"We must confront the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us...we must reach far
beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals...but as a species
. We must confront the reality of interstellar
"We've always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments — these moments when we dared to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known — we count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all of that. Or perhaps, we've just forgotten that we are still pioneers, that we've barely begun, and that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us — that our destiny lies above us."Interstellar
— Cooper, teaser trailer
is a 2014 science-fiction drama film directed by Christopher Nolan
, written by him and his brother Jonathan Nolan
and starring Matthew McConaughey
, Anne Hathaway
, Jessica Chastain
, Michael Caine
, Matt Damon
, Topher Grace and Casey Affleck. While primarily a science-fiction film, it features the Real Life
research performed by guest executive producer and renowned astrophysicist Kip Thorne (who's best friends with Stephen Hawking
and Carl Sagan
It is Twenty Minutes into the Future
, and though most either don't know or refuse to notice it, Just Before the End
. Many gadgets, machines, and substances once taken for granted are no longer cost-efficient or widely available and the world is experiencing a global Dust Bowl
as one vital crop after another falls extinct to unstoppable blights. In this Crapsack World
, widower Joseph Cooper, the last man to fly into space, spends his days raising his gifted
daughter Murphy and increasingly cynical son Tom with the aid of his aging father-in-law Donald, and his nights reminiscing on past glories - both his own and his civilization's.
And one day, his daughter's strange experiences with a "ghost" lead him to a secret government facility where he learns the Awful Truth
: the blights are accelerating, and within a generation, they will not only destroy all food crops, but render the very atmosphere un-breathable. But Professor Brand, his former superior at NASA, has a daring plan: to send a crew of explorers through a wormhole in Saturn's orbit, in search of a world elsewhere in the universe capable of supporting human life.
As the only man alive with actual experience in space, Cooper is uniquely suited to lead this mission. And so he embarks on humanity's first interstellar voyage.
This film provides examples of:
- Ace Pilot: Cooper. At first only an Informed Attribute, he later proves this to be true when docking onto the wildly rotating Endurance without losing consciousness and when pulling off the Spaceship Slingshot Stunt around the black hole.
- Adult Fear: Watching your children grow up without you while they think you're dead.
- After the End: The Earth is being bombarded with dust storms; humanity relies on a dwindling supply of corn after the blight has killed off all other crops; governmental and military organizations have disbanded just to produce enough farmers to sustain the population; and technology is scavenged to make use of solar panels. The only hope left for humanity's survival is to move to a different planet.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
- Briefly played with and lampshaded, but ultimately averted. Cooper is alarmed when TARS states that his Honesty setting is set to 90%, but TARS explains that Brutal Honesty isn't always preferable. Ultimately Cooper trusts the robots and they never betray him or the mission.
- We even get a scene that almost mirrors events of 2001, where CASE gets a message to relay to Cooper containing information that would hinder the mission; he's perfectly capable of editing the message to remove the ending, but instead he shows it to Cooper and company in full.
- Ultimately, they actually save the rest of the crew and the mission when Mann turns out to be the one who just can't let them do that.
- Alien Geometries: Discussed. And finally seen firsthand when Cooper enters the singularity.
- Almost Out of Oxygen:
- Cooper suffered this twice. First Dr. Mann cracked Cooper's visor and took out the emergency packs. Later, Cooper exits out of the black hole and floats in free space nearby Saturn, only to be rescued by one of NASA's scouting Rangers.
- Humanity is suffering this on Earth. The reason why the Blight will eventually kill every human on Earth isn't starvation. Its uncontrollable growth will reduce the level of oxygen to the point where everyone will suffocate to death. It's already starting to happen when Murph is an adult.
- America Saves the Day: The entire mission is under NASA control and we see the US flag mounted on Mann's planet.note
- And the Adventure Continues: In the end, Cooper, at Murph's insistence, sets out on a new voyage through the wormhole, alongside TARS, in order to find Amelia on the new planet.
- Much of Earth has embraced this given the increasing scarcity of resources and economic downturn. Cooper's son is summarily rejected from college because the school authorities reason he's of more use as a farmer, given the decline of time- and labor-saving machinery and chemicals that keep the need for agricultural workers at unprecedentedly low levels in the present-day USA.
Principal: Frankly, the world doesn't need any more engineers. We didn't run out of trains or television sets or satellites. We ran out of food.
- Cooper's daughter Murphy, being obviously too smart for such treatment, has it even worse.
Ms. Kelly: Murph is a great kid. She’s really bright, but she’s been having a little trouble lately. She brought this in to show the other students. The section on the lunar landings. [...] If we don't want a repeat of the excess and wastefulness of the 20th century, then we need to teach our kids about this planet. Not tales of leaving it.
- Anti-Villain: While both Professor Brand and Dr. Mann aren't exactly evil, both are capable of doing pretty horrendous things to reach their own goals. In the Sliding Scale of Anti-Villains, Professor Brand, lying for the sake of perpetuating the species, is a Type III, while Dr. Mann, desperately trying to survive while attempting to complete Brand's plan, is a Type II.
- Anyone Can Die: Thanks to time running differently in the wormhole Professor Brand and Tom (presumably) are dead from old age by the end of the movie, and Murph is on her death bed. Then you have Doyle (hit by a massive tidal wave), Romilly (blown up by Mann's trap), and Mann (sucked into space).
- Apocalypse How: Class 1 turning into a Class 2, as failing crops endanger the survival of the human race.
- Apologetic Attacker: Dr. Mann, while not exactly remorseful about murdering his colleagues, nevertheless tries to lionize his actions and comfort the dying Cooper.
- Arc Words:
- Artificial Gravity: Actually a major plot point, as the key for NASA to successfully implement Plan A, evacuating humanity through giant space colonies, requires understanding the quantum nature of gravity to have the colonies achieve lift. And portrayed relatively well. Plan A and the Endurance both feature spinning to simulate gravity.
