Interstellar is a Christopher Nolan mindf*ck of cosmic proportions.
Not that that’s a surprise or anything. Not surprising as well is that this movie was another masterpiece. The Nolan brothers’s visionary writing is deliciously complex and absorbing throughout the 3 hours. The movie’s visuals were inventive. Nolan used some unique camerawork that gave the film a bleak and realistic tone. The landscapes, outer space, the singularity, everything was stunningly beautiful. The music was always emotionally stirring – from the buzzing on eerie moments, to the heavy bass of triumphant ones. And the cast was strong, spearheaded by Matthew McConaughey. It’s practically everything you’d expect from a great epic from Christopher Nolan.
The world is in environmental peril. Food is being depleted or going extinct. Humanity has regressed to farming to cope with the current dilemma. All other pursuits are discouraged. Cooper (McConaughey), a former engineer and pilot, stumbles upon a secret NASA base where he learns of an intergalactic mission to save the human race. He is asked to pilot and lead the expedition but at a huge price – he needs to leave his family behind without knowing when exactly he’ll be able to come back.
It’s all grounded, thrilling, well and good…all the way up to that ending, at least. Because in classic Nolan-esque fashion, his stories eventually force you to painfully contemplate. This is where it gets really spoiler-ish, so if you haven’t watched the movie, DO NOT READ ON.
In the end, Cooper sacrifices himself so Brand (Hathaway) can continue her mission. He falls into a black hole. No one knows exactly what’s inside the black hole but we later find out that it’s this very trippy, very bizarre, infinite plane of bookshelves. And in the center of the black hole, time is perceived differently. For one, time is visible in this space. Everything that happened and will happen is all happening in this plane and the infinite bookshelves are the means for Cooper to navigate through the different points of Murph’s life to send her a message (via gravity manipulation). Coop navigates the plane, sends his message, and basically helps Murph crack the code that saves the human race.
(Insert GIF of brain blowing up)
After he does so, he’s essentially spit out by the black hole. He’s picked up by a space station from the surviving human race. He reunited with his now much-older daughter and eventually leaves again to find Brand.
So. Where did this plane come from and why was it so attuned specifically to Cooper’s needs? According to the explanation given, it was made by a more advanced human race. Humans with an elevated consciousness that transcends the boundaries of the plane of existence we can currently comprehend. One that’s able to manipulate a more advanced dimension – that is, time and space. And they’ve made the bookshelf plane specifically for Cooper to be able to save the human race. Because it’s his bond with his daughter that will help him navigate through her life and know when and where she’s supposed to receive his message.
(Insert GIF of brain melting)
It seems like a far-fetched rationalization or how humans were saved, but it DOES explain everything that happened prior. Like the “ghost” in Murph’s room that gave them the coordinates of the secret NASA base. But coming from a really grounded and scientific framework, it was kind of a leap to see such a weird/wacky place in a black hole. And to be receptive of this ending, it takes a certain level of faith, a willingness to take that leap as well.
So, there. That’s what happened.
…but what if, it didn’t?
Another way to look at the ending is this…that it was all just in Cooper’s head.
Wait, before you go big, green and angry on me for what I’m suggesting, hear me out first!
Dr. Mann foreshadowed this ending. He kept saying that at the moment of your death, it’s not flashbacks of your life that you see, but your children. You have an urge to survive FOR THEM, or for them to carry on.
So, what if, after Coop entered the black hole, his survival instincts kicked in? He saw his child. He saw her SURVIVING.
AND Nolan HAS been known to pull stuff like that. Both The Dark Knight Rises and Inception‘s endings had two interpretations. One was that it actually happened, and the other was that it was all in their heads. So I wouldn’t put it past him to do stuff like this again.
And really, if there was an advanced human race that could navigate this temporal dimension, why choose Cooper, why a bookshelf, and why not choose a simpler, idiot-proof way to save the human race?
There are a couple of more scientific arguments that can be made. 1) An hour in the planet only NEAR the black hole displaced them by years. Even a split second of falling in it would have cost decades. It’s hard to believe Murph would have still been alive when he came out on the other side of that black hole. 2) Also, I think I’ve read somewhere that the gravity in a black hole is so strong that it pulls you apart even before you get to its center.
This theory doesn’t explain the bookshelf “ghost”, I know. But both Coop and Murph dreamed about exploring the stars, so is it not possible that maybe, subconsciously, they sent themselves to the NASA base? That they found it because they were subconsciously looking for it?
But anyways, you can endlessly argue both possibilities, so I came up with this final conclusion…
The way you view the ending depends on whether you believe that 1) there was a higher being guiding Coop in the singularity, and that black holes eventually spit people out, OR 2) that it was all just in his head, a dying man’s hallucination. And that this “ghost” was nothing but a gust of wind or some other coincidence. So in the end, what is more believable to YOU? That there was no ghost? Or that there’s a higher being looking out for us out there?
Whichever of the two you’re more inclined to believe in, the quality of the movie as a whole is unchanged. It was an epic galactic adventure that was as much about the survival of the human race as it was about the strong bond between father and child. And in the end, both ideas really come down to the same thing – Legacy.
But I’m no physics or Nolan movie expert. Honestly, I don’t think I even really fully understood it. A lot of the dialogue either went over my head or I just figured out through context clues. Anyone who goes into the theater and comes out declaring he understood everything is full of manure. This is a movie that warrants a second viewing. And if it was really good the first time, I’ll bet it’ll be GREAT the second.
*Photos courtesy of Interstellar’s Facebook page.