I saw the movie Interstellar a couple nights ago, and I’m still thinking about it now. It’s a mind-bending meditation on the meaning of life set within an epic intergalactic journey to save humanity. Superficially, it’s a sci-fi flick. But most fundamentally, it’s about metaphysics and theology.
Here’s the plot in a nutshell. At some point in the not too distant future, the world becomes increasingly uninhabitable to humans. The food supply is afflicted by blight, and the world becomes a giant dustbowl. America no longer has a military and has ceased to lead the world in innovation and technology. In this dystopian future, the decline of American greatness seals the fate of the planet. It is only a matter of time before human beings on earth will all die of asphyxiation and lung disease.
A farmer and former astronaut named Cooper (played by Matthew McConaghey) is tapped to lead a mission into deep space to find a habitable world in order to rescue the human race from extinction. If the mission succeeds, there are two plans for saving humanity. Plan A involves evacuating humans to the new world. Plan B involves leaving humans to die on earth and starting a new human colony artificially by bringing to life thousands of frozen human embryos.
At the heart of the movie is the relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murphy (played by Jessica Chastain). Murphy has already lost her mother to cancer. And she cannot bear to lose her father as well. As Cooper leaves his family to save the world, Murphy falls out with her father.
I’ll let you see the movie to see how the plot resolves. It is gut-wrenching and human. As a father of three daughters, I related to the pathos generated by this film. At every level–dramatically, technically, production value–this movie was very well executed.
Nevertheless, it’s the metanarrative of the movie that is most compelling. A father leaves his home in order to save the family that he loves and indeed the entire world. He is gone so long that his own children began to question whether he will ever come back. The Father’s invisibility causes his children to question whether his word is true. Meanwhile, planet earth has become a kind of Eden that is expelling its human inhabitants. From dust these people came, and to a dusty death they are returning–unless the father saves them. This movie is thick with biblical mythology and allusion.
The film asks all the important questions. In one of the most penetrating scenes, an astronaut named Ameilia (played by Ann Hathaway) talks about human love and how it tends to transcend space and time. Love resides outside the measure of empirical science. Nevertheless, no one questions the existence of love. Perhaps the existence of love reveals that there is more to the universe than meets the eye. Indeed, the rescue mission is motivated in part by an invitation by invisible other-worldly beings who seem to be aiding humanity’s rescue.
So the film does ask all the important questions. Unfortunately, it also gives many wrong answers. Without giving away specific details of the plot, the big discovery at the end of the movie is that Cooper realizes there is no one out there to save humanity. Humanity must save itself if it is to be saved. We are the answer to our own questions. At the end of the day, the universe is a closed system, and there is no mysterious other worldly being trying to save us. If we want to be saved, we will have to pull ourselves up by our own humanistic boot straps.
There is more that can and should be said about this movie. I look forward to reading other reviews. This was a rare, smart, thoughtful movie. Highly recommended.