Last week, I went to see the sci-fi blockbuster, Interstellar. It tells the story of a space mission to seek out a new home planet for humans, because earth is becoming uninhabitable. The film uses lots of technical jargon such as wormholes, black holes, inter-galactical portals, star gates, space arcs; you really need to be an astro-physicist to have a clue what’s going on. Luckily, the special effects are so spectacular that you feel like you’ve been on a space voyage when you come out of the cinema, so if you can’t understand the complexities of space-time theory, it really doesn’t matter.
I’m not at all sure the actors knew what was happening either. Not only was it hard to figure out where they were, (after all, the universe is a pretty big place) you couldn’t figure out when, either. What with the time warps, wrinkles and folds, if you spent an hour or two on the surface of a planet, it was the equivalent of 23 years back on earth. As a consequence, the poor crew-member who got left on the space station waited for his gang to come back for 31 years! He had grey hair when they returned, and a bit later he got killed, although that’s probably because he wasn’t a very well-known actor. They never survive space voyages for long.
Luckily, Coop, the astro-pilot hero managed to figure out a plan, using a whiteboard and marker pens. This seemed rather lo-tech to me. But what was truly amazing was that their pens were still working after so long in space. As a teacher, I use marker pens a lot, and mine don’t last for 31 minutes, never mind 31 years.
I started to think about our experience of time in our mundane lives down here on earth. Going home from the cinema, the tube train I was on got stuck in a tunnel for several minutes. It was a little like being in a black hole and I wondered if my hair might turn grey. Every moment seemed like a year. It was the reverse of the expression: “Time flies when you’re having fun”. And it’s true that a really good party might last for eight hours or so, and yet it seems to go by in an instant.
I also think that time differences are very problematic. Three weeks ago, we turned the clocks back one hour in the UK. This is called daylightsaving time, but the name is inaccurate, because there are no more hours of daylight, it just starts an hour earlier. And it gets dark an hour earlier, so no daylight is saved at all. It makes the winter evenings longer, because the sun sets at 3.30 in the afternoon. When the clocks go back in the UK, the time difference between here and Reunion goes from three hours to four. This makes it difficult to skype friends because by the time you think of it, usually after you’ve eaten in the evenings, everyone in Reunion is going to bed. I think messing with time is a bad idea.
So if you have three hours to spare, you could go and see Interstellar. It may, or may not, be time well spent. As Einstein would agree, it’s all relative.
Tell – raconter
Seek out – chercher
Such as – comme
Wormhole – un vortex
Black hole – un trou noir
Portal – portail en espace
Going on – se passer
Special effects – effets speciaux
Warp – deformation du temps
Wrinkles – un pli (dans le vortex espace-temps)
Folds – pliures du temps
Earth – la terre
Marker pen – marqueur
Lo-tech – a faible composante technologique
Mundane – banal
Daylight – le jour
Go to bed – aller au lit
To mess – jouer
Spare time – temps libre
To spend time – passer le temps