On Interstellar and Fr. William Lynch, S.J.


In Christopher Nolan’s newest eye- and mind-bending space odyssey, Interstellar, there is plenty of action but also much to aid in silent contemplation. Nolan’s work is imbued with an intense spirituality that puts its emphasis on humanity.

William Lynch was a Jesuit priest and a deft and savvy cultural critic, whose ideas still feel astoundingly fresh. In The Image Industries, Lynch speaks to the lack of reality in film. His diagnosis? “The failure, on a large scale, of these media to differentiate between fantasy and reality; the result is a weakening, throughout the nation’s audiences, of the power to differentiate the two things.”[1]  On a superficial level, Interstellar certainly does not qualify as reality. However, Lynch is not interested in the superficial. Lynch is interested in art that is grounded in reality. It is helpful to think of each potential work of art as a large balloon. If it is not grounded, it will float off and vanish into the blue.  Interstellar is firmly grounded in reality and takes root in your mind and in your soul.

The film begins with a very dystopian view of the future earth. We see the dry and arid land in the once fertile Midwestern United States: dust storms, lawlessness, a dying world. Here we meet Cooper, a widowed ex-pilot turned farmer. Matthew McConaughey brings Cooper to life with a Texas charm that brings feeling to Cooper’s longing for adventure.  Cooper’s daughter, Murphy (or “Murph” for short) gives his life its purpose. It is through her that he is truly motivated. She is the recipient of Cooper’s intensely touching parental love.

Nolan seems to feel a profound duty to love itself. He and his brother Jonathan co-authored Interstellar, and in the person of Anne Hathaway they deliver the line: “…love is the one thing that transcends time and space.” This is an example of life-giving cinematic space that envelops the viewer in rich contemplative potential. The concept of transcendent love being placed in the same dimensional organization as space and time is the key point of contemplation. In this way, spirituality acts as science does, but instead of evidence and hypothesis, the method of discovery is imagination.

In Nolan’s portrayal of the universe, love transcends all dimensions because it hovers above all dimensions and is infused into all dimensions, while gravity can move within and through dimensions. Think of all of existence as a home with many rooms. Gravity can push through the walls of those rooms. Gravity pushes through time. Love is already in every room and is the very fabric of the home. Love is imbued in everything.

Along with these heady concepts of space and temporality, Nolan’s film also opens up reflection on matters of the spirit. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ “…came that [we] may have life, and may have it more abundantly.”[2]  When Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning, He had conquered death. Thus, death and decay is not inter-dimensional, like the Nolan brothers’ version of gravity; it is intra-dimensional and its effects in these three dimensions (which we currently inhabit) do not extend their reach into the others. The Abrahamic God truly is the God of life. This story, therefore, is truly life-giving. The human person’s soul is where it feels at home. Interstellar may be fiction but it is not about fantasy; it is, in the most important sense, about reality.

Such thought-provoking and life-giving films have an important place within the viewer’s spiritual life. Although Lynch laments the lack of reality and moralism in the industries, he eloquently explains why the artist must be free: “The high consciousness of the artist dominates everything, from within and not from outside. He needs no censor; he is his own, according to the inward style of true art. It is precisely as artist, and not despite his art, that he is a ‘master of reality.’”[3]

In Interstellar, Nolan shows us “the dimension of love” and thus he confirms the truth of the resurrection with his fiercely independent portrayal of love as the dominating and omnipresent force in the universe. We can speculate from this that according to Lynch’s standards, Christopher Nolan is a cinematic “master of reality.”

Patrick McIlhone is a student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He studies spirituality and contemporary film.


[1] Lynch, William F. The Image Industries. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1959. 20.

[2] John 10:10, ESV

[3] Lynch, 34.

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