Sunday, November 9, 2014

My Reflections on Interstellar: A Response to an Incredible Motion Picture

As an admirer of Christopher Nolan, I knew there was no way that I could pass up seeing Interstellar in the magic of the theater house along with the corresponding drama of opening week. I was not disappointed. The Nolan brothers delivered a beautiful piece of work that managed to juxtapose an intimate look into the human condition with the intergalactic splendor of deep space exploration. In their endeavor, these gifted storytellers direct the gaze of their audiences heavenward and challenge everyone to once again dream of boldly going where no one has gone before. Perhaps, as the characters demonstrate in the motion picture, the Nolans are dissatisfied, unimpressed, or fearful of planet earth as it currently exists. In an effort to escape it, they created a craft capable of allowing their audiences to escape, even for just a few short hours, in the form of this motion picture.
However, the Nolans' desire to escape planet earth is not unique to these two dreamers/directors. One of the many distinguishing features of mankind that separates the human race from the animal kingdom is its openness to the world and its desire to reach beyond it.[1] Ever since Greek scholarship decided to answer the question of man in terms of the cosmos, the world itself was always deemed inadequate to give a definitive answer for man’s yearning concerning what he is supposed to be.[2] Entire systems of scholarship have even been established to account for this phenomenon. For instance, historians and anthropologists deal with the issues of this openness or “otherness” in their respective fields (one studies “otherness” in space, the other in time).[3] From antiquity on, man’s insatiable desire to reach beyond every horizon that opens to him has been well documented and studied.
            The Nolans join the scientific community in both recognizing and appreciating this future-oriented, “other”-associated openness in the constitution of man with this film. They reveal themselves to be sympathetic to thinkers like William Sims Brainbridge. In his compelling essay on converging technologies, Brainbridge provides an optimistic look toward a future when man, upon reaching a higher level of understanding, will leave planet earth entirely and reach a higher potential or evolutionary step.[4] Interestingly, he believes that the coalescence of technology and the human enterprise promises to grant humanity unprecedented power to change themselves and the world around them. While some in the scientific community hope that caution is practiced as humans advance in this way, Brainbridge suggests that caution would stifle the program of progress. Uninhibited, man should be released to “boldly go where no man has gone before,” and advance so far that humanity as a label will be considered obsolete.[5]  Instead of finding satisfaction in the currently inhabited world, those sympathetic to Brainbridge believe that humanity’s unquenchable openness to possibilities will inevitably lead mankind to other literal worlds by means of technological advances. But is this where people are really headed?
            To what or whom does this openness or otherness really point? What is hidden inside the black hole of mankind’s insatiable desire for satisfaction in something outside of himself? Salvation for humanity is not a new planet to populate once ours becomes useless, nor is it a clever solution to a seemingly impossible equation of quantum physics. However, the answer does exist in another dimension of space and time. It is God. Though time and space are relatively inconsequential for Him, He, like the protagonist of Nolan’s film is able to communicate (and has communicated) the secret to a meaningful life. Also like Interstellar’s Cooper, He is a loving Father bent on directing the gaze of humanity toward the hope of a better future. The code through which His message is relayed to mankind is the very openness that humans have for something more than what already is. The message  itself is Jesus Christ. As the God-Man, Jesus stepped out of His dimension and entered into our own to point the way to salvation. Not only did He relay the message of salvation, He proved Himself to be salvation. In so doing, Jesus solved the equation of our dissatisfaction with the world as it is and offers something better in its place, a real heaven.
            However, powerful forces are joining together to silence this message from coming through by erasing man’s desire for something more altogether. Textbooks have been re-written that  suggest this world is all that there is and humanity's only hope is to seek pleasure in this life. Thankfully, Interstellar has challenged this assumption in its own spectacular way by giving its audience a reason to wonder again. I just wonder if those who know the solution to man’s need will capitalize on the opportunity for discussion this movie creates by making the answer to mankind’s very real desire known to those who desperately need it on planet earth.
            Thank you Christopher Nolan for creating something that was not only fun to watch but even more exciting to ponder after the fact.

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, What is man?: A Contemporary Anthropology in Theological Perspective, trans. by Duane A. Prievbe (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1977), 3. See also Hoekema, Created, 18. 
[2]Pannenberg, What is Man?, 7. 
[3] Bernard S. Cohn, “History and Anthropology: The State of Play,” Comparative
Studies in Society and History 22 (1980), 198.
[4] William Sims Brainbridge, “Converging Technologies and Human Destiny,” Journal of Medicine & Philosophy 32 No. 3 (May0June , 2007): 197-98.
[5]Ibid., 212. “We can agree that the planet Earth should remain a refuge for traditional humanity, living in a variety of low-tech societies in what technophiles would call a perpetual Dark Age. Those who wish to transform themselves into a very different kind of intelligent entity will need to leave the Earth, fulfilling what Alfred Bester (1956) ironically called arrival of the fittest. The original Star Trek motto — to boldly go where no man has gone before — has been criticized for splitting an infinitive and employing sexist language, and I now criticize it for implying that space travelers will be humans in the antique sense of the term. Another motto from the science-fiction subculture is better, leaving open the nature of spacefarers and playing nicely off an old religious motto: The meek will inherit the Earth, but the bold will go elsewhere.