Is there any more wide a chasm separating two distinctly contrasting perspectives in the human condition than that?
Our human experience is full of chasms that separate extremes on the ends of the spectrum of life: newly born children at the funeral of a great grandparent; love and joy immediately following the pain of childbirth; the great sorrow and sentiment you feel when you see an old loved one, someone who meant so much to you at one time but whom you’ve drifted away from after many years.
But what chasm is deeper and wider than that between our wonder at the stars of heaven—the vastness of space, the incredible beauty of it all, and the meaning of our place among them—and the daily grind that pulls our attention back down to the dirt? One evening we can marvel at the beauty of the cosmos, then the next morning be consumed with the to-do lists of our day, the problems in our life, and the fires we’ve got to put out.
Interstellar, the product of Hollywood writer and director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige, Inception), is a captivating film that explores that profound chasm between our destiny and the pulls of the dirt to bring us back down. It is a film that masterfully combines compelling action and visually stunning cinematography with a thought-provoking, mind-bending and philosophical story arc.
Interstellar begins in a near-future world ravaged by crop blights and Dust Bowl-esque conditions that have made militaries obsolete and college educations unnecessary. “We didn’t run out of airplanes and television sets, we ran out of food,” says the principal of the school to Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) on the viability of his son attending college. “We don’t need any more engineers; we need farmers.” The next generation of students is a caretaker generation; if they get it right and things get better, perhaps the next generation after that can go to college.
And indeed, that focus back down in the dirt is indeed what drives the necessity of the plan to save humanity, which is secret, and which Cooper learns about from Dr. Brand, played by Michael Caine. If mankind weren’t so focused on the problems of today—if they could look beyond themselves, look beyond their present circumstances—why would the plan to save mankind need to be secret? That conflict—between the pioneers and the caretakers—is played out throughout the film.
The heart of the movie is the relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murphy. When he is called to go on the mission, she resents that he chooses to go, and for a time refuses to talk to him. But on his journey, as he travels out to the far reaches of the solar system and beyond, their relationship develops over time, it’s the love of father and daughter that ultimately carries the film.
I won’t say any more about the plot of the film, because it would ruin the ride. The marketing did an excellent job of withholding any hint at what direction the movie would go; I found myself genuinely clueless as to how this thing would end, and I think that everybody should experience it that way. It’s a gripping, emotional ride that will leave you pondering for hours afterward.
But I keep coming back to Cooper’s quote, and thinking about how perfectly it encapsulates so much of our human struggle. Beyond Today has a tagline: “Help For Today, Hope For Tomorrow.” It’s a tagline intended to capture what the gospel offers through Jesus Christ, and to offer a product that helps viewers think beyond today.
Interstellar succeeds in showing what can happen when mankind gets too involved in the dirt, without looking up and pondering the ultimate meaning of life. It’s a movie that considers what interstellar travel in the pursuit of the preservation of mankind might look like, what answers it might give, and what the most meaningful things in this universe are. It’s full of well-worn allegorical paths, touching on faith, salvation and what’s on the other side of the unknown.
Go and see it, and when you come out of the theater, don't forget to look up at the stars and wonder at our place among them. Then crack open your Bible to find the answer.