The Gospel of Interstellar: An Essay

For those of you who don’t know me well, I am a huge Christopher Nolan fan. I haven’t seen all his productions, but like many of you I’ve seen his most recognizable and successful films. From the first time I saw Batman Begins, I knew this director was something special. His filming direction has been compared to the likes of Kubrick and Spielberg, and I had a feeling he was one to watch in the coming years. It was the right decision. Along with the unprecedented acclaim that followed his Batman trilogy, he whipped out a clever mystery revolving around two magicians, and then dove right into the psychological world of our dreams. He gave all of us film lovers hope that originality in filmmaking was completely possible again.

Then came Interstellar. The expectations were sky high, the hype even more so. And when the first, early reviews rolled in, I’m sure we were all thinking they would rain praise and admiration on this new Tour de Force…but we were wrong. Common complaints read, “over-ambitious”, “overly sensitive”, “a little too outrageous to possibly be real”. With those in mind, I was admittedly a little nervous going into the movie. Had Christopher Nolan finally made a flop? Well, you’ll be happy to know that I absolutely love Interstellar. I’ve now seen it three times and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it over again.

As I’ve pondered more on Interstellar, I’m amazed by the emotions and thoughts that have filled my mind since witnessing its spectacle. It’s become more than just a movie to me; it’s an experience. It’s no secret that Christopher Nolan does not make “fluff films.” He creates films that make you think and feel something, that brings to light many issues that are relevant in our day. And Interstellar is no exception–it explores themes that I think, as a whole, can be a little uncomfortable for us as human beings to ask ourselves: what is our place in the universe? It’s an interesting thought, because it is essentially the same question that coincides with finding truth in religion. As a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the unusual correlation between our gospel fundamentals and the themes of Interstellar has become a topic that I’ve discussed with my husband. And the results are interesting, and very encouraging.

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There are four major subjects that I found stuck out the most. The first, as I previously mentioned, is that man is continually on a quest to find his purpose in the universe. As Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, said it eloquently, “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” It is natural for human beings to want to belong; it starts when we are young and first beginning to develop social circles, and goes on until we are on our deathbed. We so desperately want to leave our mark on the world, to be valued as someone who changed the world in our lifetime, and yet when we look up in the sky and see the countless stars that lie beyond our atmosphere, we realize we are nothing but a tiny speck in the infinite cosmos.

The evidence is further acknowledged in the Old Testament: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19) In the Pearl of Great Price, God appeared to Moses and showed him the measure of His creations. The Book of Moses records, “And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10) When you take into account all the immeasurable creations that the Lord brought to pass, we could think that we really are nothing. But upon further inquiry, we find through modern-day revelation that this is not the case at all. In Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s incredible General Conference talk, “You Matter to Him,” he says, “This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it.”

This leads me to the next theme: human beings are entirely capable of reaching their full potential. We want to be pioneers, explorers, caretakers, and other titles of importance while we are still alive. But it goes much deeper than that. How can we reach the full measure of accomplishment and potential? Through Our Heavenly Father. We are only capable of so much on our own, but with God, we are able to go beyond any idea we may have for ourselves.

This extends well beyond the grave: in the LDS faith, we believe that when we die, we will all live again as perfect humans for time and all eternity. For those who will live in the Celestial Kingdom, we will have the abilities to be like God, possessing the powers to create our own worlds. The only way to reach this point is through Our Lord and Savior, and as such, we will come to our fullest achievement as one eternal round of perfection.

Another interesting thing that stuck out to me in Interstellar is the ambiguity. In the film, the characters often refer to “them,” the unknown source that placed the wormhole out by Saturn, and the specific anomalies that made it possible for Cooper and the others to go where they needed to go. In my opinion, Nolan wrote it this way on purpose, so as to keep the religious aspect completely open and up for interpretation. If he were to have his characters come outright and say, “The wormhole was placed out near Saturn by God,” it would have no doubt caused a raucous in the Hollywood scene. It’s evident that society is on a gradual path to pushing not just Christianity, but religion as a whole off into obscurity. So it has to be vague; that way, everyone who sees the film can claim “they” are gods, a result of nature, or just a scientific anomaly that happened randomly in the space-time continuum. For me, obviously, I took this as a nonlinear approach to describing God.

