I love Christopher Nolan films. The Dark Knight series, The Prestige, and Inception all rank among my favorite movies. When I went back home to Michigan over this Christmas break, my destination was the cinema. I was bound for Interstellar. I wanted to be on the edge of my seat, deeply engrossed in Nolan’s latest mental puzzle. So I did. I splurged on two different chocolate candy bars and snuggled into my seat as the previews began to run on the screen. Yes. So much yes.
Interstellar did not disappoint me. I left the theater with new ideas to think over. Concepts I unconsciously took for granted three hours ago suddenly demanded attention. I had to wrestle with them. They included time, meaning, and love.
It really does not matter if you particularly like Interstellar, Christopher Nolan, or even science fiction. If you are a human person, then time, meaning, and love are things worth thinking about . Interstellar takes these powerful, profound ideas and shoves them right in your face.
In the movie, the main character, Cooper, has to depart from an earth which is dying and can no longer produce food. He has a chance to discover a new home for human life in the galaxy, but this amazing opportunity comes at a heavy cost . Cooper’s exploratory voyage takes decades. Which is weird, but not so bad for Cooper, since he can settle down into a induced sleep for months at a time and not feel the wait drag so painfully. However, time in space travel is not the same for time on earth. While Cooper is having a thirty minute visit on a new planet, he misses decades of his children’s lives because of the time distortion. When he climbs back into his spaceship, he watches the videos his children have sent him. Cooper has barely changed during his trip, but his children have grown up. They have gone through puberty, married, and had children of their own. Cooper weeps. He would give anything to get that time back.
How very, very precious our time is! I think of how a week can seem to drag on forever. Sometimes, I am even bored. And yet, in the same breath, I can be terrified by how quickly the past twenty-two years have gone. Why, it seems like just yesterday I was so stoked about turning 10 and reaching the long awaited double digits. Yesterday, I was the quirky and frightened college freshman, leaving home for the first time. Before I know it, I am going to be having a kid, or starting a new job, or even retiring.
My life might not be halfway over - only twenty-two years in - but my time is going to end. What will I do with the time I have left? These are questions that seem so basic, but do we really stop and think about them? If we did, we might just regain a clearer sense of who we are and where we are going, and that we do not, in fact, have all the time in the world. What have I done with my time?
Hopefully, I have loved.
Love is another theme woven throughout Interstellar. The characters wrestle with love, sometimes more of a struggle than conquering unknown worlds. The space explorers struggle between galavanting throughout the galaxy in hopes of saving the species of humanity and wanting to live their lives out with the people and family they loved back on earth, future plans be damned. It’s excruciatingly hard for Cooper to give up living with his children in order to save the human race.
It’s your duty, people tell him. Stop being so selfish. Think of humanity. The species will die if a new planet is not found.
During those onscreen conversations, rage swelled inside me. “NO!” I wanted to scream. Loving one’s children is not selfish. The desire to be with family is not a weakness. What is the point of even having a human species in the first place, if not for love? Just existing is not enough. Man must have meaning. Man must have love. As St. Paul writes: “If I have not love, I have nothing.”
I suppose it doesn’t matter if we live and love on this little planet or on some other planet in some other galaxy separated by a black hole. Love is what the human race is all about. Love is what created us. Love is what sustains us. It’s where we are going. It’s what we were created for.
Love Himself came down to us, spoke with us, and gave us hope. Nothing in the physical universe can take that love away from us. If our little earth shriveled up; if we transported the human race onto a new planet, even if we failed in the process and died, love will remain.
What abundant, reassuring hope we have in love! The reason Interstellar’s astronaut Cooper is willing to step up on that space cruiser is because he loves his children and wants them to live. That love is our humanity. That is the human race. Individual, concrete, flesh and blood persons who actually love each other and love their Creator.
Dietrich von Hildebrand once wrote: “We must once and for all stop elevating the community at the expense of the individual.”(1) In Interstellar, some of the characters live for the vast, impersonal, enormous mass - the face-less humanity. . Humanity in general, frozen eggs in a spaceship, are elevated to the neglect of the children, mothers, and fathers that are wasting away upon the earth. Some say that those poor people are too much work to save. Saving them is selfish. Well, no it’s not. They’re human persons. They’re loved. Cooper, deep down, knows this to be true. And he says so.
Love is the most important thing we can do with our time, and Interstellar helped me to realize it.
(1) Dietrich von Hildebrand. Mass and Community.