Welcome to the second reflection on Interstellar and the Catholic insights therein. This is not a film review but a mediation on the themes and ideas from the movie.
You can read part I here.
You can read part II here.
Once again, please do not read any further if you have not seen the movie. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
The Fall of Mann
In the first part of this reflection, we looked at the relationship of love to gravity. In the second we looked at God’s view of time.
In this part we shall look at the problem of evil in the universe.
I remember getting into a discussion many years ago about the potential relationships we could have with intelligent aliens, should we ever find them in the cosmos. I assumed that as Catholics we should reach out the them and evangelize the Gospel. If they have a free will and intellect, then they could be baptized members of our Church.
But it was CS Lewis who pointed out something that had never occurred to me: what if the aliens are unfallen?
When you see most science fiction like Star Trek, you see alien culture that reflect something in our fallen humanity. We recognize most vices of greed (Ferengi), violence (Klingon), deviousness (Romulan), sadism (Kardasians), and the desire to dominate (The Borg). You see some deficiency in that culture that could be made better.
But if we ever do find intelligent life outside of our world, that life does not necessarily have to be sinful. I am not saying that every intelligent alien we will meet will be virtuous, but we do not have to assume that they are fallen.
Human beings today are filled with every kind of vice because of Original Sin. This is not part of our created design. It is a flaw brought about by our first parents who passed it down to their children throughout the centuries until ourselves. If none of our ancestors sinned, we would not have been conceived in Original Sin.
This was Brand’s point in Interstellar when she said that she wouldn’t find any evil out there in the cosmos. Creation is not evil. Evil something that can only be willed into being by free agents. She said that there is scariness and danger but not evil.
In regards to the danger, this in and of itself is not evil. Fire is dangerous if you touch it, but the fire is not evil. I remember once a student was making a point about the “evil” of nature and he pointed to how hurricanes kill so many people. I asked if he knew what the point of a hurricane was. He said “no.” I told him that they distribute the heat in the global atmosphere. Without them, we would have natural climate crisis.
But these natural disasters kill and hurt people, even if they serve a necessary function. Isn’t that evil? No. One of the reasons there has been more destruction from hurricanes is because more human settlements are by high-hurricane areas. A hot iron’s function is to press clothing. But if I set up a bed right underneath a hot iron, I run a higher risk of being burned by it.
In Interstellar, they encounter this dangerous nature on Miller’s planet. The hazardous terrain claims the life of Doyle. But the planet was not doing anything except being itself. It was the human element that was injected into untouched nature that caused the damage.
As Brand points out, evil is what is inside us. And nowhere is this more apparent that in Mann.
Like Lucifer, Mann is described as “the best of us.” He is a man of genius, vision, and courage. But as is always the case, “pride goeth before the fall.” Mann confesses to to Cooper “I truly believe I was prepared to die… but I never really considered that my planet wouldn’t be the one.” (I am paraphrasing). He only had courage when it required no sacrifice. But he folds because he comes to the realization that even though he is “the best of us,” would face death like the rest of us.
Mann then acts as the serpent who tempts the heroes away from salvation to his frozen hell. And then he gives them from his tree of knowledge that “Plan B” is the only plan. He tempts them away from the tree of life, “Plan A” to save humanity. He tempts them to despair and to put their trust in him. He then acts the part of Cain and tries to murder the clearly superior Cooper.
And with their final conflict in space, Mann’s pride makes him impervious to Cooper’s pleas to not open the hatch. And because he acts in such pride, the ship explodes and there is a literal fall from heaven. Because of the fall of Mann, salvation is almost lost. It takes Cooper acting as a Christ figure to enter into this fallen object and save it. His act is seemingly impossible, but Cooper reminds Brand, “No, it’s necessary.”
Mann reminds us that we are all fallen. Cooper is not a perfect Christ figure either. He and all of the crew have their vices. And as we head out into the cosmos, we don’t just take all that is good in humanity with us.
Into the stars we take our faults.