Interstellar is a flawed masterpiece whose reach extended its grasp; yet I count Christopher Nolan’s space epic as one of the most inspiring movies I’ve seen. Why? Because it makes me feel more of the sense of the vastness of God’s created universe than any other, and brings to the forefront of my mind Psalm 19:1 more vividly than any science fiction film has done before: “The heavens declare the Glory of God, and the skies above proclaim His handiwork.”
I was awed by the revelation we were given when Dr. Louise Banks asks the question, “I don’t understand. Who is this child?” in the fantastic Denis Villenueve film Arrival. By a simple question it is revealed that although we were watching memories of her child’s birth, formative years, and subsequent death, those events had yet to take place. She was given an immeasurable gift: a glance into God’s book of her life. As the credits rolled the only thing in my mind was Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
I count these two films as two of the most impactful pieces of cinema I have seen, not only because they are spectacular works of art – because they are – but also, and more importantly, they helped me see those two verses of Scripture in a more vivid, revelatory light.
There are breathtakingly beautiful scenes in Interstellar which capture my imagination; scenes I go to in my mind’s eye when the mundaneness of everyday life threatens to stultify my creativity when in sitting in front of the computer, cursor waiting for me to type in order for it to run its repetitive course of filling the screen with letters to form words, strung together to make a story (whether that story is worth reading is another matter altogether). Entering a black hole is a mesmerizing sequence as the crew of the Endurance fly through it in their search of a habitable planet across the known universe. That scene and others, are enhanced by the awe-inspiring visuals and ethereal sounds from Hans Zimmer’s resounding organ and symphony. The beauty and danger of the galaxy is on full display for Joseph Cooper and the rest of the crew. One scene that highlights in particular this dichotomy of beauty and danger is the planet Miller. The towering waves are a sight to behold, and capture the three sent down there in its beauty and majesty, but it also has the destructive capacity as it killed Doyle, who was unable to return to the craft before being swallowed by the continental sized wave. His body is shown moments later, lifeless, washing back and forth on the shore.
Is that not how most things beautiful in God’s creation are? The mane is a hazel crown covering the head of a lion, yet it surrounds the mouth which can kill most animals with a single well-placed bite. The roaring waters of Niagara Falls cascading in a symphony of rushing waves and misty air below is majestic, and the painted walls of the Grand Canyon help to show the immenseness of the canyon floor; but one wrong step at the edge of either landmark is met with a crushing death. Innumerable examples of destructive beauty exist in nature and Nolan’s film scratches only the surface of the vastness and danger of the expanse. But scratch hard it did. The first time I watched it was not on IMAX (something I truly regret) but on a small (for today’s standards) ‘32 inch screen at a friends’ house; yet I was still enthralled by the story and enchanted by the visuals and haunted by the soundtrack.
Though its conclusion was not as satisfying as the films journey, the sights and sounds along the way had me fully-engaged and agreeing with the Psalmist who captured my thoughts when I look to the stars: “The heavens declare the Glory of God, and the skies above proclaim His handiwork.” They do indeed. And the more I look to the stars, the more I come to understand that verse in a fuller light.
Memories are powerful. Good memories are cherished, while traumatic ones are abhorred. We don’t want to lose the ones we hold so dear but can’t get rid of those we’d rather forget. Memories shape us, determine many future actions through experiences learned, and can cripple or free us in living our everyday lives.
In Scripture it is written that God has a book. In it is written our life stories: birth, life, and death. All written before we were ever born. My birthday, August 15, 1987, was determined before time was time. God had it written that the last film I would watch with my Papa before he died, was the emotionally-beautiful Pixar animated movie, Up; a movie with a main character of Carl who encapsulated the humor and love of my Papa Pitts better than any movie ever could. That day was written, those memories formed, all before I had a mind capable to have them. Now what if someone was given access, even for a moment, a look into that book? Amy Adams’ Dr. Louise Banks was given that opportunity.
She was given a glance into that book; the choices she would make, the life she would bring into the world, and the heartache from that choice she would have to endure. Alien arrival plot aside, the crux of the story is of Dr. Banks and her living the rest of her life knowing what will happen to her, her child, and her marriage. With all that knowledge, she still, in her words, “Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every moment of it.”
She accepts her life: the beauty, the tragedy – all of it, with willing and welcome arms. And my life, though I cannot see what is to come, what has been written of me in His book, I plan to, by His grace, embrace, because it was written by a loving God and powerful Savior. “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
These two films, though works of fiction, touched something deep within me. More than most others they highlighted the truths about the beauty and vastness and danger of the universe, how it declares and proclaims the Glory and handiwork of God; and the memories we make with loved ones, and the days written out before us that we will walk in.
C.S. Lewis said at its vaguest notion of poetry, it is something which simply is “writing arouses and in part satisfies the imagination.” These films are beautiful. These films are art. These films are poetry.