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Which brings me to my next point. [WARNING: SPOILERS] When Cooper plunges himself into the black hole, Gargantua, he is thrown into a fifth dimension, one that has direct access to his past. He tells TARS, the robot intelligence that went in with him, that “them” must be us, humans that have the power to travel to a higher dimension to aid our three-dimensional selves. While this part of the movie is absolutely implausible and was made from creative liberties, the very idea of this is actually not all that farfetched. As with everything constructed and made by God, there is a law to everything, from the law of physics, down all the way to the law of space-time. And while we do not yet have the answers to every little question or law, we do know that with God, all things are possible. So for Interstellar to say that humans may have the power to travel to a higher, unseen plane and dimension, it could very well be entirely possible. [END SPOILERS]

Speaking in terms of the LDS faith, this could very well mean that we will have abilities to shift between dimensions of space and time. I’m not declaring this to be doctrine, but who knows? Becoming spiritual beings with god-like powers could mean we have abilities to do just about whatever we want, as long as the rules and laws of nature are still in effect. We also believe that while Our Heavenly Father is watching over us always, He is not in the same dimension and spiritual plane as us, since we cannot physically see Him. He is somewhere else entirely–or Kolob, to be more precise, which is somewhere far away from our planet, physically When Christ comes again, the Earth will be cleansed of the sins and evil that prevail it currently; after this, the Earth will literally travel faster than the speed of light to where Kolob is, which will still take 1,000 years to reach. (Brigham Young, Journals of Discourses, volume 17)

Which begs to question: by following the laws of space-time, how could the Earth actually achieve this from what could be millions of light-years away? The answer lies in Interstellar: a wormhole, of sorts. Bear with me on this. In the Pearl of Great Price, the angel Moroni appeared to the young Prophet Joseph Smith one night: “After this communication, I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so until the room was again left dark, except just around him; when, instantly I saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended till he entirely disappeared, and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance.” (JSH 1:43) Moroni descended from the heavens to Joseph Smith’s room and ascended back when he had finished speaking. This happened a total of three times, each time appearing and disappearing in the same fashion. With this in mind, plus the fact that God and His angels are around 1,000 light-years away from the Earth, there has to be some sort of way to travel from one dimension of space-time to another. While the idea of an actual wormhole is plausible in the scientific sense, perhaps it is possible in the sense of how angels manifested themselves to the prophets of old and new. Not in the way portrayed in Interstellar–a spherical body that peers directly from one galaxy to another–but a spiritual tunnel that is unseen to the naked eye.

And maybe I’m entirely incorrect about this. Maybe heavenly beings, such as the angels, have the power to forgo the laws of nature and simply appear in front of physical beings in the blink of an eye, with no strings attached. But is it wrong to speculate that these sort of phenomenons are possible? God created the laws of the universe, science, nature, and space-time, however little we may know about all of them. We are naturally curious creatures, and we should always be open to the ideas that science can coexist with God, for He made this universe not at random, but with every aspect in mind. He has laws that He must have to follow, and I don’t imagine that even they can be broken to accommodate something unnatural. But who knows? We don’t have all the answers.

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But lastly, I wanted to speak on the most important theme from Interstellar: love. Dr. Amelia Brand, played by Anne Hathaway, says a powerful thing about it: “Love is the one thing that we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it.” The characters experience almost the entire spectrum of love in the film, ranging from romantic love, to love of friendship, to the love of nature, and finally to that of familial love. No matter the circumstances they were facing, love was the one prominent and ever-present emotion that flowed through each of them. Never for one second did any of their actions divert from the deep longing to save those they cared unconditionally for. It is a beautiful thing to watch, as it instills hope in tired minds. Love is truly what this life is all about. It is pure and everlasting, forever and assured. It is the penultimate thing that can be traced to in every kind action. We forgive because we love; we serve because we love; we are happy because we love. We want our families and friends to be safe and happy, because we love them. We laugh, cry, worry, encourage and mourn with those we hold in high esteem, because we love them. Love truly transcends all other capacities we may feel in this life. We were sent here to live a full life, and at the center of doing so lies love. It is because of love that we are all here. It is because of the love of Our Heavenly Father that we all can have this life to learn and grow in our own love. It is because of His love that He sent His Only Begotten to die for us, so that we may return to Him one day.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. … And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:7-12; 16-19)

All in all, I believe that Christopher Nolan made Interstellar as something more than just “fluff film.” He wants us to think beyond what we may just tune out in other movie-going experiences. And though he (and maybe you, too) would probably find this essay a little superfluous, I think he still achieves what he set out to do in the first place: he made me think. The parallels found with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been a joy to discuss, and I hope that we may look a little deeper into ourselves and come to know where we, as individuals, belong in the grand vast that is the universe. But one thing will always remain: love, and its infinite drive to change us into better, smarter, kinder, and courageous people.

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