No less an authoritative voice than that of Michael Caine intones the professorial judgment. “We must confront the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us.”
The irrepressible Matthew McConaughey responds, “Now you need to tell me what your plan is to save the world.”
But he’s told, “We’re not meant to save the world. We’re meant to leave it.” In Christopher Nolan’s new holiday movie "Interstellar," our world exhausts itself. It runs out of resources to feed its population, which is what sends McConaughey and crew through a space worm hole in search of salvation.
Human beings live as much in their imaginations as they do in their days. We’re always picturing what might come next. That’s the blessing, and the burden, of being human. The imagination can both inspire and terrify. But doesn’t it seem that our collective creativity has become a bit fixated on the ominous and the foreboding?
When did the world become so weary? Not in terms of the pretext for this movie plot, but in our collective hope for the future? What happened to Westerns? Our movie screens used to believe that the future was as wide open as the frontier sky. Is there a link between their disappearance and the rise of the apocalyptic on the movie screen? What does it mean when a people no longer looks back with pride but forward with apprehension? Does "Drunk History," a show in which inebriated third-string stars recount American history, say something about our contemporary inability to reverence our own story?
Even our heroes have become surreal. Daniel Boone has given way to Batman. Consider the current television season: Arrow, The Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gotham, Sleepy Hollow, Constantine, Falling Skies, Resurrection, Intelligence, Revolution, Helix, Lost Girl, Bitten, Dracula, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Almost Human, Supernatural, Walking Dead, In the Flesh, Salem, Star Crossed, Ravenswood, Grimm, Once Upon a Time and Teen Wolf (I should confess, I love Teen Wolf).
This year, at the movies, to name a few: Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy, Divergent, Giver, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Extraterrestrial, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Left Behind, Alien Abduction, The Last Days and Godzilla.
Does the world in which we actually live no longer interest us? Do authentic heroes and hope strike us as unrealistic? How did fantasy become a substitute for faith? Our imagination is still quite active, but it no longer seems to draw inspiration from the human. Small saviors with capes replace the one on a cross.
Science fiction and Advent share a focus upon the future:
When did the Gospel cease to comfort us? When did it become tired, something the imagination skims over? Why are we ready to believe in aliens but not angels? In sheer imaginative splendor, an intelligence from outer space pales before an intelligence beyond space itself. Isn’t it possible that the world is evolving in a way that is truly astounding? That matter is becoming spirit, and that this process coalesces around an empty Palestinian tomb?
“We await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3: 13). Is the future of humanity “out there” or “within?” And, if what lies within doesn’t evolve and transform—or repent and convert, to use Gospel words—would space travel do anything more than spread an infection?
Maybe the Gospel notions of sin and salvation, and about failing to recognize the advent of our hope, are as true today as they were in the time of Christ. We look beyond, rather than within, ourselves. We insist that we’d be the first to greet to a visitor from outer space, yet we can hardly credit one “clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist” (Mk 1: 6).
Like all things human, imagination can bless or blight—funny, there’s another Gospel notion. It can impel us toward action and transformation. It can also delude and distract us. In the trailer for Interstellar, as the rocket blasts off from a famished earth, and astronauts enter a deathlike sleep before they rise again, these words appear on the screen: “Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here.” I couldn’t agree more.
Isaiah 40: 1-9, 9-11 2 Peter 3: 8-14 Mark 1: 1-8