Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is considered a cinematic marvel and is often regarded as one of the finer films from the last decade. 


However, this 2014 sci-fi drama, starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, and Anne Hathaway, also happens to be one of the most confusing films ever made and we aren’t the only ones who think so. 

In fact, ever since the film released in 2014, it has taken several repeat viewings, going down the Reddit blackhole, and combing through various explanations to finally understand what actually happened in Interstellar. 

So here’s the simple, straightforward explainer that you’ve been waiting for, so you at least know what the film was about, when you list it as one of your most favourite films: 

The film is set in a dystopian future, possibly somewhere between the 2060s and 2070s, where the Earth is close to extinction. The film’s protagonist, Joseph Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) is a single father, widower, and former NASA pilot. 


Cooper stays with his father-in-law and two young kids on the farm. After a dust storm, his younger daughter Murphy, who is 10, sees books fall in patterns in her room, and believes it to be a ghost’s work. 

However, Cooper analyzes the patterns and deduces that they are geographical coordinates in binary code. They lead to a secret NASA facility, being headed by Professor John Brand, Cooper’s mentor.


Professor Brand created the facility to enable the survival of the human population, in face of Earth’s extinction. The message Murphy gets in her room is one of the several messages, aka gravitational anomalies, that Brand’s team of scientists has been detecting for the last 48 years – the same time at which a wormhole* appeared near Saturn and opened the path to 12 potentially habitable planets, located near a black hole. 

(To those wondering, wormholes are fictional, black holes are real). 


Prof. Brand has created two plans to save human civilization. Under Plan A, the idea is to use gravitational propulsion theory and achieve mass human exodus. Simply put, the entire human civilization is shifted to another habitable planet. 

However, the plan requires information to counter the gravitational pull. In layman terms, currently, the Earth’s gravitational pull is so strong that people and/or rockets can’t be propelled on a large scale. Thus, professor Brand was attempting to ‘solve gravity’** by studying the gravitational anomalies but to no avail. 

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Plan B involves using fertilized eggs to repopulate a new planet and abandoning those still on Earth. Cooper is roped in to pilot Endurance, a spacecraft carrying frozen human embryos. Prof. Brand’s daughter, NASA scientist, and astronaut, Dr. Amelia Brand, and fellow NASA members Romilly and Dr. Doyle are Cooper’s crewmates. He leaves behind a watch for his daughter, and promises her, he’ll return. 


The crew plans to travel to three different planets (of the 12 habitable planets) that volunteering scientists and astronauts visited in the past. These 3 planets showed positive results for the existence of human life. 


The first planet, Miller’s planet (named on the volunteer) is covered in water and because of its proximity to the wormhole, experiences massive tidal waves that leave no dry land and make it uninhabitable. Dr. Doyle dies here, due to a tidal wave. 

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Before they head to the second planet, Cooper discovers that his daughter has grown up (21 years have passed since he left Earth), and Prof. Brand is dead. 


The second is Mann’s planet, where Dr. Mann is in cryogenic sleep (cryogenic sleep is a fictional concept). 


When Cooper awakens him, he discovers that Mann manipulated the data to show the planet is inhabitable – just so a team may visit the planet and he could return to Earth. After fighting to escape, Dr. Mann and Roomilly die, and Dr. Brand and Cooper reach the spacecraft. 


The only remaining possibility of a habitable planet is Edmund’s planet. But the spacecraft has limited fuel, and thus Dr. Brand and Cooper decide to use a slingshot maneuver to propel the spacecraft and help it reach Edmund’s planet. In order to do so, the spacecraft needs to be lighter and thus Cooper decides to eject himself, and his robot companion, TARS. 


The two (Cooper and TARS) eject near the ‘event horizon’ of the black hole and end up in a Tesseract, created by an advanced civilization. The civilization uses time as a physical element. Thus, within the Tesseract, though a human being can’t travel in different timezones, gravity can be manipulated in different timezones. And that’s how those gravitational anomalies were taking place. The one shown in the film, in Cooper’s daughter Murphy’s room, was in fact created by Cooper himself. 


With this realization, Cooper begins to deliver information about the black hole to Murphy, by using Morse code and manipulating the second hand of the wristwatch he gave her before leaving the Earth. This is the data that Prof. Brand didn’t have when formulating his Plan A. 

Once he has relayed the information, he is transported back to the wormhole that emerged near Saturn. To break it down, had Cooper actually landed in the event horizon of the black hole, he would have been sucked into it. However, he is mysteriously transported inside a Tesseract instead, and once he relays life-saving information to Murphy, he is mysteriously transported out of it. (There is also speculation that the Tesseract was created within the event horizon)

The mystery of who transports him, and who created the Tesseract, is never explicitly cleared in the film but enough hints are provided to arrive at this conclusion – it’s the work of a more advanced version of human civilization, who can manipulate time and thus do both, save Cooper. And help him save Earth. 

He regains consciousness on a space habitat orbiting Saturn, reunites with his daughter who physically, looks older than him (as she aged, but he didn’t), and who tells him that she figured out his clue and Plan A was brought into action. On her deathbed, Murphy urges Cooper to reunite with Dr. Brand on Edmund’s planet – clearly indicating that Dr. Brand made it. 


To sum it up: Earth is on the brink of extinction and a bunch of astronauts, driven by love and astrophysics, take it upon themselves to save humanity. In their space journey, they battle natural and ‘mann’-made disasters, only to ultimately be aided by an advanced civilization. Earth isn’t saved, but humanity is. There is also a lot of time travel. 

Here’s a look at some of the concepts used in the film: 

*Wormholes are a speculative concept, rooted in the general theory of relativity. There is no actual proof of their existence. It is supposed to create a shortcut (through space and time) for journeys in the universe.

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**Manipulating, or using gravity to travel across dimensions is also, a speculative concept aka science fiction. 

***A tesseract is simply a geometrical shape – a four-dimensional version of a cube. The tesseract in the film is made up of three different dimensions, time (being treated as a physical dimension) being one of them. 


Time to rewatch the film? At least this time, it might just make sense to you.