Interstellar is one visionary director’s attempt to return humanity’s gaze to the stars. Yet is the view from up there going to be terribly different from the one down here?
Christopher Nolan, the director of some of the most forward-looking cinema of the past decade – Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy – is a man who has spent the last two years looking back. He says his science-fiction creation Interstellar is an ‘ode to human spaceflight’ and, in particular, a reminder of the inspirational blockbusters of his youth like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and Blade Runner. Each contained a compelling view of the future that in its own way encouraged humanity to dream of its full potential.
The storyline itself is both epic and personal at the same time. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a widowed pilot and aerospace engineer who is doing his best to provide for two children in a world where environmental disasters are leading to international starvation. He is introduced to a mysterious professor (Michael Caine) heading up a space program that has an ambitious solution. Working from the theories of real-world physicist Kip Thorne, his research team has suggested a way of using a newly discovered wormhole in space to traverse the vast distances in space that lie between the earth and unknown planets. Cooper’s mission would be to find humanity a new home:
Professor: “We’re not meant to save the world. We’re meant to leave it, and this is the mission you were trained for.”
Cooper: “I’ve got kids, professor.”
Professor: “Get out there and save them. We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species.”
You can almost hear the planned Hans Zimmer score surging beneath such an inspirational speech. Prior to filming Nolan treated crew to a screening of the 1983 classic The Right Stuff as an example to follow. The triumphant humanism that powers its plot has also been injected into the dialogue that Interstellar’s characters employ, particularly the everyday hero Cooper:
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“We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements.”
But is this speech truly any different to something we might have heard as someone prepared to lay the first brick in the Tower of Babel?
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
Humanity’s dream of saving itself is nothing new, even if Nolan makes use of its newest effects to promote it. Nor has it resulted in a better world. Arguably much of the West’s futuristic living has been achieved at the expense of less fortunate nations. And such rhetoric will not stop God acting in the real world to frustrate such goals. The Tower of Babel ground to a halt not because Creator was a cosmic kill-joy, but because He cares for humanity. He will not let us trust in a false saviour, even if it’s the creativity and drive He’s given us.
Our mistake lies in failing to realise what our real problem is. The builders of Babel thought our greatest need was unity; Nolan’s professor suggests it’s spreading across the galaxy. Yet humanity’s greatest problem continues to be the sin that resides in our hearts, threatening to separate us from the source of all life, near and far. We may one day make it into the stars but we will only succeed in discovering our spiritual need there too.
Distributor: Warner Bros
Release Date: November 6, 2014