5 Plot Point Breakdown: Interstellar (2014)

By Xiaofeng Chen · February 16, 2015

Screenplay Genre: Sci-Fi / Adventure

Movie Time: 169 minutes

The earth is withering. Duststorm and blight are spreading across the world, killing off all food: wheat, rices, potatoes, okras… Only the corn survived, but it’s still a question of “how long?.” The world has to stop all the “unnecessary” things like science, art and space exploration to concentrate the resource on the prime problem to solve: saving people from starvation and eventual extinction.

NASA astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) becomes a farmer after the space projects were canceled years ealier. He was one of the best pilots they had. After his wife died, he moved in with his father Donald (John Lithgow), his son Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and younger daughter Murph (Jessica Cairns). Even the days are dull and the people are ignorant, Cooper believes it is his fate that he is living in an age he doesn’t belong to. But Murph is showing her extraordinary intelligence and curiosity about science and knowledge. Her heresy makes her stand out at school and even within the family.


The dust storm comes again when Cooper and Murph are watching a baseball game. They drive back home as fast as they can before the dust reaches them. They seal the door, windows and every gap on their house, but the dust still blows in and leaves traces in the house. Cooper and Murph suddenly see an unbelievable phenomenon: The falling dust forms a striped picture on the floor like a bar code. (20:17) Cooper notices the stripes are binary code that may be a message. He decodes it and finds it’s coordinates to a specific location.

2. LOCK IN (End of Act One)

Cooper and Murph trace that coordinate up to a secret base which belongs to NASA (in this time period, it’s an underground and secret operation more than a company). There they see Cooper’s old colleague Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway). They talk about the dust phenomenon and believe it was one of the gravity disturbances that have been happening in recent years. Professor Brand tells Cooper it was caused by a wormhole – a channel between the warped 4-D space which leads to another galaxy. It was created near Saturn 48 years ago. Whoever made it and what they wanted, it brings mankind a chance: through it mankind can reach a world millions of light years away and find other habitable planets for a new home OR bring resources back that might give them a fighting chance. That was why this base exists: Project Lazarus.

Professor Brand tells Copper more details about Project Lazarus: As the pioneers, twelve astronauts had been sent through that wormhole ten years ago. And so far three of them had sent back messages about possible habitable planets. Luckily the three planets were all in one solar system surrounding a blackhole: Gargantua. They’re launching a spaceship to confirm them. And for the next step they will launch a huge space station- it’s this base itself – which is taking mankind to the habitable planet. Though the biggest problem for launching this ark: the 360 of gravity has not been solved yet, Professor Brand believes he will work it out before the spaceship is back.

That is Plan A. And for the backup, there’s a Plan B: The spaceship will carry mankind’s embryos to the new worlds. If the gravity equation can’t be solved, mankind’s civilization will continue in other worlds at least. Brand asks Cooper to operate the spaceship to the three planets. Cooper accepts. But Murph strongly opposes her father going because she has a bad feeling reharding a massage from her “ghost” who has always been tapping at her bookshelf. The message reads: S.T.A.Y.

But Cooper decides to go to save his children and mankind’s future. He takes the spaceship with three other astronauts: Brand, Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley) and the robot Tars (Bill Irwin), and sets out for the journey to another galaxy. (42:16)

After two years, they arrive at Saturn and are at the threshold of the wormhole. It looks like a gravity prism in the black space and the things behind it can’t be seen exactly. They drive the spaceship into it. With a flash, they jump millions of light years to another galaxy…

The spaceship arrives in the new solar system. Before them are the three planets which circle around the dark star: Gargantua. They have to decide which one they will land on first (remember, time takes on a whole new importance now). The nearest one Miller’s planet. Miller is one of the twelve pioneers. But it’s too close to the blackhole that the gravity will slow down the time on it: one hour equals seven years on earth. The astronauts decide to land on it, check out the condition and pick up Miller as fast as they can to save time. So Romilly stays to watch the ship. Copper, Brand and Doyle take the ranger to that planet…

Crossing the dense atmosphere and tracing the signal from Miller, they land on the water surfaced planet. It’s a sea world. They find nothing living, but the wreck of Miller’s ship which is still sending radio signals. They get that Miller crashed on this planet and died just a couple of hours ago. But it has been decades on earth time. As they’re leaving this useless planet, a giant tsunami comes crashing down on them, killing Doyle and bogging down the engine with water. Cooper and Brand have to wait for two hours before the engine is heats back up. They take off from the sea surface before the next tsunami comes and get back to the spaceship. There they sees an old man: Romilly. It has been 24 years for here. Cooper and Brand are so regretful for wasting so much time on an useless planet.

On earth, things are worse. People are starving and in panic, but Professor Brand still hasn’t worked the problem of gravity out. Murph (Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Casey Affleck) have grown up and have their families. Murph became Professor Brand’s assistant. She continues to see that Professor Brand has still not figured out the gravity equation, and he does not show signs of effort to do so either.

