It has been said, those who see Interstellar must comment. At risk of fulfilling this prophecy, I seek to add a few reflections.
Interstellar comes from writer, director, and producer Christopher Nolan who is known for his Batman films and also his penchant for twisting time (see Inception and Memento). The movie is of the science fiction genre and concerns the near future when the earth is becoming uninhabitable due to overpopulation. Matthew McConaughey, a single parent, lives with his two children and father on a farm. Before the downturn, McConaughey was a pilot with a knack for science.
Without giving too much of the plot away, McConaughey is sent by NASA into a black hole to find another planet on which humans can survive. It is a “save humanity” film genre, but one that warps the mold in various ways.
Christians will immediately notice the search for transcendence or what R. M. Bucke called cosmic consciousness. Not only is the film a meditation on the vastness of outer-space, but the score by Hans Zimmer pounds with gravitas through the use of an organ. Veiled references emerge to a consciousness interacting with humans. The people on earth apprehend there is more to life than the dust swirling around them.
Life contains more than what is surface level. Unfortunately, although Nolan reaches his arms out towards the other, they do not reach far enough. His conclusion only prods the will to subsist.
The survival nature of humans is Nolan’s partial answer to transcendence. Throughout the film, in a moving and powerful way, the lines of Dylan Thomas are repeated.
Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The film, in many ways, is about how humanity will not go away gently but will seek, scrape, and scrap until they find a new way to live. But with all the grandeur of the film and the longing for something more, Christians will be disappointed that humanism is the only answer in deep space.
Yet subsistence is not the only answer Nolan provides. Many of Nolan’s films deal with the complicated philosophical concepts of space and time. Now, in at least three of his films, Nolan bends time (and in Interstellar space) to provide a compelling yet complicated plot line.
Although Christians may be disappointed with part of Nolan’s answer there is a theme woven throughout that may be missed. According to Interstellar, what transcends both time and space is love. Love is the greatest of these things; that which goes beyond what scientists can see and imagine.
Jesus says the greatest two commandments are to love God and love others. Paul’s writings in Scripture also speak about the centrality and preeminence of love. Love never ends (1 Cor 13:8), and love is the greatest of these (1 Cor 13:13). Paul calls that all that we do be done in love (1 Cor 16:14). It is Paul’s prayer that those in Phillipi abound more and more in love (Phil 1:9). He tell those in Thessalonica that he wants them also to abound in love (1 Thess 3:12).
Faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love. For love never ends, neither spatially or temporally.
Nolan’s answer to that still small voice is both satisfying and disappointing. He has produced another excellent film, and one that is thought provoking. The question of who is on the other side of the bookshelf will hopefully linger in the mind of the audience. For there are echoes of a voice.
About Patrick Schreiner
Patrick Schreiner is Assistant Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Western Seminary. He completed his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy at The Southern Baptist Seminary. In addition to his pastoral ministry experience, Patrick also enjoys writing. You can follow Patrick's journey and his thinking online at his blog, Ad Fontes. You can also follow him on Twitter.