- Artistic License – Astronomy: Heavily Debated. Kip Thorne, one of the world's leading experts in astrophysics, put an amazing amount of research into the film, but this film is the first place many viewers will have seen it. And some of it - the Time Travel in particular - is bleeding-edge theoretical, and may be disproved in the future - especially as Thorne was actually able to use Double Negative's (the CGI effects company that worked on the film) resources to make significant theoretical advances. Of particular note is a disagreement between Thorne and Roberto Totta over those advances.
- Artistic License – Chemistry: The conditions on Mann's planet are the exact opposite of what they should be.note The film does imply a plausible reason for this, however. Mann was lying about said conditions and no one caught the mistake.
- Artistic License – Physics:
- While it makes for a very interesting scene, frozen clouds, as they are displayed, are just not very likely, namely due to the implication that they were actual clouds form from water vapors, or similar material. It is scientifically possible for ice mountains to form like that, but it's unlikely that they would take the shape of clouds in the process.
- While it is possible to lose some years due to time dilation near a black hole, it would look very different from what is seen in the movie. Getting onto a planet within such (extremely) deep gravity well would require insane amount of acceleration, by many orders of magnitude more than what is shown. Getting in and out would require twice as much. Relativistic speeds. A ship capable of that would reach Saturn in days instead of years.
- Based on a True Story:
- The sequence when Cooper docks with the out-of-control Endurance, is evocative of a emergency that occurred during Neil Armstrong and David Scott's 1966 Gemini 8 mission, when a failure with the Agena vehicle they used to practice docking and rendezvous caused the spacecraft to spin violently out of control, which Armstrong was able to recover from. The spin was so violent, both crew members could've blacked out, which Brand in the film actually does.
- Mann's fate is evocative of (although not nearly as graphic as) the horrific 1983 Byford Dolphin diving bell incident.
- The genuine recollections of Dust Bowl survivors.
- Benevolent A.I.: TARS and CASE saved the astronauts' asses on several occasions and closest thing they showed to hostility is a little back-talk which they were programmed for. TARS even goes into the middle of a black hole, to get the information that can save humanity.
- The Big Board: Professor Brand's gravity equation is spread across several blackboards at his workplace.
- Big Good: The Bulk Beings constructed the wormhole that made the evacuation possible.
- Bigger Bad: The Blight that is destroying human civilization and forcing the migration across the wormhole.
- Bittersweet Ending: Cooper does get to reunite with Murph one last time, except so much time has passed for her that she's an old woman on her death bed by then. Edmunds was already dead or died shortly after Brand, who was in love with him, arrived on his planet, as she's seen burying him near the encampment. Life on Earth is implied to have succumbed to the dust as predicted (though the nitrogen-breathing bacteria responsible may still endure in some form, assuming they can find something to eat besides plants). Humanity itself, however, survives through thousands of people on massive space stations built by Murph and NASA, with the Cooper station orbiting Saturn on its way to the wormhole and, eventually, to the habitable planet where Amelia is located.
- Bizarre Alien Locomotion: Not so much alien as robot, but TARS moves around with a gorilla-like gait normally. When he needs to move fast, he rotates all four of his sections to roll in the desired direction.
- Bookends: Old Murph (Ellen Burstyn) has the first and last lines of dialogue in the movie.
- Broken Faceplate: What happens to Cooper after Mann's Use Your Head attack.
- Broken Pedestal:
- It turns out that Professor Brand was lying to nearly everyone about "Plan A." He believes that everyone still on Earth is doomed; eventually Earth does succumb to the dust bowl and part of humanity is saved by Murph, though not thanks to him.
- Judging by the way Dr. Mann is described as the best that NASA has to offer, and the fact that he went on a possible suicide mission in the first place, he must have been a respected and idolized astronaut. In spite of it all, he makes a false report that endangers the entire human race just to save his own skin; of the other astronauts' fate nothing is revealed other than Miller's data and Edmund's habitable planet.
- Possibly Tom later on in the film, due to the stress of not seeing his father for years and losing his firstborn child. When Murph tries to convince him to follow her advice based on something having to do with their father, Tom notes that their grandfather was the person who really raised him, not Coop.
- Subverted by Coop, who never fails to be Murph's hero. Though Murph is the catalyst of the re-ignition of humanity's space faring, she does stop looking for her dad; when he does return, she tells him that she filled her life by surrounding herself with family that love her, telling him that he should seize the opportunity that being still young gives him.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- The wristwatch Cooper leaves for Murph as a Memento MacGuffin he later uses to communicate the gravity equations to her. Before that (or after that depending on the moment you focus on in the movie), both the dust from the storm and the books on Murph's room.
- Cooper was Murph's ghost the whole time.
- Chekhov's Hobby: Both Cooper and Murph know the Morse code, which will be important later, when Cooper communicates with Murph via books and wrist watch.
- Cooper and Murph's penchant for scientific pursuit leads to the latter to collaborate with NASA as well.
- Chirping Crickets: Cooper's playlist is full of it.
- Classified Information: The Endurance mission in its entirety, especially the wormhole. However, it was discovered fifty years before the events of the movie, and afterwards ignored until Just Before the End.
- Cold Equation: Cooper does a Heroic Sacrifice by detaching himself from the Endurance to ensure Brand's safe onward travel to Edmunds planet, as the Endurance was completely out of reaction mass and needed to leave behind a bit more weight in order to escape the black hole.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Apparently the entire education system, out of desperation to keep peoples' attention on Earth instead of "Why don't we just leave?" has Federally corrected textbooks to say that the moon landing never happened, and was just a ruse to bankrupt the Soviet Union.
- Continuous Decompression: When Cooper's visor cracks we hear a continuous hissing sound.
- Cool Plane:
- The Ranger is a VTOL Space Plane with a fighter jet aesthetic that chariots our heroes wherever they need to go.
- The bulkier and less sleek looking Lander from one of the earlier missions proves its own worth when Dr Mann steals the Ranger and Brand uses the Lander to rescue Cooper.
