Sweet and Salty – The Gospel in Other Stories

As evidenced by many coffee houses, salted caramel reigns atop the favorite fall flavor list.

Two contrasting flavors (salty and sweet) combine to create a fantastic sensation to the taste buds that make most salivate in anticipation for another bite.  Do you ever wonder why? Extensive reasons abound but essentially its because the two flavors give twice the favorable reception from the tastebuds to the brain. The next logical question, of course, is how does this apply to art?

/ / /

Like many of my friends, I saw and enjoyed the film Interstellar (And if you haven’t seen it, you should. No worries not a single spoiler ahead.) Much of my enjoyment flowed from the parallels I drew from the gospel truths I found in the film.  And as I thought about the movies I enjoy and why I enjoy them, amongst many details and reasons I have, the most common similarity is the reflection of the gospel in the story.

Characters sacrificing themselves for someone they love (especially when they do not deserve it.)
Characters choosing grace over justice.
Characters admitting or coming to terms with how bad they are and how much they need reconciliation.
Etc.

Whenever these qualities reveal themselves in a story, I begin reflection on the truth I believe in Jesus. I start to realize what peace and hope I have his story, and I am grateful that I get to be reminded of it through a different one.

So yes, much like sugar and salt, I absolutely love when a film reminds me of Jesus. My sensations are heightened.

 

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Not a “Review” but a “Discussion” on Interstellar

I am the kind of person, dear reader, who takes every available opportunity to discuss philosophies, theologies, worldviews, etc. I’m the kind of guy who, when he’s had one too many drinks, starts to assail you with weird theories about time and free will and fate and any manner of obnoxious topics. So it is a real temptation for me to go into this review of Interstellar with that purpose in mind—to launch into an exposition on the worldview behind Christopher Nolan’s newest masterpiece (and yes, my use of that word should tip you off to the way I feel about this film). But to do so in this case would be a grave disservice to you. The philosophy behind the plot is too tied up with the plot to even begin to parse without giving away major spoilers. And I think this film is so terrifically beautiful that to give even the most minor spoiler would, well, spoil a whole lot of beauty for you. So you’re off my philosophy-hook this time, reader. Thank your lucky stars.

By the way—and I’ve never actually said this seriously before—if you’ve yet to see this movie you absolutely need to stop reading this review, hop into the nearest available transport, and get thee to a theater. It’s that good.

Now let me tell you why I have that opinion.

 THEME(S)

 

Christopher Nolan is the man who made The Dark Knight and Inception, so we should never be surprised at the ambitious reach of his films’ themes. In Interstellar, Nolan discusses the family crisis writ large. The world is bleak—a man’s children have been born in a time in which our very food is running out. And so, out of love, he must find a way to save them. It’s not a new story. It’s probably our oldest story, really. Someone on a quest to save the people he loves. A noble cause, and mythic. We all have families, or at the very least people we hold so dear that they have become to us like a family, and so we all can relate to this story—which is why it’s so very old. But what Nolan is able to do in this film is to play with that idea in a new way—the idea of connection and isolation, of love and despair. From the start, because of the sheer number of times that this story has been told, the film is balanced on the knife-edge of cliché. But just go and watch it and see the masterful way in which Nolan manages to navigate that very real danger.

The second most important theme (though really they exist without a ranking system and are probably interchangeable) is the theme of hope. Why can we hope? Is hope a real thing? That is, can we trust that things will work out or can we not? And how do we reconcile that hope with all the pain and suffering that can be seen in our world? If you or I were born into a world that is literally losing the stuff that allows us to live, would it be foolish to hope that we would survive? I’ve probably asked too many rhetorical questions, but I think that this is the central idea in the film. It’s not just a movie about a man trying to save his family from disaster. We’ve seen plenty of those. It’s a film about whether that’s even a realistic goal—or a laudable one. I think Nolan has his opinions, which he artfully gets through the screen, but to say more would require spoilers and so I will refrain. But seriously. Let’s get a beer sometime and talk about this.

