I just got home from the three hour experience that is Interstellar.
And the word ‘experience’ is, I think, the proper adjective to describe one’s viewing of this film.
I would be lying if I didn’t come out and confess my bias: I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan. His Dark Knight trilogy is third in my typical evangelical outreach: the first is Jesus, the second is Breaking Bad, and the third is the above trilogy. This is my preamble to let you know that perhaps I lack a certain objectivity when approaching his films. However, just so people can be assured of some form of objectivity in this regard, I want you to know that I believe the final two parts of Dark Knight are the masterpieces of Christopher Nolan, though Interstellar is no slouch.
I am going to try and do this without spoilers, because the story is needed to be experienced in its full depth. But be warned: elements of the story will be revealed in this review. I will write a second review after time has passed for people to see the film themselves.
I am not going to worry about doing a film synopsis because there are enough of those out there. I am presuming that you are reading this either because you’re curious to add to what you’ve already read or you’ve seen the movie already.
I walked into the film not sure what to expect. And the film did take some quick and unexpected turns. I found the film a bit predictable and I found some aspects unsatisfying (the solution Murph discovers is not really revealed in the film, though perhaps it is because Nolan feels that the solution doesn’t really matter). In fact, I hesitate to even call this movie a sci-fi film. The film is more properly described as a film about the human condition than anything else.
The first thing the came to my mind when I walked out of the film is that the allusions to 2001:A Space Odyssey are uncanny. The spinning ship, the robots, etc. One almost has to wonder if the film is a tribute to Stanley Kubrick. Hints of “Alien”, “Gravity”, and other reality based sci-fi films seem to get honourable mentions as well. But there is also something distinctively ‘Nolan’ about this film and that is his obsession with the themes of identity, memory, and most importantly, sin and salvation.
Too often when discussing the Dark Knight trilogy, I encountered many Christians who were disappointed in the films due to the limits to Batman’s actions of salvation. In The Dark Knight, he lies in order to set up a false saviour, in The Dark Knight Rises, Batman is unable to pay that ultimate sacrifice to save the city. The city is never truly saved; it continues onward based on a lie that is sure to fall apart one day. Many Christians find this frustrating. They want a solution to the human condition. In short, they want every film to have that Christ figure. But what I love about Nolan’s films is that he is able to delve deep into that human desire for salvation and bring it to its limits and show in a very clear fashion the inability of humanity to save itself. Interstellar is no exception to this.
The themes of salvation run ever deep in the film. Is humanity worthy of salvation? Is there any hope for us to continue to exist in the world? But perhaps what runs even deeper are the themes of sin and desperation, that humanity is going to continue to be the same despite the ever growing heroic actions that our species is able to squeeze out.
One of the more intense parts of the film is when they meet up with one of the other pilots who went ahead of them to another planet. He is a man driven by the evolutionary ideology that we are driven to survive at all costs. It is interesting to see what his drive to survival leads him to, and he becomes an apt symbol for the self-centeredness of humanity and its inability to do what is truly required. He becomes the personification of Hell in the midst of a hellish situation when redemption could have easily been his. His Hell is further proven by how he ends up drawing the Endurance crew into his planet.
Anne Hatheway’s character reveals her true cards for going on this mission: she is pushed by love. In fact, love becomes the redemptive motif of the whole film, the driving force, the non-quantifiable but ever real element of our humanity that drives us to do what we do. Love is the redemptive power of this story which is why it doesn’t fall into the bleakness that is common of modern film. There is a ‘something more’ to our humanity that we cannot account for, that both drives and draws us. In fact, it is Hatheway’s character that, I believe, transforms Coop from being the rationalist to the man who is governed by love, love as that which makes us be truly human.
Yet walking away from the film, I walked away knowing that the film demands something more. Humanity will continue to push forward, but it will also continue to destroy itself. Nolan has this amazing ability to capture the human condition as it truly is. Even after those times when the act(s) of salvation occur, he does not romanticize the saved reality. It is still the same reality. Perhaps there is new hope, a more positive outlook on the future of humanity, perhaps things no longer seem so bleak. But the reality of humanity is the same after as before. And I believe that that is where the genius of not only this film, but all of Nolan’s films lies: his films are myth and myth in the truest sense. He tells stories of humanity searching for salvation, providing salvation for itself, but recognizing that in the end, nothing has really changed. It is the same humanity after as before. If humanity wants to be saved, it needs humanity to be involved in the act of salvation, but it also needs an ‘outside force’ to aid in the salvation to truly transform not only humanity, but the whole cosmos. I believe that ‘Interstellar’ is the closest Nolan has ever come to that outside influence aiding humanity, but I still think it points to a need for something more. It is precisely because Nolan is inherently non-Christian in his motifs that his films are so inherently Christian in their desire.