- Cool Starship: The Endurance; its modules contain enough technology to keep a crew alive in deep space for decades, it can send and receive messages back through a wormhole, and it is designed in a circular shape so it can spin to create artificial gravity. And it has some sleek looking smaller ships to ferry its crew to planetary surfaces.
- Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: When telling the NASA officials that he doesn't want to leave the secret base in a trunk of a car, Cooper covers Murph's ears so she doesn't realize the trouble they got themselves into.
- Crapsack World: Earth has become this, with governments and economies having collapsed, humanity suffering a planet-wide famine and NASA itself being shut down only to be brought back to conduct the interstellar voyage in hopes of finding new worlds to colonize before humanity dies out. It's so crapsack, that there are no more militaries. Everyone is too busy starving to fight. There are also no more MRI machines, which Cooper says in a discussion with Murphy's teacher that one would have saved his wife by finding the tumor that killed her - and it's said that NASA was forced to bomb American citizens so that there weren't more mouths to feed.
- Cry into Chest: The heartwarming moment when they wake Dr. Mann from his cryonic sleep and he starts sobbing Manly Tears into Cooper's chest.
- Danger Deadpan: Cooper for much of the mission stays remarkably calm and collected, especially when doing vital tasks. On the other hand, the 23 year Time Skip gnaws heavily at him. And by the time he's crossed past the black hole, he almost breaks down entirely.
- Days of Future Past: The Crapsack World mentioned above is in many ways the Dust Bowl and Great Depression of the 1930s on a global scale.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- TARS, the sarcastic robot.
- Cooper, the sarcastic human. Not surprisingly, leads to some good old-fashioned Snark-to-Snark Combat between the two.
- Death of the Hypotenuse: Brand's former significant other Edmunds died after landing on his planet. Potentially freeing her up to have a relationship with Cooper... if relativity hasn't made her a spinster by the time he reaches her.
- Didn't See That Coming: The original twelve astronauts were chosen based on their skills and their lack of any familial connections. Everyone failed to consider that this meant they would have nothing to lose by falsifying the data and claiming their world was habitable when it wasn't.
- Dirty Coward: Dr. Mann. He knowingly forges data about the planet he's hibernating on because it turned out to be uninhabitable and he was too scared to perform a Heroic Sacrifice.
- And the film uses its "one F-word per PG-13 film" to the most beautiful effect after it's revealed:
Coop: You fucking coward.
- Distant Finale: Cooper is freed from the tesseract at a point in time that a human space colony has now been built in the orbit of Saturn; The doctors there tell him he's now 124 years old, so the entire journey for him has taken several decades. He is given a tour of a historical recreation of his farm, reunites with Murphy (on her deathbed - she spent several years in cryonic sleep in order to survive long enough to reunite with her father at the colony), then, on Murph's urging, he then steals a 22nd Century Ranger to take it back through the wormhole to reunite with Brand.
- Do Not Go Gentle: The first stanza of the Trope Namer poem is frequently quoted, particularly by Professor Brand, as justification for doing whatever is necessary to preserve the human race, even perpetuating a lie and dooming everyone stuck on Earth. It is ultimately used on a memorial for the Lazarus and Endurance astronauts.
- Dwindling Party: Doyle, Romilly and Dr. Mann die in succession. Then Cooper and Brand get separated.
- Earth That Used to Be Better: Once upon a time, metals and energy were so abundant that humanity tinkered with A.I. robots and even traveled to Mars. Now humanity is so resource-starved that building or even just maintaining MRIs is no longer feasible, the only profession that is (seen as) important is farming, history is rewritten to curtail curiosity in anything other than farming and the farming itself is failing as the only major crop not extinct is corn. Even the baseball playing is suckier now.
- Embarrassing First Name: Murphy feels this way, due to her brother teasing her about Murphy's Law. Her father corrects her and says it's a Meaningful Name. Namely, that the law is not just about bad things inevitably happening, but about how good things inevitably happen too, even if they are unlikely. "Anything that can happen will happen."
- Emergency Cargo Dump: The crew has to detach the robot TARS from the spaceship in order to escape gravity from the black hole.
- Eureka Moment: When Murph finds out that her father is the "ghost" that communicated with her in her childhood and when she discovers the solution to Brand's equation. Then she shouts out of joy a real eureka, throwing the papers everywhere in the facility.
- Everyone Knows Morse: The "ghost" in Murphy's room communicated in Morse by dropping books. Murphy interpreted it as "stay". Later, it is revealed that the ghost is Cooper himself who knows she can understand Morse.
- Explosions in Space: Happens when Dr. Mann docks the Ranger with the Endurance without securing the airlock first. It's justified since the explosion is fueled by oxygen from inside Endurance. It's also realistically soundless.
- Expo Speak: Lots on board the Endurance, explaining things concerning the mission to Cooper.
- Extremely Dusty Home: Cooper's house, because of the dust storms.
- Failed a Spot Check: In the opening scene, numerous people somehow fail to spot a gigantic dust cloud until it's almost on top of them.
- Fallen Hero: Dr. Mann. Once a hero of humanity, now a deranged backstabber towards Cooper and his crew.
- Fallen States of America: As conditions around the world crumble, the US is shown as hanging by a thread. With dust bowls, dwindling resources and food shortages commonplace, there's just enough semblance of order and authority to keep everything from tumbling down. Still, there's enough for the government to supply NASA with the necessary equipment and manpower. The US eventually recovers such that by the time Cooper returns however, there's an explicitly American colony orbiting Saturn.
- Fiery Redhead: Murph, who is as brilliant as she is mercurial. More literally when she sets Tom's crops on fire to cause a distraction and sneak back to his house.
- Fight To Survive: Humanity is fighting to survive After the End, looking for a home for the species with the crops failing and the atmosphere's oxygen content in a downward spiral.
- Foregone Conclusion: The beginning already informs us that humanity managed to survive.