Christopher Nolan might just be my favorite director. I don’t recall a single film that he’s made that wasn’t up to par for me. Some of them work better than others, but all of them work. Yes, even The Dark Knight Rises. And asking myself why I rank him so highly on my personal list of directors has led me to conclude one thing: I think the man just “gets” the visual medium. He understands that though a story is central to a film, and though the acting has to be spot-on, and though the dialogue must crackle along quickly and efficiently, the real reason people go to see a movie is to see the movie. And thus Interstellar’s next big theme is the sheer awe-inspiring, wonder-inducing visuals that Nolan and his team of special effects artists have managed to create. I mean, there are so many beautiful shots in this film. From the ridiculously complex and beautiful shots of space to the simple, refined-and-yet-dirty images back on Earth, every shot in this film looks incredible (and I haven’t even seen it in IMAX… yet). The main character, Cooper, expresses this sort of awe and wonder by repeating the phrase that sort of becomes his mantra throughout his journey: “we’re explorers.” Take some time to look up at the sky and “wonder about our place in the stars,” Nolan is saying to the viewer. Take in the magnitude of our universe and the sheer immensity of space. Let that awful beauty inspire you.

Overall, I think the film fits firmly into the recent string of Hollywood projects about science. There is a very clear push among certain intellectual circles in the movie-making industry to make kids excited about science again. Just in the past few years, we’ve had Interstellar, Gravity (which, I’ll say it… I think Interstellar does what Gravity only tried to accomplish), and the revamp of Cosmos. And while this sort of clear agenda could be construed as preachy, I never once got that feeling while watching Nolan’s film. The movie rings as true—as a passionate appeal instead of a science-salesman, if that makes sense. You can see in the film a love for science that is held at bay by a love of cinematography. For Nolan, the quality of the film comes first. Which, in the end, only makes his appeal more palatable.

 

ACTING

 

This section is going to be really short: the acting was great. I cried in the movie. I literally starting choking at one point because I was trying so hard not to sob loudly that I accidentally inhaled my own spit and began coughing, which I’m sure ruined that scene for most of the people around me. (Sorry, folks). This is the first movie I’ve seen in Matthew McConnaughey’s recent not-just-shirtless career, and he absolutely floored me with the range of his performance. Just great. Good job, slick.

Now, I did have a few issues, but the first isn’t even really solidified in my thinking and the second is just my own personal problem. The first is this: I thought that one of the crucial, heart-wrenching scenes was spoiled a bit by either weird acting or by slightly corny dialogue. It’s not really a spoiler, I suppose (since the scene is partially in the trailer for the film), but I thought that the scene in which Cooper is saying goodbye to Murph felt… unintentionally awkward. At first, I decided that the problem was the young actress’ acting, but I’ve since thought that it could also be a few lines of dialogue that didn’t feel true. Either way, McConnaughey’s performance carried me past that problem and into a world of tears. The second—entirely subjective and personal—issue I had is this: Michael Caine is very similar to most of his other roles in Nolan’s films. Which is fine. I mean, Burton has Depp, after all. And I do think there are subtle (yes, that’s the word I’d use to describe the acting in this movie!) differences that make his character in this film unique, but it felt too close to his previous roles to me. It took me out of my immersion slightly—but only slightly. And the movie is so damn good that I hesitate to really call either of these actual “problems.”

 

SCIENCE

 

I have this section in here because a host of other reviewers have complained about the science behind some of Nolan’s plot points being off. In reality, I’ve read positive reviews from actual scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who tore Gravity a new one on Twitter. Plus, Nolan had a physicist as a co-producers and chief science-checker-guy. Sure, not everything is going to be spot-on—it’s a movie!—but I think the film’s science is good when it needs to be. One of Nolan’s biggest assets as a director is his understanding of the story’s pace—knowing when to explain and when to let stuff slide, knowing how to weave the technical bits into a compelling story without sacrificing either. In my opinion, all the important questions are answered in this movie. And if they aren’t, the answers can be inferred. All the “plot-holes” and science mishaps in the film either don’t matter to me or are simple misunderstandings (because let’s face it, if you go into a Nolan film you ought to expect a plot that makes you think). As I was looking at other reviews, I came across this quote from someone I’ve been unable to track down, and it completely sums up my feelings about this whole issue: “It’s science fiction, not science boring.”

 

CONCLUSION

 

So, go see the movie. It gets all my stars, all my thumbs-up. I can’t figure out how to say it any other way. But I’ll give you a bit of a preview of the film to cap this review off. It is the refrain that echoes throughout the movie, the real backbone of the plot. If there was one aphorism I think Christopher Nolan would want his audiences to walk away with, it would be this. Coincidentally, this is also one of my favorite poems, even if it is pretty popular and oft-used. Here it is, the famous poem by Dylan Thomas:

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Falling Asleep

one shrill saw
comes ripping
through the night:

his sounds like
shredding logs
and hers soft.

she lies with
one eye shut,
one peeking –

a night owl
on watch for
scrambling mice.

And between
their bodies
bedsheets chill

in tensile
air. her breath
leaves the mouth

as droplets
of mist: this
night is cold.