If you missed the first half of the review, the spoiler free version, I refer you back there to avoid blowing it – if you care about the details I’m about to unpack. There, you’ve been warned!
Several elements of the film have me wrestling a day later. What struck you? Would you be willing to make the same decisions?
“I Knew Because My Father Told Me So”
You can romanticize this or ignore it as trite, but the thing that keeps adult Murph (Jessica Chastain) going is that her father told her he would come back. You have her brother (Casey Affleck) showing belief and understanding early and falling away from that to think they’re all on their own (and to some degree, they kind of are). But while Murph is initially angry, it’s not that she doubts. She’s angry when she finds out that Brand (Michael Caine) lied, but it’s not that she stops thinking of the possible.
Because she has faith in her father.
The truth is that we all have elements of our lives that speak “truth” to us. Some of them are legitimate and some of them aren’t. But we’ve become so over inundated by information that our filters have been warn down. Should she have believed her dad? Well, no, given that he was lied to by Brand. But he (and she) didn’t know that, and in the end it does play out the way he said he would, but not in the way they thought it would. [That in itself is parabolic about prayer and our understanding: it often works out, just not the way we think it will.]
What’s interesting is that even when Murph encounters empiric evidence that her father was lied to (and therefore, isn’t coming back the way she/he expected it to work), she doesn’t give up but keeps working on the problem. Still, it’s not the scientific deduction that leads her to the truth but a return home, and a sentimental memory tied to the watch that finally “unlocks” her ability to push through. It’s her relationship with her dad that brings her through.
[As an aside… and this bumps into point #2, it’s because Cooper told her so. The formulation of where truth comes from keeps bumping (in my head where much rattles around) with “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. Truth is so determined in the future by what we determine to be our truth in the past!]
We Can Save Ourselves?
I don’t think I’m overthinking it (and I certainly don’t understand all of Nolan’s proposed science), but discovering that there’s no “they” makes for a different movie. I agree that humanity was never meant to end “here,” given my Judeo-Christian understanding of a new heaven and a new Earth, but the truth is, I find myself in situations all of the time where I can’t save myself. I need other people; I need God. I don’t believe I can be saved from my sins without the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross (Acts 4:12, John 11:25). Even the mental process, the ability to problem solve, comes from our organic creation in the image of God from Genesis 1.
The science of the future self allowing the past self to save us sounds like some convoluted mashup between Plato and The Matrix. But while people argued then that The Matrix was Christian or Buddhist or New Age, you can find elements of various religious and philosophic inclusion in Nolan’s Interstellar but it’s not clearcut one way or another. It’s complicated, messy, and it doesn’t always make sense, which is a lot like life.
But I don’t think the film flies by deducing that we’re saving ourselves.
The curious thing is that early on, Cooper tells Murph that science explains those things we can’t understand. I tend to disagree: I think science is how we work through problems and issues to reach resolution, to figure things out deductively, but faith is what carries those things about us that we can’t understand. Faith in love, in God, in the bigger picture. I don’t know that it’s what everyone would think about the way the philosophy of the film plays out but I think that underneath it all, that’s pretty divisive and it leads to point #2.
Always Leaving, Never Settled
You have a man, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), explore space, wormholes, blackholes, etc. for the stated purpose of saving his family and being reunited with his daughter, and yet, at the final moment of truth, he leaves her behind to go exploring. [Yes, I know Anne Hathaway’s character is stranded! But I don’t think that’s the point.] I think that Nolan is pushing the strand of our own wanderlust and our desire to dominate that’s laced throughout our DNA.
We work all day to provide more for our family but we never have enough. We do this, that, or the other thing to make life better for our children but when given the opportunity, we dive into more to-do lists or fail to be fully present. We have happy feet, itchy fingers, unsettled spirits, and rather than face those things, we keep moving. I think it’s why there’s silence in Nolan’s space, and why it’s even a darker hole for us to fall through and explore than the obvious “would you sacrifice yourself to save humanity?” That in itself has been done before.
But what if we miss the moments because we’re always looking for more?
Interstellar was spectacular, and I’ll probably watch it again someday, but I think we need to be careful before we let it define our view of science, religion, or worldview. Does it have lessons to teach us? Absolutely. But where we determine our truth comes from is incredibly important to the way we act and who we think we are.