- Murph says that she calls the mysterious happenings in her bedroom the work of a 'ghost' because it felt like a person. Turns out she's right, it was a person...namely, her father reaching out to her from the future.
- After being woken up by Cooper's nightmare in the beginning, Murphy even mentions " I thought you were the ghost," and it turns out he was the ghost all along.
- While leaving home Cooper says to Murph that "Once you're a parent, you're the ghost of your children's future". And in the end it is revealed that Cooper was Murph's ghost.
- Doctor Brand mentions that nature is never evil—destructive and terrifying, but never evil. Cooper mentions that this means that evil is what they (humans) are bringing with them. Dr. Mann's selfishness/insanity nearly kills the entire species.
- Cooper's father-in-law tells professor Brand that Murphy will make a fool out of even him in the future. Brand was indeed a fool for giving up and lying and Murphy is the one that comes up with the solution to Brand's Gravity problem.
- Cooper complains about the complacent attitude of the farming people, fooling themselves into believing that next year everything is going to change. Turns out his son Tom becomes one of those complacent farmers repeating the mantra verbatim. Tom's complacent nature is made clear from the beginning when they have a flat tire and an Indian drone flies by. Cooper and Murphy are immediately on its tail to capture it to harvest its solar cells while Tom is more preoccupied with the tire.
- TARS repeatedly tells Amelia that when it comes to the time he'll save her; at the end, TARS conspires with Cooper to send Amelia towards Edmunds while they plunge themselves into the Black Hole.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: The wormhole. How is a hole drawn on paper? A circle. What's the three-dimensional form of a circle? A sphere. This is also a hint that They don't really understand humanity that well; Cooper mentions that he would have expected a wormhole to be, well, a hole.
- When Cooper enters the black hole with TARS he deduces that the "Aliens" spread time in physical dimensions in snippets of Murph's timeline, that they did it so that it was understandable to Cooper and made him easier for him to communicate with Murph. The sympathy that he feels from this fact and considering that he deduced it so easily makes him think that the creators of the black hole are futuristic humans who chose Murph (and him to a lesser extent) to be bookmarks and catalysts for humanity's exploration of space.
- Gainax Ending: Many parallels can be drawn between the ending of this film and the infamously obscure ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, although this movie gives its ending a lot more context.
- Genre Throwback: During an interview at CinemaCon, Nolan mentioned that the film was designed to be made in the vein of the Sci-Fi films he grew up with, like Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- Get Out: The dramatic moment when adult Tom evicts his sister from his farm: "Get out, and don't come back!"
- The Ghost: Miller and Edmunds. Neither character appears on-screen, though their actions, and their eventual fates, greatly influence the Endurance team's journey.
- Giant Wall of Watery Doom: The tidal waves on Miller's planet.
- Go Mad from the Isolation:
- Dr. Mann, to the point of lying about his planet's habitability, attempting to kill Cooper, setting a trap which kills Romilly, and docking his Ranger with Endurance while ignoring all warnings Cooper and Brand give him. Also, he gave in to selfish temptation from the isolation, as he knew that he would be never be rescued if his world was not habitable - meaning all the Endurance's colony supplies would have been good for was keeping him alive a few more years.
- Romilly is stiff and awkward after 23 years of isolation on the Endurance. Luckily for him, he spent a good portion of that time in cryosleep, but it wasn't enough.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy: Downplayed. At the end, there seems little effort involved for Cooper to hijack the glider that will take him to Brand. The guards take notice only after Cooper is gone.
- Hero Stole My Bike: Downplayed. At the end of the film, Cooper steals a one-man scoutship to go after Brand.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Much discussed throughout the movie. Played straight with many of the astronauts of the Lazarus Mission, defied by Dr. Mann who refuses to die alone on his planet and endangers the entire mission to try and return home, subverted with both Cooper and TARS as they discover the black hole's singularity has a portal to the extra-dimensional spacetime structure allowing Cooper to make minimal contact with Murph in the past.
- Honor Before Reason: Arguably the reason why Tom wants his family to stay at the farm.
- Idiot Ball:
- The crew agrees to land on Miller's planet, as she has been transmitting positive signals for years. However, as the planet is within Gargantua's gravity distortion, time there runs extremely slow, to the tune of one hour to every seven years outside, so they won't have long to assess viability. It never occurs to them that Miller likewise couldn't have been there very long — a few hours at most — and thus her signal is repeating because she simply hasn't had long enough to transmit anything else. Cooper is furious, and Brand admits she screwed this up after the fact.
- Doyle's death as well. If he'd just got back into the ship while TARS saved Brand then he'd have survived. If he'd gone back to save Brand himself then he'd probably still have died, but at least he'd have died trying to do something. Instead he stands around indecisively, and the delay gets him killed pointlessly.
- When Cooper and Brand are trying to tell Mann not to open the airlock as it has not been locked correctly and would have a violent decompression, they fail to actually mention said explosive consequences to opening the airlock and just repeatedly tell Mann not to do it. Considering Mann was solely acting for his own survival, there's a good chance he'd have listened.
- I Hate Past Me: With time traveling involved, this is bound to happen. When Cooper enters the Time/Space anomaly at the heart of Gargantua, he's screaming at himself, calling him an 'idiot', when he sees him leaving Murphy before his mission.
- I Lied: Professor Brand's Wham Line to Murphy right before he dies in hospital.
- I Like Those Odds: When Mann tries to break Cooper's helmet faceplate with a headbutt using his own faceplate, Cooper tells him he has a 50-50 chance of killing himself. Mann simply tells him those are the best odds he's had in years.
- Infant Immortality: Averted with Tom's first child Jesse who died from lung disease.
- Informed Attribute: We're told that Dr. Mann is the best that NASA has to offer, yet he doesn't seem to understand that an imperfect docking seal will have fatal consequences (although perhaps because he was not trained in docking, and the ship he hijacks is a decade more progressed). By contrast, both Cooper and Brand understand this instantly. Mann has apparently become so insane that he's forgotten basic protocols.
- In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: The crew's visors are transparent with no protective coating.
