[Slight Spoiler Alert; so please go see the movie!]
Christopher Nolan‘s newest blockbuster movie Interstellar leaves us questioning, “Who is They?” As with his Inception, Nolan’s brilliance leaves no accidental intimations. The audience is honored by the Nolan brothers with the expectation that they will think/meditate on their movie experience. As expected, I have engaged in some deep thinking and discussing since I experienced Interstellar almost a week ago.
There is hope in Nolan’s futuristic sci-fi. Coop [Matthew McConaughey] has a daughter named after Murphy’s Law. Very early in the movie young Murph is angry that she is named after something bad. The answer her father gives is a twist on the common negative version of Murphy’s Law. He tells her it is not about something bad, but that whatever can happen will happen. That is a hint of hope.
Who is “They”?
Scientists tell Coop that “they” have opened a wormhole to another galaxy with habitable planets just in time to save mankind from the inhabitable conditions on earth. Coop asks, “Who is They?” No one knows, but they are obviously a higher being capable of manipulating dimensions. And They seem to be trying to help humans. Possibly, it is speculated, They are multidimensional beings.
Cooper (Coop) is a former NASA pilot who is now trying to survive earth’s environmental deterioration, as everyone else, by farming corn. He says, “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.” Coop is clearly named for the proverbial eagle raised in the chicken coop. The story has numerous variations and goes something like this:
A farmer finds an eagle’s egg and places it under a brooding hen to be raised with the chickens. He wisely keeps the eagle’s wings clipped so it can’t fly out of the chicken coop, so the eagle scratches in the dirt for food like the chickens. After a while the farmer forgets to keep the eagle’s wings clipped. One day a thunderstorm is brewing. As thunder rolls, the chickens scurry under the coop to huddle together in fear of the storm. A gust of wind rushes through the eagle’s feathers. The eagle feels the exhilaration of the approaching storm and hops onto a fence post stretching his wings into the wind. The next current catches his wings and lifts the eagle to flight. The same storm that causes the chickens to cower in fear lifts the eagle to soar above the clouds and above the storm.
Yes, Coop is an eagle among chickens.
Are the main characters’ names really meaningful clues? The simplest clue is Anne Hathaway‘s character Amelia Brand. Using the name “Amelia” is an honest tribute to the brave female aviator Amelia Earhart.
Dr. Amelia’s “Love Soliloquy” in the very center of the film time also carries the central theme of the story. She is making her pitch to Coop about which of the remaining habitable planets to choose, when she says,
“Maybe we’ve spent too long trying to figure all this out with theory. … Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.”
In the end love is what saves mankind.
Dr. Brand’s Plan A and Plan B bank on innate human love of family to secure a future for mankind. Dr. Brand [Michael Caine] trusts that if humans believe they can save their families, no sacrifice will be too great. It is the strongest motivational force in humanity, even above self-preservation.
Another aptly named character seems to be an Adam figure. This character deceives in order to secure his own rescue and then attempts to take over the plan for the future of the human race. It is he who tells Coop that the last thing one sees before death is the faces of those he loves most.
When all hope is gone and all possibilities for salvation are played out, love in the form of self-sacrifice wins a future for mankind on one of the habitable planets. Both Dr. Brands were right in different ways.
Coop enters the black hole to collect data necessary to human survival. As he is pulled into the singularity, he is sucked into a tesseract that has been created for him by the multidimensional beings. Nolan has impressively represented the tesseract in which Coop figures out a way to use gravity to communicate with his own past. Therefore he passes the lifesaving data to his daughter on earth.
But who is They?
In the end the scientists say that “They” are evolved humans of the future who have learned how to manipulate dimensions. Are we, the audience, required to believe this? Is Interstellar an atheistic film championing human willpower as the salvation of humanity? How many times have scientists in this story misinterpreted the data to form wrong conclusions? Several times.
What data do we have?
- “They” opened a wormhole in time to give mankind a way of salvation from earth.
- “They” created a tesseract and put Coop in it so he could communicate with Murph.
- All “supernatural” communication is discovered to be actually human to human.
- “They” set up the provision for human to human communication across dimensions.
How can humans go back in time to save themselves in their own past unless they have already been saved to be in the future at all? For humans to have been “They” who opened the wormhole, some humans must have lived through earth’s apocalypse to become multidimensional. This possibility would be acceptable if we were watching the BBC’s Dr. Who?, but we are not. The timeline of the film gives no evidence for this possibility. The same argument holds for the builders of the tesseract.
Are Christopher and Jonathan Nolan expecting us to make this leap of faith to believe without evidence ? I am not willing to suspend disbelief that far. I have more respect for Nolan ingenuity than that. As they expected me to think, I expect that they thought.
Here sci-fi transcends entertainment and becomes philosophic. Can we believe in multidimensional beings? Can we believe that a multidimensional being might want to save mankind? Might that multidimensional being set up a system of communication to carry ideas across time from human to human?
Hey, it’s just sci-fi!