I’m beginning to understand the fuss on the internet about saving Matt Damon. He’s an endangered private on a WWII battlefield. He’s a stranded astronaut on a mission to Mars… the list goes on. In Interstellar, though he’s not the main character, he’s a researcher on a distant planet shrouded with frozen clouds.
Interstellar was not a fast-paced movie. There is action, but there are also long stretches of calm. The futuristic mumbo-jumbo is balanced by familiar human relationships; there’s as much drama as sci-fi.
I thought Interstellar was way better than Tomorrowland—certainly it was more complex—but the two movies have the same message: smart people who have hope can always solve the world’s problems.
I enjoyed it, except for the terrifying watery scene, and found the resolution satisfying.
See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.
My Beat Sheet for Interstellar
Dusty bookshelves in Murph’s room. A model of NASA’s moon lander.
Crops are blighted; humans have stopped doing all the things that aren’t farming, but the farms are still failing. Murph believes there is a poltergeist manipulating objects in her room; gravity has gone weird there. Some farming machines and a drone have also gone weird.
The gravity ghost provides coordinates! Murph stows away in the car when her father Cooper drives off to investigate. He finds a NASA base. Scientists there are planning to send a rocket into a wormhole to another galaxy to look for life-sustaining planets. They’ve gathered some preliminary data from a team of brave (likely dead) astronauts who’ve already gone through. They want Cooper to be the pilot for the new mission.
Will Cooper agree to go? He might never come back. Or it might be many years. Maybe, thanks to relativity, when he comes back he’ll be the same age as Murph.
Break into Two
Cooper chooses to go because he wants to make his life count for something more than a few ears of corn. Murph hates him for leaving and refuses to say goodbye.
B Story / Fun and Games / Theme Stated
NASA launches the rocket and Cooper gets to know the other astronauts: a black guy, a woman, and a redshirt.
The woman’s name is Brand. She’s the daughter of the head NASA scientist back at the base. She says she’s an astronaut because doing space exploration involves dealing with facts. Nature is cruel, but not evil. Cooper says, That’s what we carry with us, then: evil. But he’s wrong! Or he’s at least partly wrong. Humans also carry love.
They decide on a plan to visit the nearest planet, which will cost them a lot of time to visit because of the nearby black hole. Cooper and Brand and the redshirt take the shuttle down, leaving the black guy behind on the station to study the black hole. They find a crashed ship, but no pilot. Because Brand foolishly attempts to fetch the data recorder from the wreckage, a huge wave kills the redshirt and floods the engine, which has to be pumped out. When the Cooper and Brand are finally able to return, the black guy has aged many years. The people back on Earth are running out of time.
While the landing crew was on the surface, the station received messages from Earth. Cooper’s son and his wife and kids are trying to farm, but the going is rough. Murphy refused to send a message to her father until the day she reached the age her father was when he left, because he said maybe he’d be back by then. She has been helping the NASA team try to solve the gravity equation that will allow humans to leave Earth en masse.
When discussing which planet to visit next, Cooper overrules Brand, who wants to travel to her boyfriend’s candidate planet. Another planet’s data, Mann’s, is supposedly better. Brand says Mann is a leader and hero, but she still wants to visit her boyfriend’s planet. She feels it is more likely to be a good choice, though she knows she seems biased because of her feelings. Cooper is planning to conserve fuel for a trip back to Earth, so he insists they cannot even visit the boyfriend’s planet after they visit Mann’s.
Murph discovers and reveals that Plan A, moving the people on Earth to a new home planet, was never really a possibility. It was a lie. All the people on Earth are doomed. Plan B is to incubate thousands of human embryos that were loaded on the space station for the purpose of populating the new homeworld. Murph believes her father knowingly abandoned her (and everyone else) to die.
Bad Guys Close In
The team revives Mann, who is immensely relieved to see people again after many years alone. In fact, all he wants to do is go back to Earth; he has stopped caring about anything else. His data about his planet was fake: the place is uninhabitable. He sent attractive data so that the others would come and rescue him. (See? Matt Damon needs a lot of rescuing. Now, did they name the character using the letters at the beginning and end of the actor’s name, or is Mann an allegory for our fallen-from-grace species, or am I overthinking it?)
All Is Lost
When Mann tries to dock a stolen shuttle at the space station, there’s an explosion that destroys part of the station and sends what’s left of it spinning out of control.
Dark Night of the Soul
The frozen human embryos are all on board the station. The human race is doomed.
Break into Three
Cooper and Brand (but not the black guy) survive Mann’s escape attempt. Cooper manages to dock with the station and stop the spinning. The embryos are okay, but there’s like a lot less fuel and air now. To increase the mission’s chance of success, Cooper jettisons himself and a robot into the nearby black hole so Brand can travel to the last candidate planet with the embryos. Maybe Cooper and the robot can study the black hole up close and send data back out of it.
Cooper is floating in a mysterious place where he can see into Murph’s room in the past through the back of the bookshelves. He shakes the shelves, and books fall off; he was the poltergeist all along. He manipulates a watch to communicate with the present-day Murph to tell her the solution to the problem with the gravity equation she was working on. (I think this movie should have been called Gravity, but that was the name of a sci-fi movie released just the previous year.)
Cooper somehow survives the black hole and wakes up on some kind of hollow, doughnut-shaped space station on the way to the new Earth. He visits a museum that looks like his house. He meets his aged daughter and they express their love for each other, the love that connected them across space and time and thus saved the whole human race. After saying goodbye to her, he takes the robot, which also survived the black hole, and departs the station to fly to the last candidate planet, where Brand has landed and buried her boyfriend.
Humanity’s new homeworld, with the labs all set up, welcoming, waiting.