“Newton’s Third Law: The only way humans have figured out how to move forward is to leave something behind.”

If you watch a movie enough times and with a close eye you will often hone in on these little Easter eggs that point to the crux of the story. The same is certainly true of Interstellar, and this little quip from TARS the sarcastic robot who accompanies Cooper, the main protagonist played by Matthew McConaughey.

It’s a witty line. One that pokes fun at Newtonian laws of motions while responding to Cooper’s statement that TARS would have to be ejected from the ship in order to have a chance to arrive at their final destination given their fuel shortage. In many ways it seems like a simple matter of comic relief, a role the character TARS is well suited to fill throughout the film. But within this quote is the little nugget of truth that drives this entire film, and I would argue, much of our lives.

While Interstellar appears at first glance to be a sci-fi story of intergalactic space travel and exploration, in a similar genre of storytelling like Star Wars or Star Trek, the viewer quickly sees Christopher Nolan’s work is unlike most sci-fi films. Personally, I think this is the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen, and I think I can say almost none of that is explicitly due to the intergalactic theme. I’ve watched it close to ten times at this point, and each time this film moves me in new and different ways. The space theme seems like a quite fitting overlay for what, at its heart, is ultimately a story about the most important relationships we have in life.

As director Christopher Nolan states in the following video regarding the making of the film’s soundtrack, “it was really important that the music not pay any attention to the genre of the movie.” And so his initial creative prompt to composer Hans Zimmer simply consisted of dialogue between Cooper and his daughter Murph and a few ideas behind the film. He wanted Hans to feel free to compose without being overly restricted.

As Hans Zimmer states, the music he composed as a result of Nolan’s direction was ultimately “about what it feels like to be a father and what it feels like to have a son.” And my goodness, their process resulted in an absolute masterpiece of a score!

This movie is at its core, a story about the relationship between a father and his daughter and the cost of sacrifice. The sacrifice of leaving his family behind to try and save humanity, including his children, from the impending decay and death of earth. A sacrifice that Cooper made knowing it would pull them apart. And a sacrifice that Cooper would have to grapple with the cost of.

Yet, this theme is quite possibly made most apparent when juxtaposed against the closest character we get in the movie to an antagonist: Matt Damon’s Dr. Mann. Dr. Mann lures Cooper and his crew to his planet, falsely stating that it would be suitable for life, and conspires to take out the entire crew, all in an attempt to save himself by escaping on their ship.

Sacrifices are always made. Things are left behind in order to move forward. There are costs to progress. And on the one hand you have Dr. Mann who is willing to sacrifice others to save himself. And on the other you have Cooper who shows a willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. I would venture a guess that all viewers share a sense of admiration for one and contempt for the other.

Sacrifice in its essence is neither good nor bad. However, sacrifice itself is unavoidable. It’s this theme that TARS so wonderfully summarizes in such a short quote. That in order to get anywhere, something is inevitably given up.

Many today look back on older faiths and mythologies with a sense of superiority to the explicit references to sacrifice and conclude it’s all outdated. In reality, they just had a clearer understanding of how the world functions at a fundamental level. Sacrifices to the gods for good harvests, fertility, success in war, you name it. Many of the ancient mythologies can be seen as an attempt by people to appease and sway the very fabric of reality.

They offered things of value up to try and get other things of value in return from their gods. Their crops. Their livestock. Even their children. Even though many of these forms of explicit sacrifice no longer have a place in our modern society, we still have it, and still in some very egregious forms.

Although certainly less horrific than child sacrifice, we still see the scapegoating of individuals and groups. Many who subscribe to a dog-eat-dog mentality, justify their own ascent in society at the expense of others. Political compromises are formed that aid certain groups and hurt others. Even the seemingly mundane investment of our time and energy into our jobs is a sacrifice to receive compensation. Sacrifice is intertwined with all the most important and consequential decisions in our lives. And it still makes it’s way into the stories we tell ourselves.

All of the greatest stories told include this element of sacrifice within it. And its greatest and most beautiful form is found in self-sacrifice. That’s why a flawed character like Cooper is still far more admirable than Dr. Mann. Add maybe that’s why the story of Easter is the most profound of human history.

Jesus, in the leadup to his crucifixion says to his disciples, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). His ministry had only been underway for three years. He was only in his 30s at the time of his death. He was garnering a large following, healing many, and restoring the outcasts of society. There’s never a good time to die, but this was a true case of the good dying young.

Those few days between his death and resurrection had to have been utterly discouraging for his followers. Others had made sacrifices when the resulting outcome was clear. But here, it appeared to be the end of a movement in shame, tragedy, and pain. What could possibly be gained from his crucifixion?

And yet, that self-sacrifice made by Jesus – even when he had been tempted to save himself in a way similar to that which Mr. Mann refers – has given life to multitudes. He has propelled his disciples to lead better lives than they would have otherwise. And in his resurrection and ascension we are given a hope that was never there before.

In Interstellar, the twist at the end reveals that love is the only thing that is able to transcend space and time. Quite profound, but even this love shared between Cooper and Murph was the fruit of many sacrifices of time, care, attention, and effort on the part of both of them throughout her childhood while they were still together. Even this twist can’t escape the necessity of sacrifice.

However, I think Nolan’s conclusion is quite fitting. Love, the willing of the good for others, really can change the world. That love has a way of disproportionately providing good in excess of the sacrifices made. That even in occasions of apparent and real loss, that love can take us further than we ever imagined.

It’s evident in Cooper and Murph. It’s evident in all the most impactful movies and stories we enjoy. And it’s evident in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And every Easter we get the chance to admire that cost he was willing to pay to provide us with life in the midst of decay and destruction in our lives on Earth. There’s no greater love than that.

4 thoughts on “Interstellar, Easter, and the Necessity of Sacrifice

  1. The movie is quite transcendent within its time period to address today’s problems head on. Dr. Mann (the supposed epitome the best of humanity) is shown to be the fallible fool of vanity… Cooper, on the other hand, understood the sacrifices that love calls on us to make for the larger good. A classic movie of how good v. evil calls for sacrifice to ensure ‘real love’ wins the over…

    Liked by 1 person

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