In 2067, droughts and dust-storms threaten humanity. Joseph Cooper (Mathew McConoughey), former NASA pilot, now a farmer, lives with his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow), his teenage son Tom (Timothee Chalamet, later Casey Affleck), and 10-year-old daughter Murph (McKenzie Foy). His wife is dead. Following a dust-storm, strange patterns appear in the dust-covered bedroom floor. Young Murph thinks a ghost is responsible, but Cooper thinks they’re the result of Gravity variations. What’s more, they seem to be geographic coordinates in binary code. He follows them to a secret NASA facility run by Professor John Brand (Michael Caine), his former mentor.
Forty-eight years earlier, a wormhole was opened by aliens near Saturn, leading the way to a distant galaxy with twelve possible Earthlike worlds orbiting a super-massive black hole called Gargantua. Twelve volunteers enter the wormhole and three report positive results, including Doctor Mann (Matt Damon). Professor Brand reveals two plans for humanity’s survival. Plan A is to develop an antigravitational propulsion theory to launch a settlement, and Plan B is to launch the spacecraft Endurance with 5000 human embryos on board.
Cooper is to pilot the Endurance, with Doctor Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), who is Professor Brand’s daughter, Doctor Doyle (Wes Bentley), and Romilly (David Gyasi). Before leaving, Cooper gives Murph his wristwatch to compare relative time when he returns. After reaching Miller’s planet through the wormhole, they find time severely dilated by Gargantua’s proximity. Every hour there equals seven years on Earth. Romilly remains on board to do research, while Cooper, Doyle, and Brand descend in a landing craft to study the water planet for one hour. They find Miller’s craft wrecked and a giant wave kills Doyle. Cooper and Brand survive but return to the Endurance after 23 years.
The crew travels to Mann’s planet and revive him from cryostasis. Murph, older now and a NASA scientist (Jessica Chastain), has sent a message about John Brand’s death and claims that Cooper and Brand knew that Plan A, requiring data unobtainable from a black hole, was never viable, dooming those left behind on Earth. Cooper wants to return to Earth and Brand and Romilly want to remain on Mann’s planet for permanent habitation, but the planet is uninhabitable and Mann sent false data so he would be rescued. He tries to kill Cooper and steals a lander and heads for Endurance. Romilly is killed in a booby trap, as Brand and Cooper pursue Mann in another lander. Mann is killed trying to dock, damaging Endurance. Eventually, Cooper regains control.
The ship has insufficient fuel to reach Edmund’s planet and Cooper and Brand use a slingshot maneuver close to Gargantua, adding another 51 years to the procedure. Cooper and the robot TARS (voice of Bill Irwin) jettison themselves to save weight. Slipping through Gargantua’s event horizon, they end up in a tesseract structure located far from the singularity. Looking through the time periods, Cooper can see through the bookcases in Murph’s old bedroom and interact with its gravity. He is Murph’s ghost.
He believes the tesseract was built by future humans who can access infinite time and space but cannot communicate through it. He and TARS were brought there to relay important information to Murph. He uses gravitational waves to encode NASA coordinates in the dust patterns in Murph’s room and manipulated Murph’s wristwatch in Morse Code to send data that TARS has collected. Murph understands. Ejected from the tesseract, Cooper awakes on a space habitat orbiting Saturn and reunites with an elderly Murph (Ellen Burstyn). She has solved the puzzles for Plan A and enabled humanity to colonize space. Near death, Murph urges Cooper to return to Brand. Cooper and TARS fly to Edward’s planet where Brand is working on Plan B.
Thanks to my research for this review, I now understand Interstellar, which doesn’t mean I believe it. The film was co-written, directed, and produced by Christopher Nolan. He and his brother Jonathan wrote it based on a script developed in 2007. It was produced by Christopher and his wife Emma Thomas through Syncody and Lynda Obst Productions. They hired Cal Tech physicist Kip Thorne, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics, as scientific consultant and executive producer. The films SF credentials are impressive and I found the gravitational time-dilation facts fascinating. I just had a problem with someone from a distant sun looking through the bookcase into his daughter’s room and doodling in the dust on the floor. Still, the film received positive reviews and was nominated for five Oscars.
Lynda Obst and Kip Thorne also cooperated on the movie Contact and had known each other since Carl Sagan first set them up on a blind date. Scriptwriter Jonathan Nolan studied relativity at Cal Tech. Much of the icy planet and the water planet was filmed in Iceland, using 10,000 pounds of mock spaceships and a crew of 350. The spaceships and space colonies were wonderful and even the robots were interesting. The miniatures were so big they were called Maxatures, the ships 25, 46, and 49 feet long, mounted on a six-axis gimbal. The music was by Hans Zimmer.
Neil de Grasse Tyson and physicist Michio Kaku were impressed by the science, with a few exceptions. Most movies spawn comic books, but this one spawned scientific papers. Even the San Diego Comic-Con was impressed. Doctor Kip Thorne won a bet against Stephen Hawking regarding the astrophysics in the movie and Hawking had to subscribe to Penthouse magazine for a year. The Endurance was named for Ernest Shackleton’s ship which was trapped in the Antarctic ice an entire winter, but everyone made it back alive. The robot TARS might be named after Tars Tarkas, John Carter’s green friend on Barsoom. The tesseract design first appeared in “And He Built a Crooked House” by Robert Heinlein.