- I Shall Return: Cooper promises this to his daughter and keeps his word when returning as the ghost and later to her deathbed.
- It's All About Me: Dr. Mann turns out to be suffering from this; at least part of his breakdown is prompted by the fact that the planet he landed on turned out to be unsuitable for habitation, and he seems to be convinced that he's both the only one who can find the right planet and is entitled to be the only one who can find the right planet.
- Jump Jet Pack: Small rockets are part of the protagonists space suits as gauntlets (presumably a successor to real life astronaut propulsion units). Though no Rocket Punches happened when close quarters combat ensued.
- Jump Scare:
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Dr. Mann is self-righteously ranting about saving the human race when he's killed in an explosion due to his bungled connection to the Endurance.
- Killed Offscreen: Miller who probably died due to Cryonics Failure when her ship was hit by the Giant Wall of Watery Doom. Also Edmunds, Brand's former significant other, who seems to have perished in a rock slide many years prior.
- Last Name Basis: Cooper, Edmunds, Mann and Miller are only ever referred to by their last names, which is Truth in Television (usually) for space flights.
- Logo Joke: The opening logos are tinted in a dusty sepia tone, reflecting the arid and brown state of Earth in the film.
- Left the Background Music On: When Cooper plays the video message Tom left for him, there is the theme music playing softly in the background. When we see Tom switching his camera off, the music stops immediately, indicating that it was part of the message.
- Living Is More Than Surviving: According to Matthew McConaughey, this is part of the setting, with humanity being alive but having grown so cynical and focused on merely surviving the Crapsack World that nobody other than the film's protagonists is truly trying to find ways to make things better.
- Lost in the Maize: Played with. Twice in the movie does a truck mow through a cornfield in dramatic fashion.
- Madness Mantra: Dr. Brand and Mann seems to use Dylan Thomas' poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night as one.
- Magical Library: Just replace "magic" with "Time Travel". Crossing Gargantua's event horizon (with help from the wormhole's makers) left Cooper in a four-dimensional representation of every moment his daughter's room/library ever had, all honeycombed.
- Manly Tears:
- Meaningful Echo: When Cooper detaches himself from the Endurance to ensure Brand's safe onward travel to Edmunds planet, he does so with a remark to 90% honesty. Apparently he lied about the fact that resources weren't enough for both of them to survive.
- Meaningful Name: In spades, per the typically unsubtle Nolan tradition.
- The Endurance, which besides its obvious implications championing the human psyche's resilience, is also the name of Ernest Shackleton expedition's ship. Bonus points for Mann's planet being an Antarctica-like Single-Biome Planet, with the Endurance orbiting it while the crew go off to search for Mann.
- Amelia Brand, the only female astronaut on the Endurance, is a callback to Amelia Earhart: the first female aviator to fly across the Pacific solo. At the end of the movie, Brand also successfully lands on an inhabitable planet - and her whereabouts to the general public are unknown.
- Murph Cooper, whose name's meaning is blatantly discussed when Cooper explains that Murphy's Law actually means that anything could happen. Against all odds, Cooper ends up in a pocket dimension when he passes through Gargantua. He manages to transmit critical gravitational data TARS gleaned from the black hole to Murph through her room, so she can solve Brand's equation and save humanity.
- Dr. Mann, who eschews principle for base survival instincts when he realizes that his planet is unsustainable.
- The Lazarus Project, in a round-about way. Meaning to be about humanity's capacity to come back from the brink (existential "death"), it also fits in that Dr. Mann, the sole surviving member of the space-bound part of the project, is awoken from his cryo-pod, which was set to keep him asleep until it terminally malfunctioned or someone came-literally "awakening the dead". This one also gets a Lampshade Hanging - Cooper, concerned, notes that "Lazarus had to die first", as well as quipping to Mann that he "rose like Lazarus from the grave" when they opened his hibernation chamber (as Mann was not expecting to be woken up ever again).
- Mind Screw: Four-dimensional wormholes and fifth-dimensional time and space manipulation are only the crux of the topics here. This movie is not just rocket science; it goes beyond rocket science!
- Missing Mom: Cooper mentions to the school Principal that his wife died from a cyst in her brain.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: According to the supporting material, a hard 5; the wormhole is heavily based off of Kip Thorne's mathematical models, which also give a clue to a major plot twist: Time Travel.
- Moon Landing Hoax: The "Federally corrected" textbooks denounce the Apollo missions.
- Mr. Exposition: In the final chapter, when Cooper awakes in hospital, the doctor is giving Cooper Infodumps about where he is and what happened to him.
- My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Discussed by Dr. Mann.
"What does research tell us, is the last thing you're gonna see, before you die? Your children. Their faces. At the moment of death, your mind is going to push you a little bit harder, to survive. For them.
- The Needs of the Many: Discussed and deconstructed. The film looks at whether or not humanity on Earth should establish space colonies and abandon Earth (Plan A), or abandon humanity on Earth and reestablish the human race in another habitable planet so that more humans can live on in a different planet (Plan B, or the utilitarian "many" plan). Turns out that Brand and Dr. Mann sided with the utilitarian "Plan B," but even so, their utilitarian point of view are proven wrong at the end of the film thanks to Cooper's love to his daughter and manipulation of time and space to save not only his daughter, but the entire human race on Earth.
- Never Givethe Captain A Straight Answer: Cooper's father-in-law gives Cooper a calls on CB, refuses to explain the situation on his end but instead requests him to come down to the farm and see for himself. Cooper does and sees the harvesting machines acting up, which could have been explained on the CB already.
- New Meat: Cooper's crew has only practiced on simulators; this may explain why Doyle froze at the Ranger's hatch when he saw the giant wave approaching and Romilly had trouble adapting to conditions on the Endurance.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: After the disastrous attempt at establishing a colony on Miller's planet, Cooper arbitrarily rejects Amelia's recommendation that they travel to Edmunds' planet next, simply because Amelia's in love with Edmunds, and Cooper thinks that she might be biased. It turns out that Edmunds' planet is the only one of the three that can actually sustain life, and Mann has gone insane. Cooper's decision ultimately gets Romilly killed, and almost dooms the colonization project.