The crew finds they had wasted too much fuel and too much time. Now the fuel can only take them to one of the two rest planets: Mann’s planet or Edmunds’. Mann’s signal is steady and positive for a habitable planet. But Brand wants to go Edmunds’ planet because he was her lover. In an executive decision, Cooper decides to go Mann’s one.


They land on Mann’s planet and find it’s icy and not as good as Mann told. They find Mann in his station and wake him up from hyper sleep. Mann (Matt Damon) tells them this planet has a warm and fertile sub surface under the ices. And then a message from Murph brings Professor Brand’s death and a terrible truth: Professor Brand confessed to Murph before he died that he knew the gravity equation can’t be solved. That means Plan A won’t work. His real intention was Plan B. He didn’t tell the truth because he believed it’s easier to make people save themselves than make them save their species. (103:29) Romilly tells Cooper it’s because Professor Brand can’t unify the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. The only way to find it out is going into the blackhole: in the core of it there’s the singularity. Maybe the answer is hiding in that extreme condition. And maybe they can record what happens.

Cooper decides to go home after Plan B: spreading the human’s seed around this planet. Mann leads him to the entrance to the sub level: a crater on the icy land. As Cooper is looking down it. Mann suddenly pushes him down the steep slope. He tells Cooper why he is killing him: there’s no a sub level on this planet. He lied because he wouldn’t die here and wanted people to come to save him. They have a fight. Mann damages Cooper’s helmet and radio, exposes him to the poisonous atmosphere and goes away.

In Mann’s station, Romilly’s killed by a bomb. Mann takes the ranger and flies to the spaceship. Cooper gets the radio back and tells Brand what Mann did. Brand comes and saves Cooper. Then they chase Mann behind to the spaceship.

4. MAIN CULMINATION (End of Act Two)

Mann gets to the spaceship, but has no right to board. He attempts to make a force dock at the airlock. As he is opening the unlocked inner hatch. The air flow blows him out and make an impact between the ranger and the spaceship. When Cooper and Brand come, they see the damaged spaceship spinning madly in thousands of fragments and sinking into the planet’s atmosphere. Cooper lets the ranger spin in step with the ship, docks on it and lights its gesture control rocket. The spinning slows down… then stops. The ship is saved. (131:21)

The ship is half damaged and the fuel is almost gone. Cooper and Brand have to make a choice: go home or go ahead. They decide to go to Edmunds’ planet for the last hope of mankind. They will accelerate the ship with the gravity of Gargantua. It’s a dangerous game. And when they’re brushing by that blackhole, they will set the Robot Tars down into to it. Just hope it will check out what is really down there and send back some useful information before it falls into the dark abyss.

The spaceship is pulled in by Gargantua’s gravity and accelerates…They have never been so close to a blackhole. They see bent lights circling Gargantua like a ring. Time and space are twisted by the gravity. Below it is pitch black. At the closest point to Gargantua, they set down Tars. But Brand doesn’t see Cooper in the other ranger. Cooper disengages from the ship and drops into the blackhole…


Cooper’s ranger falls through the bending circle of the light, crossing the interface. Then it goes dark. Here is the tomb of a dead star. Everything is collapsing under the great gravity, including fundamental particles. Cooper can feel some tiny things hitting at the ranger’s shell like sand. They’re highly compressed matter? Crystals of light? Or frozen time? Ice? Then the ranger disintegrates. Now only Cooper. He falls to the core of the blackhole: singularity. As he can’t feel his existence any more, he suddenly sees something: light. Then he falls into some kind of frame: it’s made of crisscrossed colorful fabrics. He stops and floats closer to those fabrics. Through the gaps in them, he sees something he can’t believe:

On the other side it’s his home. Cooper sees Murph, Tom and himself! They’re living in a different time. Cooper tries to communicate to them, but they can’t get it, just doing those wrong things, making bad choices again and again… Cooper suddenly reaches Tars. They talk about this and believe this is the frame of time. Cooper sees the dust storm on the other side. He tries to hit the fabrics, sending a message of the coordinates of NASA’s base. Then the falling dust forms a picture of his code on the floor. Murph and Cooper on the other side see it! Cooper realizes that “Ghost” was him; it’s him who kept contacting Murph and himself from here! He pokes the fabrics, like playing a strings, and sends a message about the unity of Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics – he understands it now that he is in this singularity… On the other side, Murph is about to leave with the refugees. She suddenly sees her watch hand is waving ticking back and forth. She knows it’s her father! (152:04)

Cooper leaves the frame of time, entering back into a spacelike abyss… When he wakes up, he finds he is in a enormous space station near Saturn. Mankind has been saved. He is told here that this is Cooper’s station: named after his daughter Murph. She saved mankind by realizing PLAN A via her father. 120 years have passed since Cooper left earth, and Murph is still alive.

On Edmunds’ planet, Brand reaches arrives and buries the sacrificed: Edmunds. What she finds here is a barren, primitive, but hopeful world. She settles down and begins to carry out Plan B.

Cooper sees Murph who is over 100 years old and all of his family, a big family. And then, he takes a spaceship and goes through that wormhole again, embarking on a new journey to another galaxy to get his love back, Brand.

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