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“Interstellar” and a Lesson on Craftsmanship

My husband and I pay to go to about one movie a year in theaters. Not that we aren’t into movies—we often rent or stream them in the comfort of our home, but very few motivate us to pay the theater fares and brave the theater crowds. “Interstellar,” however, had my attention all year long and I could hardly wait until the weekend after its release to see it in theaters.

This movie will win awards, and now having seen it, I agree that they will be well deserved. Without any significant spoilers, the following are three reasons why this is such a well-made movie:

The black hole. Knowing there is a black hole in the movie shouldn’t ruin the story for you, but it might impress you. Nolan brought on astrophysicist Kip Thorne who specializes in black holes to advise on the making of the movie. While Thorne consulted on most of the science, he paid particular attention to how the black hole in the movie looked and behaved. They did something no one had done before in either the field of movie-making or astrophysics—they began with Einstein’s general relativity equations and fed Thorne’s data into the movie industry’s best visual imaging computers to create visualizations of a black hole that are as close to reality as humans have ever seen. Thorne says that the visualization they created has advanced both the trades of astrophysics and computer imaging and they intend to write academic papers in both fields.

The dust bowl. In the movie, humanity is facing a global dust bowl. Throughout the movie, elderly folks are featured talking about what life was like when the dust bowl began. Some have noted that these people didn’t seem like actors, or that they were a bit out-of-character. If they seem that way to you, it’s because these people are survivors of the real Oklahoma dust bowl of the 1930s. The interviews were licensed to Nolan from a 2012 documentary about the disaster called “The Dust Bowl.” This move strikes me as astonishingly thoughtful and, being from Oklahoma, incredibly meaningful.

The history. There are several little details throughout the movie that pay homage to humanity’s early ventures into space. One of the most obvious ways is in the recreation of a near-fatal accident from the Gemini 8 mission in 1966 which almost took the life of American astronaut Neil Armstrong before he would go on to become the first man on the moon. Matthew McConaughey’s character survives the incident too, but I won’t say what he goes on to accomplish.

I also greatly enjoyed the fact that the nearly 3-hour-long movie was driven by a compelling story and creative dialogue, rather than over-the-top action and space scenes—although there are plenty of those too. While this type of Clarkian (as in science fiction pioneer, Arthur C. Clark) storytelling isn’t for everyone, and I’ve heard some call it “heavy-handed,” it does echo the thoughtfulness of the movie making.

[pq]The mere fact that “Interstellar” is a well-made movie, gives us a glimpse at what good craftsmanship is.[/pq]

Our friend RJ Moeller has criticized the movie for walking up to the edge of saying something significant and then turning around. He points out that C.S. Lewis managed to write a theologically meaningful science fiction story through the “Space Trilogy,” “constructing a universe within which creatures from other planets have done better than ‘evolving’ beyond the ‘silly little notions’ of a Creator—they’ve embraced those notions and surpassed us in their relationship to (and understanding of) Him.” Those who have seen “Interstellar” will know that the movie does fall short in this regard.

But Nolan isn’t Lewis, nor does he even claim faith in Christ. He does however, make excellent movies. Sometimes power isn’t just in the message, but also in the art.

Another friend, Gregory Ayers, recently wrote about Christian rapper Lecrae whose latest album has garnered praise from religious and secular music critics. Lecrae has said that he wants his art to be accessible to people both within and outside of the church. Ayers writes:

Martin Luther once said that God is interested in good craftsmanship. For Lecrae, the Christian rapper does his Christian duty not by putting crosses on his albums (or scoring a high Jesus-per-minute-ratio), but by making good albums.

The mere fact that “Interstellar” is a well-made movie, gives us a glimpse at what good craftsmanship is. Nolan, Thorne, and their team used their God-given skills to make something beautiful which gives glory to the original Artist even without their awareness.

Watching the movie, and learning about how it was made, I can’t shake the thought that this is how movies should be made. As Christians, we know that while things in our world are broken now, Christ is working through us to reweave shalom—returning things to way they ought to be.

We can see this all around us, even, and perhaps especially, in this well-made movie with black holes.