Faith and Film: Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar"

Coop (Matthew McConaughey) wanders the frozen-cloud surface of the planet Mann

Coop (Matthew McConaughey) wanders the frozen-cloud surface of the planet Mann

Faith and Film

Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar"

8 April 2018

Penn Newman Center


In Christopher Nolan's groundbreaking science fiction epic, the Earth has been devastated by famine. There is only one way to ensure mankind's survival: interstellar travel. A newly discovered wormhole in the far reaches of the solar system allows a team of astronauts to go where no man has gone before, in search of a world that may hold the key to humanity's future.

What is determinism? Are human beings capable of exercising free will, or is destiny in some way predetermined? And if so, how does technology allow us to think rationally and operate from an ethical standpoint as opposed to a mere survivalist one? Can love be quantified and affect outcomes as much any other data? Join us for a conversation about these and other themes as we discuss "Interstellar", part of our Faith and Film series. We will deconstruct discourses surrounding Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity as well as gravitational lensing and time dilation, using these scientific concepts as points of departure to reframe questions of destiny, free will, and love.

Watch the trailer:

Meeting Review

    On Sunday, we gathered at the Newman Catholic Center to watch clips from Christopher Nolan’s seminal science fiction film “Interstellar” and discuss the ways in which the film straddles the boundary between science and belief, physics and faith, empiricism and love. Dr. Marisa March led the discussion with a demonstration regarding the mechanics of Einstein-Rosen Bridges and wormholes, using paper and chalkboards to differentiate the bending of three-dimensional space from four-dimensional spacetime.

    The physics discussion turned to Einstein’s Theory of General and Special Relativity, and the ways in which time dilation added dramatic tension to Nolan’s film. We watched the sequence from Miller’s Planet, which had an hour passing for Dr. Brand and Coop on the planet’s surface while twenty six years passed for the astronauts in the orbiter. We contended with the question of relative time, and considered the implications of aging at different rates and the effects of speed and mass upon the passage of time.

    The question of time lead to a discussion of the role love plays in the film: not just Coop’s love for his daughter, Murph, or Dr. Brand’s love for Wolf, but the role of Divine Love and Divine Providence in affecting Coop’s journey in such a way as to assure he had the capacity and the opportunity to save the human race. At the film’s conclusion, Coop is able to navigate a five-dimensional hyperspatial construct or tesseract through the power of love, and our group debated whether love is quantifiable like any other physical force, or if it exists as a more complicated abstraction that defies human attempts to rationalize or reduce to scientific terms. Is love an extra-dimensional phenomenon, like gravity, or does love operate in Divine spheres we can hope to emulate but never entirely comprehend?

    The presence of the five-dimensional tesseract raised the question of the role of predestination in “Interstellar” and the limits of human free will. After a superficial inspection, Coop’s experience is part of a massive causal feedback loop or predestination paradox –– he brings himself to the film’s conclusion, writing the coordinates in the dust of his daughter’s bedroom to catalyze a sequence of events that brought him to an extra-dimensional space that enabled him to write those coordinates in the first place. Our group wondered if Coop had any free will in the film. If St. Augustine’s doctrine regarding predestination and divine prescience is true, then do human beings have free will at all? We discussed navigating life as a series of conscious decisions rather than an assemblage of random coincidences, and concluded the evening with the belief that if God has a plan, then it is too intricate and complex for any one person to know, that a dimension of free will exists in a paradigm replete with possibility and opportunity.