Spiritual Themes in Interstellar
Interstellar is an entertaining, visually stunning film driven by deeply personal themes. The film is set in the near future after freak dust storms have killed millions of people on Earth and food has become a precious commodity. Cooper, a former NASA pilot, has become a farmer out of necessity. He has two children, Tom and Murph. Cooper’s wife has passed and his father-in-law, Donald, also lives with them.
After a series of unexplained events (spoiler alert), Cooper finds a secret NASA facility. He discovers that NASA has a plan to save the earth from eventual destruction, but it would require him to pilot a spaceship through a wormhole to a different galaxy with potential habitable planets. It also means that he would have to leave his family for an unspecified amount of time.
Cooper accepts the mission and makes the trip with a crew of scientists. The rest of the film focuses on the crew’s attempt to find an acceptable planet.
Intentional or not, many of the film’s themes rest squarely on the shoulders of Humanism. According to the Humanist philosophy, humans define their own existence and they are not dependent upon God for obtaining morality or for answering existential questions. However, I would suggest that many themes in Interstellar cannot be fully understood without an understanding of God and who He is.
Spiritual Themes in Interstellar
1. We are Created to Love.
The driving force of Interstellar is Cooper’s love for his daughter, Murph, and he makes decisions based on his desire to be reunited with her. For example, he knows that every hour he spends on planets to determine their habitability will age people on Earth seven years, so he feels compelled to finish his mission quickly. Later, when he sees video messages from his children as adults, Cooper breaks down in tears, knowing that he has missed watching them grow up.
Why do we love? Because God first loved us (1 John. 4:19). Not only did God first demonstrate his love for us, but He also gave us the ability to love. The ability to love is partly what it means to be created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).
2. We are Created for Companionship.
The crew of the Endurance land on Dr. Mann’s planet and find him in suspended animation, where he has been for years. When Dr. Mann wakes up and sees another human being, he weeps with joy. He did not think he would ever see another human again. Likewise, when the crew members return to their ship and see their crewmate Romilly again, 23 years have passed. After all that time Romilly assumed they were all dead.
The need for companionship is profound. We were created with his need. God made a companion for Adam because, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Further, we are compelled to be with others because God intended for us to live in community. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
3. We are Created to Depend upon God.
Interstellar vividly illustrates the morality, intelligence, and creativity of man. An example of this is when Cooper figured out a way to communicate with his daughter through time. This also illustrates one of the greatest falsehoods in the film—that humans can become gods. Early on, Cooper interprets the settling of dust on Earth as geographic coordinates, and said that “they” gave him the message. “They” are defined as supernatural, even godlike beings. The question of who “they” are is answered when we ultimately understand that Cooper is “them.”
The fact that Cooper is able to achieve god-like status through his own self-sufficiency and ingenuity is the basis of Humanism. We don’t need God (and He doesn’t even exist) because we have the power and ability to do it all ourselves. In reality, we are nothing without God. Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
The film also alludes to the resurrection. NASA’s project is named Lazarus, and when Dr. Mann is revived, he exclaims, “You have literally raised me from the dead.” Unfortunately, this remark is brushed off, and the film never explores the theme of resurrection. Without God, a new life is not possible. Romans 6:4 says, “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” A new life is not something we can achieve by ourselves; it is realized only through God’s intervention in our lives.
Interstellar receives high marks for sheer entertainment value. However, the film contains plot holes that could have been explained through divine intervention, and there are long periods of exposition that could have been whittled down.