The Problem of Evil in “Interstellar”

I saw two movies this past weekend (technically on Thursday and Friday): Big Hero 6 and Interstellar.  [I’ll address the first simply by saying: it’s fantastic. I loved the characters. The story was a little predictable but still powerfully addressed the importance of forgiveness. And stay for the post-credits scene (because I didn’t, so I missed out–don’t be like me).]

I’m not going to go into a full review of Interstellar–I’m tempted, but I’m gonna resist. (Short version: it was pretty to look at, but in the end it just felt hollow.) Rather, I want to briefly touch on an exchange in the dialogue that I found very telling. (Recounted from memory, so forgive any mistakes, please.)

At one point in the picture, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) was speaking to fellow astronaut Brand (Anne Hathaway), and he asks, “You don’t consider nature to be evil?” She replies, “Terrifying, yes… Evil, no.”  Cooper then says something like, “So we bring the evil with us.”

This truth is brought to bear later in the story, but it felt like the filmmakers didn’t know what to do with it at that point.

Ultimately, (I SUPPOSE THIS IS A SPOILER SO SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH) when it’s revealed that there is nothing “out there” and that the only salvation for humanity comes from…humanity (lalala timey-wimey paradox lalala).  So the question of evil is unresolved. Nature is amoral, but humans are still moral agents, because…reasons.  “No hell below us…above us, only sky.” And super-advanced fifth-dimension future-humans, apparently.

(HERE ENDETH SPOILERS)

It’s an interesting thing to watch this idea come up over and over and over again in film. How does the art of a more-or-less secular society deal with the problem of evil? Explain it away? Evil comes from social inequalities, abusive homes, genetic predispositions? And when the “best of us” reveals himself to be a craven murderer, where do we point to as the source of evil? (Aside from Wayans brothers movies?)  There’s the rub, Sonny Jim. It seems like no one has an answer.

Well, I mean, the Bible does. The Bible says that our first parents, who were given a perfect planet and perfect relationship and intimacy with God, were tempted toward selfishness, tempted to try to replace God, and as a result of their rebellion, sin entered the world, and death by sin. Because of Adam’s sin, every single one of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve is born with a nature bent on rebellion, that fights against the rule of God. All have sinned; all deserve the wrath of God as just judgment for what RC Sproul calls our “cosmic rebellion.”

However, the Bible also says that God, who is rich in mercy, made a way for us to be saved from this “body of death” through the death of our King Jesus as a substitute and sacrifice, taking our deserved death penalty on Himself, dying for sinners, raising to life again, making a way for those who repent and believe in Him. Jesus’ death and resurrection deals with the problem of evil by triumphing over it, by declaring that its time will come to an end when He returns to rule and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords

The problem with Interstellar‘s handling of the reality of evil is that it doesn’t really address the issue. Evil is acknowledged, even depicted, but that’s about it. Because in a humanistic worldview, there is no real solution for evil. The best you can hope for is some sort of societal evolution or Enlightenment, but I’m pretty sure humanity tried that, and we still had two World Wars about 150 years later.

Look, I understand that the film wasn’t primarily focused on the problem of evil. My issue is that Interstellar introduced idea of moral evil and then quickly abandoned it to focus on pretty pictures. It’s like Alfred Hitchcock once said: “If you bring a gun on-stage in the first act, it needs to go off by the third act.” Nolan introduced the problem of evil without really addressing it again. The conversation was just there to foreshadow [SPOILERY PLOT POINT REDACTED]. That bothered me.

The world of Interstellar is technologically advanced and fascinating to look at, to be sure. But for all the hopes and dreams of life among the stars, it cannot explain why men made of dirt are still bound by sin and doomed to die. And it certainly can’t look to any kind of Savior for its future hope. As Denny Burk (who liked the movie a lot more than I did) writes, the film asks the right questions but gives all the wrong answers. That’s about the best thing I can say about it.

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