Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Opinions and Identity, Or Why I Still Love You Even If You Liked Interstellar

I think I'm in the minority on this one, but I'm gonna throw it out there: I wasn't particularly impressed with Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic Interstellar.

Sure, it has its moments of grandeur. In between the lengthy exposition where characters say Things That Are Really Deep and Important, there are some compelling questions about human origins and the nature of love, even if I think the film's answers for those questions aren't particularly enriching or true. I found myself more impressed with the ESA landing the Rosetta probe on a comet this week. Science fact just trumped science fiction. Here's what I wrote on Letterboxd as a brief review of Interstellar:
Some beautiful cosmic images, but not as beautiful as THE TREE OF LIFE. Some intense outer space action, but not as intense as GRAVITY. Some philosophical musings about our place in the universe, but not as thoughtful as CONTACT. Some exploration of the psychological effects of human beings in outer space, but not as interesting as MOON. Some mind-bending wormhole exploration, but not as mind-bending or memorable as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Some funny talking robots, but not as funny as STAR WARS. Some portrayals and expositions on love, but no love here as affecting or true as, dare I say, WALL-E.
Here's the thing: I know plenty of good people who absolutely loved Interstellar. Like, it's their new favorite movie. It impacted them in profound--even spiritual--ways. It's a film that means something to them. And their opinions aren't unworthy or lacking in merit. They had genuine thoughtful and emotional responses to the film. Some of my favorite film critics have great things to say about Interstellar (read here and here). I value their opinions; I just sorta disagree with them on this one.

There's a phenomenon I've noticed when talking about and evaluating movies: people often attach their identities to their opinions. Many students (and adults) have strong emotions with their opinion about films, even an ontological connection. If I don't like their new favorite movie and critically tear it apart, they’ll often feel like I dislike them, not just the film. Similarly, if I love and affirm a movie they love, they feel genuine care and empathy, even though I'm really only sharing my opinions on the movie. 

In my experience, this identity connection with movie opinions goes far deeper than personal sentiments about music, books, or other media—people feel respected and honored when I choose to respect and honor the films they love. Similarly, when I share my personal affection for Star Wars or Terrence Malick films, others begin to see and understand more than just my opinions about movies—they are invited to see a bit of my heart.

The opinion/identity attachment goes far beyond movies. Politics, religion, ethnicity, even sports teams--we can turn a personal opinion into a social marker that defines us from them. It's something that happens in middle school and continues throughout the course of our lives. We begin to define ourselves and associate with People Who Think Like Me, and start to avoid (at best) or condemn (at worst) People Who Don't Think Like Me.

This polarization can be a dangerous approach. While we cannot fully separate our opinions from our identities--they are our opinions, after all, and if we didn't agree with them, we wouldn't have 'em--we may need to hold both our identities and opinions with an open hand and an open ear. Martin Buber writes about individuality and identity in I And Thou
Individuality makes its appearances by being differentiated from other individualities. A person makes his appearance by entering into relation with other persons. The one is the spiritual form of natural detachment, the other the spiritual form of natural solidarity.
We must be willing to allow relationship with a Thou to impact us for the better, having a posture of humility which allows us to listen to differing opinions with a reverence and respect often not found in our world. We also need to have our own individualities and opinions that brush up against other individuals with a posture of grace. If Christians in particular could adopt this posture--if we were known as the best listeners and most respectful of those who disagree with us--I imagine that would be considered good news in a polarizing and opinion-spouting world.

If you liked Interstellar, I love you. If you didn't like Interstellar, I love you. If you haven't seen Interstellar, I love you. I hope you love me, too. Would that we lived in a world where our opinions and identities were united by that mysterious and powerful dimension everyone longs for in Interstellar: love.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with your review of Interstellar. Spot on.