- No New Fashions in the Future: When most people are simply trying to survive, fashions are more or less on par with the present day, if not having regressed. And apparently, this extends well into the 22nd Century, complete with spacesuits resembling modern fighter pilot attire. In fact, Cooper wakes up initially thinking he's back on Earth merely 23 years later simply by the aesthetic.
- Oh, Crap: After landing on Miller's planet, Brand notices what appear to be mountains in the distance, until Cooper realizes that the "mountains" are actually waves. However, they also notice that the waves are receding, so nobody panics... until they look behind them and see the ones approaching.
- Ominous Pipe Organ: Much of the soundtrack uses this as the central instrument. It's particularly effective in one dramatic chase sequence later in the film.
- Once More with Clarity: The early parts of the film are spliced in with interviews with elderly people, supposedly on how life was during the Great Depression and 1930s Dust Bowl. The ending scenes reveal that those interviews were part of a museum exhibit on Cooper Station about the early parts of the film. As well as explaining Murph's ghost and the various gravity anomalies seen in the first act.
- One-Word Title
- Orwellian Editor: In the future of Interstellar, textbooks take on an anti-American, anti-intellectual bent by claiming that the space program of the 20th century was faked as propaganda to bankrupt the Soviets.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Discussed by Murphy on her death bed. She sends Cooper away, so he wouldn't have to see her die.
- Parental Substitute: Professor Brand to Murph, as he wishes to cultivate her genius; she grows up to work as an astrophysicist in NASA under his tutelage. Her image of him is completely dashed when he confesses on his deathbed that he had always intended to restart the human race at the expense of Earth's current inhabitants.
- Also, Donald, who is charged of taking care of Murph and Tom while Coop is away. Tom particularly seems to regard him as his primary father figure after years of not hearing from Coop.
- Politically Correct History: The history textbooks have been rewritten to denounce the Apollo missions as federal propaganda to support the government's anti-intellectual bent.
- The Power of Love:
- Cooper's love for his daughter enables him to literally transcend time and space to give her younger self the information required to save humanity.
- Brand believes in her love for Edmunds. She made an unscientific speech about that topic and is bashed for that. She was right.
- Practical Effects: Nolan is known for choosing practical effects and on-location filming over CGI animation.
- The giant dust clouds were created on location using large fans to blow cellulose-based synthetic dust through the air.
- The film's spacecrafts, as well as the robot companions, are almost entirely physical models/miniatures, and pretty much every scene (except for exterior space shots, of course) was shot in a real location.
- Precision F-Strike: Cooper bitterly growls out "You fucking coward!" when he realizes that Mann faked his reports just to be rescued.
- Punk in the Trunk: Discussed by Cooper as a possible outcome of his and Murphy's accidental visit to the secret NASA base camp.
- Reality Ensues: On Miller's planet, there is no life and nothing to sustain it, because not enough time has passed there to allow evolution to do its thing.
- NASA chose Lazarus mission crew members with no strong attachments to leave behind. One of them turns out to have no higher priority than his own survival and is willing to jeopardize the entire human race for a better shot at living.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Some find the concept of the world being depopulated by blight to be improbable. The potato blight which caused the Great Irish Famine was present in eastern Britain and Belgium as well, but was nowhere near as dangerous there because the mainland cultivated multiple crops whereas one-third of Ireland had been encouraged to rely on potatoes through mainland-government policies. In comparison, two-thirds of the entire world at present is dependent on wheat, rice, and corn. There are in fact certain laws which allow crops to be more similar than ever before, which means that they can more easily catch each other's various diseases and parasites - a cause for concern, to say the least, given the world's inability to maintain sustenance-level food-production without The Big Three. Indeed, there is an apocalyptic wheat blight ravaging the Third World right now.
- And even the "super-blight" capable of "hopping across entire species of crops" is not unprecedented; Cyanobacteria, the primary source of Earth's oxygen atmosphere, only evolved relatively recently - prior to that, all life on Earth breathed nitrogen. The cyanobacteria wiped almost everything out, making way for the life-forms that now occupy the Earth. And there is no reason it could not happen again.
- The water world appears to have a very shallow bottom and there seems to be no geographic accidents all around the planet; though this is unlikely from the get-go, the enormous tidal waves do not make the water recede from the bottom, painting the planet as impossibly spherical. This could be passed off considering that it's a relatively new planet.
- Recycled Trailer Music: The second trailer uses "Evey Reborn" from V for Vendetta to amazing effect.
- Replacement Goldfish: Played with, as an elderly Murphy tells her dad that even though she's happy to see him finally and never gave up hope, she is reserving her final moments for the big family she spent her lifetime with; this gives him perspective to live his life (as he is still a man in his prime) and gives him the drive to look for Amelia.
- Ridiculously Human Robots: CASE, but especially TARS, in personality, though averted in appearance. They even say hello to each other.
- Roaring Rapids: The first world is a Logical Extreme version of this: the entire world is really a water world with a shallow bottom but has massive tidal waves every hour due to gravitational forces.
- Robot Buddy: TARS and CASE. Interestingly, they are not designed in the typical "humanoid" design, but rather in a quadrilateral fashion (which makes them look like mini-Monoliths when standing still). A prequel comic expressly states that one purpose for the robots is to provide a 'person' for the otherwise alone astronauts to interact with.
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: The trailer presents a rather Romanticist view of space travel - "our destiny lies above us." This is also the contrast between Plan A and Plan B.
- Rousseau Was Right: Though a lot of tragic things occur in the film, it's ultimately a story about idealism, sacrifice and perseverance in the face of seemingly impossible odds. The threats to Earth and the dangers of space exploration bring out some of the bad sides in people, but also often show humans at their best, noblest and bravest when the chips are truly down. To the film's credit, even the extremely common A.I. Is a Crapshoot trope gets averted, with both of the robot characters of the film being very noble, self-sacrificing and even good friends with their human masters, despite being realistically playful and snarky.
- Rule of Symbolism: The wormhole that gives humanity hope of survival in the face of a global blight is near Saturn. Saturn was the Roman god of agriculture. And then there's Doctor Mann.
- Sacrificial Lamb: Doyle and Romilly.
- Scenery Porn: Egads. From dusty dystopia of Earth to the vastness of space, it would be very hard to say it doesn't look pretty.
- Semper Fi: Discussed. When we're first introduced to TARS (via dragging Cooper and Murph into custody), he's programmed to act like a very moto and aggressive US Marine, even though, to Cooper's annoyance, the Marines were disbanded a while back.
- Sensor Suspense: Downplayed. On Miller's planet, they manage to find the position of Miller's spacecraft but cannot spot the vehicle. Then TARS reaches into the shallow water and pulls up debris parts.
- To Star Wars - Protagonist in two-seater Space Plane with robot buddy in the back.
- The explanation of a wormhole might have made Dr. Weir proud.
- From the robots shaped like monoliths to the score, the film is a love letter to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even some of the dialog from Dr. Mann is oddly similar to that of HAL's.
- Among the books in Murph's collection is Stephen King's The Stand - kind of relevant, given the post-apocalyptia of Earth.
- In the movie Contact, McConaughey’s character gives Jodie Foster’s character a compass before she goes on her space voyage, and tells her it might just save her life (which it eventually does). The same actor in a similar movie performs the same gift-giving act with a similar gift that turns out to have similar plot results.
- Both of the Robot Buddies on the Endurance are named after characters from famous science-fiction novels. TARS is named after Tars Tarkas from John Carter of Mars, and CASE is named after Henry Case from Neuromancer.
- The scene of Cooper's launch (partly replaced by a him driving his pick-up with launching sound effects) is a homage to Solaris1972 (where the launching of the cosmonaut is totally replaced and symbolized by long shots from a car on a Japanese highway). Also the oceanic planet, of course.
- Sigil Spam: Like its real life counterpart, the (redesigned) NASA logo is everywhere.
- Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Matt Damon. Although we do see his character, Dr. Mann (he is the astronaut on the take where there is an explosion on the planet's surface), we don't see his face.
- Shown Their Work: A lot of the movie draws from Kip Thorne's theories of wormholes and portrays them accurately. Kip Thorne is an executive producer on the film. Moreover, the portrayal of other physics is also accurate, at least in comparison to most sci-fi movies/tv shows. Gravity doesn't suck, space isn't air and isn't noisy, and the engines are fired only when they need to be. Even the insane time dilation on the ocean planet is plausible - Thorne worked out that the time dilation could exist if the planet were deep inside the black hole's gravity well and if the black hole were spinning extremely fast. Really the only thing one could get worked up over is how much fuel the spacecraft are using and the existence of the "ice clouds"note
- The film's black hole is often cited as the most realistic depiction of a black hole ever, as it was based on the actual equations which model black holes. It should be noted that lower-quality renderings have been made before for scientific papers and the like, but Interstellar is likely the first time such an equation-based rendering has been made at a photorealistic level of fidelity.
- To acquire inspiration for real-world space travel, Christopher Nolan invited former astronaut Marsha Ivins to the set.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The story is based on the plight of a few idealists trapped on a cynical, dying world. However, the optimists win out in the end - only by risking their live for their ideals do they succeed in saving humanity.
- Slippy-Slidey Ice World: The second world is a frozen-over planet where even the clouds have turned to ice. Even the days and nights are nothing but 134 hours of ice, ice, and more ice.
- Space Is Noisy: Much like Gravity and Dead Space as a whole, averted to all crazy extents. Sound effects are muted, most cases of the usually strong and vibrant music, excluding a few key scenes, are muted in these situations as well, and tense outer space situations are played in near-silence with very minimal dialogue.
- Space Madness: Mann has a pretty bad case of it, though it's more the isolation that has taken its toll on him.
- Space Plane: The Ranger can VTOL straight to space cruising around the stratosphere without refueling. Curiously, it's still launched from Earth on a staged rocket, which seems unnecessary if it can achieve SSTO on a planet with 130% the gravity of Earth.
- Probably, it is done to save on fuel - they do have a limited load, and any help they can have should be welcome.
- Spaceship Slingshot Stunt: The Endurance slingshots the black hole in order to get up to the speed needed for the onward flight to Edmunds planet.
- Speaks In Binary: The coordinate to NASA's secret base was communicated by the "ghost" to Cooper via binary codes.
- Spiritual Successor/Antithesis: The film acts as both towards Inception. Time passing by at bizarre speeds, a father being separated from his children in a far away location, an Tragic Villain who almost screws up the team's goals, Nolan being in the Sci-Fi genre again, etc. Of course, the main difference is that the scale is much more grander than Inception's smaller focus. Even lampshaded by Nolan himself in a couple of interviews.
- Stable Time Loop: Not only does "Ghost" Cooper direct past Cooper to the secret NASA base, but the n-dimensional space from which he sends the message was/is/will be created by Humanity's distant descendants, who only survive the Second Dust Bowl due to the quantum math Cooper sends to Murphy. He also returns to the initial trip through the wormhole to touch Brand's hand via gravitational anomaly.
- Starfish Robot: TARS and CASE have a very unique non-humanoid design. They're essentially large slabs divided into 4 vertical sections that lets them swing about with great force and simulate limbs.
- A Storm Is Coming: We see the family seek cover from one of the huge dust storms that are harassing the farmers.
- Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: The 5D Bulk Beings, whatever they are, are not bound by linear time, as well having the power to manipulate gravity across vast, intergalactic distances. Cooper is certain they're future transhumans establishing a time loop to ensure that humanity survives.
- Team Killer: Dr. Mann. He almost destroys Cooper's visor and kills Romilly with a booby trap.
- That's No Moon!: Upon landing on Miller's water world, Brand notices what appears to be mountains in the distance. Moments later, Cooper takes a second look:
Cooper: "Those aren't mountains. They're waves!"
- Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Invoked by Doyle during the film, in reference to getting data about the unobservable parts of black holes: Dr. Brand keeps time as a constant on his gravity equation because he doesn't know better though he actually solved it but had no possible way to prove it right without solid data, so he gives up on saving the Earth and plans to start humanity elsewhere.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: TARS jokes about doing this to the crew. This winds up being Mann's ultimate fate, though he brings it on himself.
- Time Dilation: Miller's planet orbits so close to Gargantua (the black hole) that one hour is equal to seven years outside. When Cooper and Brand returned, 23 years had passed on the Endurance and on Earth. After the shock sets in, Brand realized that the transmitter was still giving the "thumbs up" because from its perspective, it had only gotten there a couple hours ago, and that Miller likely died only minutes before the Endurance arrived.
- Time Passage Beard: Helps to show how Tom has aged. In the video messages Cooper watches, Toms changes from teenager to young adult without beard to adult with beard.
- Time Travel: One of Kip Thorne's theories is that black holes can be used for time travel. When Cooper and TARS passed the black hole, he fell into the fifth dimension and went back in time to just before he left for the mission. However, unlike other instances of time travel, Cooper can only interact with the past in minimal amounts.
- Time Skip: First by 2 years. The next by 23 years. And the last by more or less 60 years. In the end, Cooper is told he is 124 years old, despite still looking 40-ish.
- Timeshifted Actor:
- Murph is played by Mackenzie Foy as a child, Jessica Chastain in her mid-30s and Ellen Burstyn as an old woman.
- Tom is played by Timothée Chalamet as a teen and Casey Affleck as an adult.
- Title-Only Opening: This is the first film directed by Christopher Nolan since The Prestige to feature an opening title card.
- Token Minority: Romilly, though there is a black school Principal also.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- Brand should have listened to Cooper and hurried back to the Ranger, especially since she could see that the next wave was practically on top of them. Instead, she insisted on trying to retrieve the data log anyway and Doyle dies saving her.
- Mann really should have listened to the three separate warnings telling him not to open the airlock.
- Trailers Always Spoil: As the trailer's space scenes feature just Cooper and Brand, when the mission starts with four crewmen, you can already draw some conclusions as to what happens later on.
- Transhuman Aliens: Cooper believes that the mysterious fifth dimensional aliens are in fact humans from the distant future.
- Trippy Finale Syndrome: In the film's climax, Cooper winds up in a Tesseract, a cosmic plane of existence created by the Fifth Dimensional Beings who helped create the wormhole that allowed the team to travel. While he is there, he and TARS are able to transmit the proper equation to Murph (via her bookshelf through morse code) to solve Professor Brand's gravity equation successfully propel humanity into space.
- Trouble Entendre: Dr. Mann tells TARS that the broken KIPP needs a "human touch" to fix. When Romilly manually unblocks a section of KIPP's memory (showing the falsified research) it triggers an explosive trap, killing him.
- Twenty Minutes into the Future: SSTO VTOLs have been built, as well as cryogenic sleep pods, Uterine Replicators and conversant AI Robot Buddies. They're just not common because of the Second Dust Bowl (which also has robotic harvester machines), meaning most people drive 2014 cars, beaten to hell by decades of wear and tear.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: After the Endurance takes off, the storyline splits up into two lines, following Murph's story on Earth as well as Cooper's journey in space.
- United Space of America: The colony Cooper finds himself in at the end is a piece of rural America orbiting Saturn, with NASA still overseeing things.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Cooper/Brand. Sharing many horrors together they reach an understanding. So much so that Cooper leaves the stability of the earth colonies to go find her.
- Used Future: Most everything looks worn-out, battered or generally dated for a film set in the future. This is meant to convey the deteriorating conditions on Earth, which make the relatively well-maintained NASA facilities and craft stand out more. The 22nd Century scenes by contrast, look considerably cleaner.
- Use Your Head: Mann headbutts Cooper's visor in the hope of cracking it, even though his visor is just as likely to crack as Cooper's. Luckily for Mann, he succeeds.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Dr. Mann, under a combination of isolation, cowardice, and belief that the mission is untenable and that the Plan B of raising a colony of hundreds of artificially fertilized and genetically randomized humans is the only option, sabotages his mission to be rescued under false pretenses, kills Romilly and attempts to kill Cooper, and tries to make it to the third planet, believing he's the only one capable of performing the mission.
- We Need a Distraction: Murphy is setting Tom's crops on fire to cause a distraction and sneak back to his house to evacuate his wife and kid.
- Wham Line: Several.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Cooper's relationship with his son as well as daughter-in-law and grandson seems to be thrown aside in favor of his bond with his daughter. Given the timeskips, it's probable that he died of old age and that his descendants are in the room with the rest of Murphy's family in the end. In any event, he isn't seen or mentioned in the finale.
- Why Are We Whispering: TARS asks Cooper why he's whispering, as the rest of the crew has been placed in suspended animation and can't overhear their conversation.
- X Meets Y: 2001 : A Space Odyssey meets Contact meets The Wings of Honnêamise.
- Year Outside, Hour Inside: Miller's planet is so close to the black hole's gravitational pull that an hour on the planet is roughly 7 years Earth time, causing Time Dilation.
- You Already Changed The Past: When Cooper first plunges into the black hole, the first thing he affects in Murph's past is pushing the books to the floor; he then sees himself saying goodbye to Murph, sending himself a desperate message of "stay"; he then forms the binary code message with the dust; and finally he is able to communicate more directly with Murph via the hands of the watch he gave her, though she doesn't recognize the message itself until she's well into adulthood. Finally, while he's leaving the black hole, he has a trans-dimensional handshake with Amelia. In the timeline, none of this events occur in that order.