Editorials — December 9, 2014 11:01 — 0 Comments

One Super Important Question For Dr. Sarah Ballard

I continue to be interested in what other people think about the movie Interstellar – how did they process the film, the scientific data and facts presented, how did people appreciate, or not, the narrative? You can check out this interview we posted with a Stanford lecturer about the movie. To keep the conversation going, I reached out to Sarah Ballard, who, among other accomplishments, has discovered four planets before the age of 30. I asked Sarah One Super Important Question.

Jake Uitti: You told me you cried at Interstellar, why?

Sarah Ballard: I cried at a lot of points during Interstellar. First, because I am very soft-hearted. I’m very tender when I see people being loving toward one another, or people suffering from loneliness. I’m like Kirsten Bell in that way—I think she cries at anything below a 3 or above a 6 out of 10, just generally in life. So, just to get that out of the way.

But after Interstellar, I had to go splash water on my face in the movie theater bathroom because I still felt tears welling up. I was very agitated walking out of the movie theater. The movie packed a fucking emotional punch: the fact that the Anne Hathaway character at the very end was “working by the light of a new sun, alone in a strange galaxy.” I wept because she was so brave. I had the same feeling after seeing Gravity too—that Earth is a miracle, and that space is vast and terrible and frightening. But I was more agitated because I was bothered by my own work suddenly. It seemed too heavy to bear, the fact of identifying other worlds that people might someday go to, and might someday stand on. I perceived that my own work, and the work of my colleagues and friends, will only be a tiny link in a long chain of humanity’s trajectory, but a link nonetheless.  I suppose I felt a connection to the scientists who would come after me, who would have to be braver still. I felt very small and lonely, but very exposed: forced the confront the meaningfulness of the work. In fact, honestly, I consoled myself by saying: “you are perhaps a link in the narrative of humanity perhaps leaving the Earth. But the way you can contribute most meaningfully is not to uncover things yourself—that’s important, but it’s not the bravery most crucial right now. You must, you just must, make science culture safer for everyone. Otherwise, the discoveries that advance humanity will walk away in the brain of a person who leaves the field because of disenfranchisement or despair.” I nodded to myself when I settled on this conclusion.

I also felt agitated because the experience of watching the movie was exhausting. I kept becoming deeply invested, only to feel like the movie kicked me out of the experience with ridiculous lines: “it’s not possible, but it’s necessary”, or when dust is falling and he whispers “it’s gravity”(?!) to himself, or when the Murph character asks Michael Caine’s physicist whether he’d thought of time as a variable (yeah, he probably fucking thought of that), or when Cooper flips a white board around to draw a ridiculous rocket trajectory. I rolled my eyes when Cooper is scoffing to the John Lithgow character about how the world needs “caretakers,” something he saw as inherently less valuable than explorers: this is just such a solipsistic white male scientist thing to say. I hovered right at the margin of checking out during Anne Hathaway’s monologue, though I didn’t find it as alienating as other scientists. The entire sequence with Matt Damon should have hit the cutting room floor. And the plot holes! But the fragile emotional core of the movie stayed intact, in my humble opinion.


Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney