Category Archives: Films

Film 2010!

Since moving to MK, I’ve got back into the habit of going to the cinema on a regular basis, and last week decided to treat myself to Cineworld’s offer of paying a fixed amount to see an unlimited number of films a month. Cineworld are pretty good at showing movies one wouldn’t always get to see without an independent cinema in town, such as quirky British films or niche market movies, but they are very expensive, to the point where if I see two films a month, I get more than my money’s worth. I’ve realised that given my job can be quite exhausting, and I do sometimes get very lonely with Tractorgirl not being about very often, treating myself is a good thing. I’ve also overcome my anxiety about going to the cinema on my own, as when I first moved to MK, if I didn’t go alone I wouldn’t be able to go at all!

The result is that I have seen three movies recently. The first of them is ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, starring Julia Roberts as an unhappily married woman who, having dropped her husband and leaped straight into another unsuccessful relationship, goes on a round-the-world trip to ‘find herself’, as seems to be the custom with a certain type of American! She ends up in Italy, where she eats lots of pasta and pizza and makes a lot of friends, for three months. She then moves on to India and the shrine that her now ex-boyfriend was keen to one day visit. This is by far the best section of the film as she is forced to face up to the reality of her life and has some moving encounters with local people and other pilgrims. Finally, she heads to Bali (and, yep, you guessed it!) falls in love. The sweetest character is the old man she visits and copies books for, who is very huggable indeed. Overall, it’s a fun bit of escapism but suffers from predictability and being somewhat cliched 5/10.

The second is a film I found about from Diva magazine, about a lesbian couple with two teenage children who seek out the sperm donor responsible for bringing them into being. ‘The Kids are All Right’was an eye-opener for me, as someone who finds themselves, rather reluctantly, with a teenager suddenly appearing in their life. Nic and Jules have been married for over twenty years and, while they love each other deeply, feel the spark has gone out of their marriage of late. Jules, who is trying to start another new business, as a landscape gardener, ends up being more than a little attracted to Paul, the donor, when she works on re-designing his restaurant’s garden. Paul is a happy-go-lucky guy who initially takes to fatherhood, but antagonises doctor Nic by not recognising the challenges when you’re not ‘the cool new guy’ on the parenting scene and by muscling his way into the family. It all ends badly when Nic discovers the affair, and the latter half of the film takes place against the backdrop of this and the daughter Joni (named for the wonderful Joni Mitchell) preparing to go to college.

I found the film funny and moving in equal doses. The challenges of dealing with teenagers and some of the issues around step-parenting (of a sort!) are explored. I wasn’t expecting an instruction manual, but still felt a little miffed that I came away feeling more uncertain about how best to handle various aspects of that role, such as negotiation of boundaries. Maybe I learnt a little of how not to do it! The film also shows all too well how easy it is to hurt the ones we love, and how hard it can be to put the pieces back together again, which resonated deeply with me, though here is really not the place to go into all that, sufficed to say that God has a way of popping up in the most unexpected places! A good film, well worth a watch 8/10.

The third and final movie was ‘Another Year’, starring Jim Broadbent (in my opinion one of the best character actors out there) and Lesley Manville, and directed by Mike Leigh. It’s about a middle-aged couple coping with a very odd bunch of dysfunctional friends, including lonely alcoholic Mary who has a crush on the couple’s son Joe, and Ken, a civil servant dreading retirement and with a host of health issues. Doesn’t sound very jolly, I know, and apart from a few belly laughs, isn’t really. It’s one of those films where one should really have a box of tissues on standby! I did enjoy the film, especially the saga of Mary and her car, but mostly I just felt sad for Ken and Mary, both of whom are the kind of characters we can all recognise in some of our friends (or maybe ourselves!). A very well-acted and moving film, but one which would have benefited from more of a conclusion 7/10.

Right, that’s the movie world out to rights!

Living in a black hole?

A scientist on a research project hijacks a spaceship which he prepares to enter a black hole, with the expectation that exiting out the other side will take him into a whole new universe. Sounds like science fiction? Well, it was the basic plot of a rather poor movie from the 1970s with the stunningly original title ‘The Black Hole‘, but if a recent paper in the Physical Review, one of the most prestigious journals,  is right, it might not be so mad after all…  

The gist of the paper is described in an article in this week’s New Scientist. According to Nikodem J. Popławski of Indiana University, it is possible that our universe exists inside a black hole, or that by passing through a black hole in our universe, we could enter a whole new world. This apparently bizarre concept requires some explanation:  

It’s hard to underestimate the impact Einstein had on the way we view the world. Working in mid-seventeenth century Cambridge (ironically at Trinity College when he was a Unitarian), Sir Isaac Newton formulated his theory of gravity that stood as the best explanation for nearly three-hundred years till a lowly clerk in the Swiss Patent Office changed everything. The results of this change of dominant theory ranged from the gradual shift in physics (as new ideas often take time to gain credibility, and this really was a revolution) to the impact on theology and philosophy, in which it arguably contributed to the collapse of the Enlightenment world-view that relied heavily on Newton’s mechanistic, clock-work view of the universe for its origins in the thought of the English Deists such as John Locke.  

Newton’s view of the world was essentially a common-sense one. The universe could be modelled by taking time as an absolute, independent quantity and having the usual three spatial dimensions we experience every day. When Einstein formulated his theories of relativity, he took it to be axiomatic that the speed of light was constant in a vacuum and that the laws of physics are the same in every inertial frame (for which read frame of reference, or point of view if you will). One consequence of this is that time is no longer an absolute, but rather is bound up with space and affected by the motion of particles and the presence of massive objects such as stars. That’s why physicists talk about ‘space-time’.  

Now, one perhaps surprising thing to note is that Newton could never pin down was what gravity actually is. He could model its results (and his theory is still a very useful approximation to Einstein’s) yet couldn’t define it. Einstein, faced with the same problem, conceptualised it as being a result of the shape of space-time. In other words, in general relativity (GR),  gravity is geometry. The classic example of this is nicely illustrated in this video.  

A black hole is the result of the gravitational collapse of a massive star – we’re talking something like thirty times the mass of the Sun. When this occurs, the fabric of space-time is severely distorted. In the heart of  a black hole, there is understood, in classical GR, to be a singularity, which is a point where all the laws of physics break down and of infinite density and space-time curvature (which is very bad, as infinities in equations cause no end of bother!). This singularity is surrounded by an event horizon. This marks the point at which even light, the fastest thing there is, cannot escape the gravitational pull upon it. If you go pass that point, you’re stuck in the inevitable path towards destruction at the singularity. In a black hole, no-one outside can hear (or see) you scream…  

Another key object we need to know about here is properly called an Einstein-Rosen bridge (but is commonly known as a wormhole) which is sort of like a tunnel that connects two different regions of space-time, allowing fast travel between them. The problem is the stability of these ‘tubes’; they are liable to collapse upon being entered by matter. This gets us into the wonderful world of quantum theory and negative energy (which is not supposed to be allowed, but might be after all…), and means that such structures are at most theoretical as yet. However, for the sake of the argument, let’s suppose that somehow or other, they exist.  

Now, there are different regions of space-time with differing properties either side of an Einstein-Rosen bridge or a singularity in a black hole. This means that passing through into the interior of a black hole or going through an Einstein-Rosen bridge (if it were possible) would result in us emerging into a different universe or part of the universe. Popławski’s paper suggests that, with a slight modification of classical GR, it could be that “observed astrophysical black holes may be Einstein–Rosen bridges, each with a new universe inside that formed simultaneously with the black hole. Accordingly, our own Universe may be the interior of a black hole existing inside another universe”.  

Crazy, but the maths seems to make sense (I knew there had to be advantages to doing this PhD stuff!). The problem of how to get through a wormhole still remains, alas, but it could be the substance (pardon the pun) for some new sci-fi…  

In terms of the implications for science, I reckon that if true, this research renders problematic the idea of a ‘theory of everything’ as the limits on our ability to travel between universes are such that we would only have very partial knowledge of the way the network of universes operates. We can only talk about our visible universe.  

Cosmic inflation

 

In that sense, it’s a bit like inflationary theory, which predicts a period of rapid expansion shortly after the Big Bang in which quantum fluctuations result in different parts of the universe having different values for the fundamental constants, such as the speed of light, the charge on the electron and so on. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang, before the fundamental particles, quarks, electrons and so on, have formed we are dependent on the murky and random world of quantum mechanics. One key rule here is the Uncertainty Principle of Heisenberg, which states that we cannot know the position of a particle and its velocity simultaneously with complete accuracy. The more we know about one, the less we can know about the other. This has implications for the vacuum of energy that would be present at that early stage of the universe, in that it would cause fluctuations in that field (as zero is too precise a value for it to take) that result in areas with different values of fundamental constants. As the universe expands, we end up with discrete regions, our visible universe being just one of many. This limits our ability to speak about the universe as a whole, as we can only know anything about our little portion. 

Now, I’ve explored some of the theological implications in my talk on physics and Christianity of current physics thinking, and think the questions raised by the inflationary model apply here. Moreover, in what sense can we speak of the cosmic implications of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? Does it only apply to our visible universe, or what? I don’t know the answer to this and will, when I get the time, do some reading around what others think, but it’s a fascinating question.

The Infidel

Yesterday, TractorGirl and I went to the Tyneside Cinema (apparently the best preserved newsreel cinema in the country) to see director David Baddiel’s latest film, ‘The Infidel’.

It’s about a Muslim man, Mahmud Nasir, who discovers when emptying his dead mother’s house that he was adopted and that by birth he is Jewish and called Solly Shimshillewitz. At the same time, his son wants to marry a girl whose new stepfather is a Muslim extremist and expects the family to live up to his definition of a ‘good Muslim’. In trying to get to see his dying father, Mahmud gets lessons on ‘Jewishness’ from a cabbie, Lenny Goldberg, but finds himself caught in an interesting cultural muddle.

I really enjoyed the film; it’s very funny and handles difficult issues by taking the mickey thoroughly. I would recommend it. Even the Guardian liked it!

The Infidel scores 8.5/10.

While we were there, we saw  a trailer for Russell Crowe’s latest film, ‘Robin Hood’. It looks like another CGI spectacular, with dialogue that the knobs who comment on things like The Review Showwould love. Think I’ll give it a miss, especially as Crowe reminds me too much of Jon Culshaw from Dead Ringers and I can’t help wonder if the film is a spoof as a result!

We also saw a trailer for ‘Four Lions’, about a group of inept terrorists, which looked very funny and we will be going to see.  Afterwards, we discovered that there are various nice cafes at the cinema, which makes it ideal for an arty day out, maybe along with a trip to the Baltic. All in all, a good day 🙂 I’ll leave you with a trailer for ‘The Infidel’:

 [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5etNeaNlM8M[/youtube]: