Those familiar with the esoteric symbols found in the world's sacred mythology will find that Interstellar is chock-full of them -- to a degree which goes well beyond the many other Hollywood productions which also contain esoteric references.
While there are already plenty of reviews of the film which focus on its visually-stunning cinematography, its incorporation of cutting-edge theoretical physics, and its apocalyptic vision of the end of life on earth, I thought I would write a short examination of some of the film's esoteric aspects, while advancing the theory that the entire story is intentionally mythological and hence metaphorical, and that spending too much time worrying about whether it is "realistic" or not might be a sidetrack to the film's actual message.
Warning: obviously, if you have not yet seen Interstellar and wish to do so, you will want to stop reading right here and come back later after you've watched the movie. This post simply cannot discuss some of the esoteric symbols in the film without giving away aspects of the plot that would be better to discover in the theater while engrossed in the spectacle of the film itself. Please don't read past this "Spoiler Alert" unless you've already seen the movie!
Also, what follows is based on just one viewing of the movie, and I don't have the film itself at my fingertips, so I may use a few imprecise terms or even "misremember" a few details, but since I'm keeping it fairly general and relatively brief (not delving into every possible connection, but just the most important), I hope there won't be any egregious inaccuracies. Also, it should be pointed out that just because I believe this film can be viewed as conveying a powerful and positive message in line with the message conveyed in ancient scriptures that employ many of the same symbols does not mean that I automatically endorse every message embedded in the film, or the motives of those who created the film (whatever those might be).
Last chance: this is the final spoiler alert! After this point, you run the risk of ruining your first viewing of the movie, if you read on from here without going to see it first!
Here goes: I believe a credible case could be made that Interstellar is not, in fact, primarily about the impending doom of the planet earth, or the latest theories about the time-bending properties of black holes -- even though it certainly unforgettably impresses both of those subjects upon the viewer through a two-pronged delivery of breathtaking visual effects and emotionally-charged plot lines. However, it is very possible that the film's real subject matter has to do with the personal odyssey traveled by every single individual man or woman in this incarnate existence, which at all times can be portrayed as a struggle between the Sun and Saturn -- specifically, the Christ-aspects of the Sun and the Kronos-aspects of Saturn, or the Horus-aspects of the Sun and the Osiris-aspects of Saturn.
The planet Saturn is clearly a dominant player in the movie Interstellar: it is next to this planet that the "wormhole" appears, and thus Saturn is the enormous, brooding, visually-gorgeous "gatekeeper" to the path to redemption or salvation for humanity. If the Lazarus mission is going to succeed, it will have to "pass through" Saturn first, so to speak. The main character, Matthew McConaughey's Cooper, says at one point that he doesn't like the name "Lazarus" so much -- and when Michael Caine's Professor Brand asks Cooper why not, since Lazarus came back from the dead, Cooper quips that "he had to die first."
In the extremely important book Hamlet's Mill (1969), we learn that Saturn is in fact one of the most important figures of mythology the world over -- an extremely complex character associated not only with the god Saturn of the Latins but also with Kronos of ancient Greece, and with Osiris of ancient Egypt, as well as with a host of other Saturnian figures including Enki/Ea of ancient Mesopotamia, Jamshyd of ancient Persia (whose name is also Yima Xsaeta, from which the authors of Hamlet's Mill believe the name Saturn may have also derived), the Yellow Emperor of China, and many more -- even King Arthur of the Arthurian legends. He is a god of grain and of agriculture, and he is a god of time -- associations which the viewer of Interstellar cannot fail to find most significant. Previous posts which discuss Saturn in conjunction with the theory of Hamlet's Mill include this one and this one.
Saturn is a god who has to die, to descend into the underworld, to be swathed in grave-clothes or wrapped up as a mummy when he appears as Osiris in ancient Egypt, to be laid out horizontally in a coffin or sarcophagus (as Osiris is often portrayed), and to sleep under the waters in the cave of Ogygia in some legends -- or under the Lake of Avalon in the case of King Arthur, sleeping in an enchanted cave beneath the surface, where he lies under the spell of Morgan le Fey.
According to the analysis of Alvin Boyd Kuhn, most notably in his 1940 text Lost Light, the ancients portrayed our descent into incarnation as bondage in the underworld kingdom of Osiris, where spirit beings are imprisoned in a body, coiled within the serpent coils of matter, swathed in mummy-bands, thrown down into the realm that is governed by Saturn, the lord of time, the giver of measures.
When we incarnate, we come into the kingdom of time: the kingdom of Kronos, who devours all his children -- since time slowly ages our bodies and eventually turns them into dust. The famous painting of Saturn devouring his children (below), by Francisco de Goya, graphically depicts this well-known aspect of Saturn-Kronos. As the authors of Hamlet's Mill make clear, Saturn is a complex figure: a benevolent god of agriculture and giver of grain, a civilizing god who came and dwelt among humanity and taught them the civilizing arts, ruling over a lost Golden Age -- but also a terrible god, a tyrant who devours his children, the bearer of the scythe who cuts them down like grass, the grim reaper.
image: Wikimedia commons (link).
Saturn in many ways is the opposite of the Sun itself: Saturn is the farthest visible planet, the dark sun, the underworld sun, the sun as Osiris in the underworld as opposed to Horus who is the sun leaping upwards into the heavens "between the two horizons" like a soaring falcon. When we incarnate, according to the ancient myths, we fall into this underworld of Osiris, even though we actually belong to the world above -- even though we in fact possess a hidden divine spark, showing that we have more in common with the Sun-god, symbolized by Horus . . . or the Christ within (this recent video I made shows one aspect of the correspondence between the sun-god Horus of Egypt and Christ of the New Testament, and there are many other places where you can learn more about the clear symbolic parallels between the two).
And so, in the symbolic language of ancient myth, our incarnate existence is a struggle between the undeniable fact of our imprisonment in the underworld kingdom of Saturn, the tyrannical lord of time who devours his children and turns them to dust by his inexorable turnings, and the equally undeniable fact of our internal Christ-like nature, this "Horus principle" or "Christ consciousness" within, which urges us to transcend this underworld existence, and tells us that this earthly prison is not ultimately our true home. However, in order to rise up like Horus, we must first descend into the realm of Osiris: in order to become a Christ, we must descend into the kingdom of Saturn.
That the movie Interstellar is dealing with these very themes could not be more clear, as indicated by the symbols it employs. First, of course, is the situation on earth itself, which is portrayed as a nightmarish Saturnian kingdom in which the Saturnian symbols of corn and dust dominate everything. Cooper observes that "we used to look up in the sky, and wonder at our place in the stars: now we just look down, and worry about our place in the dirt." We are shown a world in which the "sands of time," another Saturnian symbol carried along with a scythe by "Father Time," are visibly running out.
Second, perhaps, might be the movie's frequent references to Lazarus, the New Testament figure who is called out of the cave where he has been sleeping, bound in grave-clothes or wrapped like a mummy: a clearly Saturnian figure (Saturnian figures such as Osiris or King Arthur sleep a death-like sleep in mysterious caves beneath the earth's surface or beneath the waters of the sea). The name "Lazarus" itself can be clearly shown to be directly related to the name of Osiris. The name Osiris is really the Greek form of the Egyptian name of the god, which was Azar (it is easy to see how Azar became Osir -is in Greek, where the endings -os or -is are commonly affixed to many names).
In the Lazarus mission depicted in Interstellar, Cooper (along with his three companions) must imitate Osiris and Lazarus and King Arthur, by being entombed horizontally in a sarcophagus filled with fluid, in which they -- like all the other Saturnian figures around the world -- will literally "sleep beneath the surface." And, some of the film's most visually-majestic scenes involve the mission's tiny spacecraft against the enormous curve of the gigantic ringed planet. Just to be sure that we do not miss the esoteric Saturnian imagery, the distant sun itself is depicted in these scenes as having six clear rays of light -- evoking some of the esoteric associations of Saturn with the number six, the number of the "hex" that brings us into Saturn's domain (Saturn is associated with seven, to be sure, which is the number of the sun, moon and visible planets, but also with the number six and with hexagons and six-pointed stars and the six-sided "cube of matter" which unfolds into the shape of the cross upon which we are "crucified" in this material realm). It is as if, in these scenes showing the sun radiating six points of light, Saturn is depicted as being in control of the entire solar system and everything in it: he has even usurped the role of the sun itself and brought it under his dominion.
Finally, the most powerful aspect of Saturnian imagery in the movie is, of course, the role of time itself. In myths around the globe, Saturnian figures are associated with "giving the measures," both the measures of distance and of time (time and space, of course, being connected -- and units of measure for one being equally a measure of the other, such as the concept of a "minute," which is both a measure of time and of distance, since it is a measure of distance that the earth itself turns in one minute of time and hence can be used to measure distance just as well as it measures time). If anything can be said to be the real "antagonist" in the movie, it is time itself. Cooper is literally racing against time, poignantly expressed in his relationship with his daughter Murph, who is only ten years old when he leaves on his mission. When we learn that decades have passed for those on earth while Cooper has experienced the passage of only a couple of hours on a planet suspended near the event horizon of a black hole, we experience the visceral anguish of knowing that those brief but terrifying scenes on the planet's surface have actually been agonizing years for Cooper's children. The tyranny of Kronos, god of time, may never have been portrayed so achingly in a film before.
But of course, the Saturn imagery is not the only mythologically-rich symbology employed by the makers of Interstellar: the countervailing imagery is the imagery of the triumphant sun, the imagery of Horus, and most especially the imagery of Christ in the New Testament. Here, the number twelve is employed to evoke the twelve houses of the zodiac and the solar year, in which the sun passes through each of the twelve signs. The ship which Matthew McConaughey's Cooper will pilot through the wormhole to escape the bonds of the kingdom of Saturn will have a uniquely zodiacal design: twelve pods or "houses" arranged in a ring, which is actually set to spinning around a central module, containing the Cooper and Brand (and their two companions, neither of whom survive).
You can clearly see the twelve "houses of the zodiac" spinning around the central hub in the spacecraft piloted by Cooper in the trailer linked above, at the 1:27 mark:
If you count in a clockwise direction beginning with the pod that has a double-cylindrical connecting tube or bridge leading to the central vessel, you can easily confirm for yourself that this central vessel is indeed surrounded by twelve spinning sections -- and that it thus resembles very strongly our sun and its twelve houses of the zodiac. It also resembles Christ among his twelve disciples -- and we can argue that from a metaphorical or literary perspective, the decision to place Matthew McConaughey's Cooper and Anne Hathaway's Brand in a central vessel surrounded by twelve spinning pods indicates that they are playing the role of the sun, and that they thus become Christ-figures.
The figure of Christ in the New Testament can be convincingly shown to be a sun figure, who can also be seen as a Horus-figure: the one who transcends the kingdom of death, the one who breaks free from the underworld kingdom of Osiris, which is also the kingdom of Saturn. This is the struggle of every incarnate man or woman who comes down into the kingdom of Saturn, the kingdom of time, the kingdom of dust: to transcend the underworld realm of Osiris by becoming instead a Horus, or a Christ. No one who has seen the film Interstellar can deny that in many clear ways, McConaughey's Cooper is a Christ-figure in the film (and will, at the end, be united with Anne Hathaway's Brand, beyond the bounds of the realm of Saturn).
The centrality of this battle between Saturn and the Sun, or between the Egyptian god of darkness Set (or "Sut") and the sun-god Horus, and its importance to the spiritual situation of every incarnate man and woman, is described by Alvin Boyd Kuhn in Lost Light:
Sut, as a later representative of evil, became the opponent of the god both in the physical and the moral order. He waged war with the sun-god and was defeated, but never slain. Horus attacked him and fought with him for three days, and though wounded, he escaped with his life. He suffered rout periodically and perpetually, but was not destroyed, or only figuratively so. He lived to fight again. The sun-god cast a spell on him every day and rendered him powerless for evil. He was chained down for the aeon. All this was the natural expression of the moral conflict in man's soul, as it is of all other conflict, for life subsists in manifestation only by virtue of the pull, tension or struggle between the two nodal forces. Now one, now the other, is conqueror. 365.
This, then, argues that human life can be described as a struggle between these two forces. One is the force that "brings us down" to this world of matter, pressing us into the bondage of time, into the world of dust, turning us from dwellers among the stars to "tillers of the soil" (as Adam was forced to become, when he was thrown out of the Garden): this is the force that is proper to Saturn. The other is the transcendent Christ-nature within, the force personified by Horus in ancient Egypt, and by Jesus in the New Testament. It seems that in order to ascend to the heavens as Horus, we must first be brought down into the kingdom of Osiris, of Saturn.
In the film, Cooper and Brand and their companions awaken from their death-like sleep when their ship arrives under the enormous sphere of Saturn, and then they plunge through the gateway that will take them beyond the bounds of Saturn's kingdom, beyond the solar system and the orbit of the planet who "gives the measures" to everything within his coils and who wields the terrible sickle of time. The fact that there are twelve possible planets, each housing a courageous scientist, on the other side (outside of Saturn's kingdom) again recalls the twelve signs of the zodiac, and indeed the twelve disciples. The fact that one of the twelve betrays Cooper, the scientist Dr. Mann played by Matt Damon, only solidifies the fact that Cooper in the film is indeed a Christ-like figure.
Mann, whose name is obviously no accident, exhibits only one over-riding motive behind everything he does: his own personal survival. If we had to select one emotion as dominant in his behavior, that emotion would be fear: fear of his own demise. In recognition of this fact, Cooper calls Mann a coward, and Mann can only agree with him, over and over again.
The opposite emotion that the film offers as an alternative to a life motivated by fear is, of course, love. In fact, just before Cooper makes the fateful decision to go to Mann's barren planet of frozen gases, Brand urges the team to go instead to the planet of the scientist Edmunds, with whom she is in love, and she argues that love is at least as good a guide for their mission as any other possibility, and perhaps it is the best guide for action, in that love transcends all space and time and can even transcend death. It is only when Cooper rejects this argument as a basis for guiding their course that he makes the decision that sends them to the world governed by the fear of death and the supremacy of the urge to "survive." It becomes very clear that this is not the path that will enable humanity to transcend the material bondage of Saturn's realm: decisions that are motivated by fear instead of love, or by the bare desire to simply survive, lead only to a frozen wasteland, and to the diminished existence of Dr. Mann.
Mann's cowardice and treachery lead him to blow apart the "zodiac" ship with its twelve pods, and to his own death in the process -- exactly as the treachery of Judas in the New Testament leads to his expulsion from the "zodiac circle" of the twelve disciples and ultimately to his own death as well. The symbology of Judas' expulsion from the heavenly circle (visually echoed in the movie Interstellar and the fate of the Judas-like Dr. Mann) is eloquently analyzed by mathemagician Marty Leeds towards the end of an excellent teaching video called "The 12 disciples of the zodiac," which is discussed along with some other aspects of Marty's work in this previous post.
How many times in our lives can we recall decisions where we took the supposedly "safer" route, the practical route, the route that was motivated by the exigencies of bare survival, instead of "following our heart" or taking the path motivated by love, and ended up on a similarly sterile world of frozen ammonia like the one that Dr. Mann was stranded upon? The message of the film could not be more clear: Cooper, like Christ, is motivated by love -- as is Brand -- and this is the only path that can transcend the coils of the kingdom of Saturn, the kingdom of daily survival, the kingdom of "worrying about the dirt" and the source of our next meal, instead of "wondering at the stars."
And yet, the myths do not portray Saturn as an entirely negative figure, nor is his kingdom of matter an entirely negative realm. As we have seen at several points in the discussion above, it may be that it is only by consenting to be bound within Saturn's kingdom of the incarnate that one can ultimately transcend that kingdom: the path to the eastern horizon where Horus rises triumphantly into the heavenly realms tunnels through the underworld of Osiris first. Cooper and his companions must go through the "gate of Saturn" first, and they must be entombed like Osiris before they can rise like Christ. The experience of being cast down into this realm of matter, and incarnated in an "animal" body, can tempt us to be motivated by the bare survival instinct, but that is a dead-end. The real lesson of incarnating appears to be connected to love, according to the film.
It is interesting that some writers on this subject, including Alvin Boyd Kuhn, indicate that in some way we each choose to incarnate: and in the movie Interstellar, it turns out that McConaughey's character actually "sends himself" on his mission, by sending the coordinates to himself through the medium of the "ghost" in Murph's room, who uses gravity to push various books out of her bookshelf, or to arrange other messages from the "other side."
Cooper's daughter Murph, still back within the circle traced out by the distant orbit of Saturn and hence inside his kingdom, continues to age while Cooper is away. At one point, she sends him a heart-breaking message in which she tells him it is her birthday -- the birthday at which she is turning the same age that he was when he went on his mission. Interestingly enough, we know that she was ten years old when Cooper left, and just before this message arrives we learn that Cooper and Brand's visit to the planet with the giant waves took a total of twenty-three years (as Romilly, who stayed back on the ship, tells them upon their return). This would seem to indicate that Cooper went on his voyage to save humanity at the age of thirty-three, if I am remembering that part of the movie correctly. This number, of course, also has esoteric references, and specifically a reference to the traditional age of Christ when he performed the work of redemption.
Much more could be said about this film -- there are many other aspects which this post has not even touched upon at all. However, the above discussion should establish the possibility that Interstellar, this most scientifically modern and cinematically cutting-edge of science-fiction movies, is really portraying a very ancient symbolic conflict, between the power of Saturn who forces us to focus upon getting "our daily bread" and on staying ahead of devouring time, and our real identity and our real power to transcend this illusory physical and temporal prison, represented in myth by the figures of Horus and of Christ and of many others throughout the sacred scriptures and traditions of the world.
And the pathway to doing so, the movie seems to say rather clearly, is love (and not fear, or the instinct to simply survive).
As such, the movie may be portraying an adventure which every single man and woman who incarnates in this world experiences, in between the enormous orbs of our sun and the planet Saturn -- an adventure every bit as incredible as the one Cooper and Brand and the rest undertook, when they climbed aboard a rocket and set their course for the wormhole . . . and beyond.