosphere? In Kip Thorne’s book “The Science of Interstellar” there is a diagram (Fig. 17.1) depicting the warped space around Gargantua and the approximate distances between the orbits of Miller’s planet and the Endurance. The diagram clearly shows that time slippage would start practically just after detaching from the Endurance – not all the way down on the planet. In case you don’t have this book, I highly recommend it as a great companion piece to the movie.

    Therefore, relatively speaking (pun intended), it’s not significant how much “real time” they spend on the surface of Miller’s planet – what’s important is that the amount of time it takes after detaching to go to the planet, spend time on the planet, and come back all adds up to the figure TARS gives us at the end of the sequence. When the second huge wave was approaching and they had to act fast, is it possible that when TARS says, “a minute or two” for the engines, TARS’ initial calculation (45 to 1 hr) could have changed during the 3 minutes Brand and Cooper were talking? Maybe they drained faster then TARS initially calculated? TARS doesn’t state that the previous calculation was wrong, and instead just answers the question quickly – this would not be a stretch for me.

    From a cinematic standpoint, I believe it was Nolan’s choice to edit this whole sequence in a way that would not only be startling to the characters, but to the viewers as well. This movie takes huge jump cuts in time to portray the theory of relativity and the emotion it would cause. The same way Nolan doesn’t directly explain the “bootstrap paradox” issue of “how can Cooper give himself the coordinates when he hasn’t been there yet?” he doesn’t directly account for every minute in the water planet scene – I think he wants us to feel the result of it rather than add up the components of it. Even with the preliminary exposition of “1 hour on the planet is equal to 7 years back on Earth,” it’s still a startling scene to later see Romilly standing there holding his hands and saying, “I’ve waited years…” Most people are probably startled at that moment in the film because they’re not used to time slippage and relativity resulting in something that dramatic. Even Brand herself says right at that moment, “I thought I was prepared, I knew all the theory, Reality’s different.” Nolan once said that the magic of film is how it can be used to manipulate time, and this movie is no exception. This could also be an example of how the movie seems to be divisive, because it’s merging the scientific with the artistic.

    1. Forgot to also mention that Kip Thorne stated in his science interpretation of Interstellar that the time for the Ranger to travel from the Endurance to Miller’s planet is two and a half hours. Therefore, we can begin to imagine exactly where the time was spent.

      1. That would mean the total travel time was five hours (5 x 7 = 35 years), so I don’t think that works out.

        1. Well, it seems Nolan hasn’t given enough detail for us to answer this question definitively then.

          There’s an old saying, “first get your facts straight then distort them at your leisure.” Seems Nolan’s fact is the principle of relativity and the distortion is how he filmed the overall scene. There is great significance in the fade out scene with Romilly (“Goodbye Ranger”) and the cut from the floating Doyle to the Endurance with Romilly (“I’ve waited years”). Maybe Nolan made a stylistic choice not to break out the Miller’s planet scenes to the level of detail we’re pondering in order to provide the mind boggling passage of time relative to the different characters – and have it be startling to us too. Overall, this is still a powerful sequence for me which I love to just experience rather than break out in detail.

          1. I’m totally with you that the experience is still very powerful. This issue didn’t occur to me on my first viewing because I was so overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment. The fact that this issue is very seldom discussed, even by “Interstellar” die-hards, confirms that others felt much the same way. Even if this is a “mistake” (whether knowingly or by neglect), it doesn’t impact my enjoyment of this sequence.

        2. Why would you calculate the time dilation process exactly from the time they left the Endurance? Maybe that great significance started to occur after, idk, half an hour. And of course we should consider the fact that there’s not a clear-cut boundary for the time dilation to start. It’s not the case that for example here we don’t have any time dilation, but a mile farther the time dilation to that extend ( 7 years for an hour) starts to occur. No! It’s a continuum, meaning that even where the Endurance is there’s the effect of time dilation but it’s not significant, say, relative to earth. But as thet get closer and closer to Miller’s planet, the effect increases, until when they’re on the planet, the time dilation effect reaches its maximum ( 7 earth years for an hour of Miller’s planet).

  4. The thing I don’t get is the fact that Romilly said he would see them in a few years, and that’s why he stayed behind (to work on his theory). If what you are saying about the journey taking up the majority of the time, wouldn’t he know that? and therefore know that it would be longer than just a few years? Surely the majority of the extra time they didn’t account for was spent on the planet, but they showed no cuts in the scenes to demonstrate this.

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