Alternate Interstellar Movie Theories and Explanations

Interstellar is a mindjob of a movie made by one of the greatest movie creators in Hollywood today, Christopher Nolan. IMDB
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I have been really slow to get my Interstellar act together.  Mainly that was because I was so blooming disappointed with Christopher Nolan’s latest movie.  After walking out of this one I was certain that everything I’d thought about the brilliant director was wrong.  Maybe I had given him the benefit of the doubt when I shouldn’t have with regard to The Prestige?  Could it be that Nolan’s Memento was actually just a fluke?!?  And if that’s the case, then maybe our good buddy Chris had completely screwed the pooch on Inception, but we just didn’t know it?!

To say the least, I was pretty rattled.  The last third of this movie was just so completely terrible that I couldn’t actually wrap my brain around it.  Just disjointed and unexplainable.  There was so much Deus Ex Machina going on that it was unjustifiable.  So I just had to go away for a while and pound my head against the wall a few times.  Think and reflect on what I had just seen.  Because if face value is what we are left with we have a pretty crappy movie on our hands.  Just awful.  So I read blogs, went back and reviewed some of our conversations and debates on other movies here at th-inc.  And eventually light bulbs starting turning on randomly on a variety of different possibilities and ideas.  But then one key idea came to me after reading a few mind blowing reviews and I haven’t slowed down since.

First though.  Please know that this post isn’t a spoiler proof review of the movie.  It isn’t actually a review of the movie at all.  It is in fact a spoiler filled diatribe of all the ins and outs of the movie for the sake of discussion and argument down below in the comments section.  This site is pretty well known for its Christopher Nolan arguments and debates.  At the time of this writing in all of my Nolan movie posts we are already upwards of over 850 comments.


Interstellar Movie Plot Overview

So you all know the movie plot overview already.  Right?  But heck, if we can’t get on the same basic page then we won’t be able to converse at all about the more complicated pieces later.  So let’s walk through the overview and make sure we are all playing from the same sheet of music.

When we arrive on the scene at the beginning of Interstellar we are presented with an Earth that is in a bad way. Our home planet has been decimated by an environmental catastrophe of global proportions.  Crops are failing and our hope of feeding the entire planet is wearing thin.  Soon after the start of the movie Cooper, a former NASA pilot turned farmer, mysteriously discovers the coordinates to a top secret government project.  Apparently NASA was not moth-balled like the government said it was, and they were working on utilizing a recent worm hole that had appeared in hopes of colonizing a new planet.

In order to find a suitable planet though, Cooper was needed to go and find which of the planets they had found during previous explorations would be a best hope for their future.  So Cooper leaves his children behind with their Grandfather, promises to return, and sets out for the stars.


Interstellar Space Travel Explained

One of the trickiest aspect of the movie Interstellar is definitely the various aspects surrounding space travel.  We have the long jump of space travel that is given via the wormhole.  We are also given smaller time jumps with regards to distance and proximity to the wormhole once inside.  The hardest physics to understand is the wormhole business, but its the simplest within the movie. Apparently there is even a formulat to explain and account for this sort of time dilation that we see playing out throughout the film:

\Delta t=(1/\sqrt{1-V^2/c^2} )\Delta t'

The concept of time relativity via good ‘ol Einstein definitely could keep you up at night trying to understand the detailed implications to the movie.  Here is a diagram that shows how the wormhole jumps work.  Its similar to the explanations we are given within the movie as well.


I think that bit is obvious – though impossibly complicated.  No?  Enter wormhole, exit through a fold in space somewhere else.  But what about the movie?  What actually happened in the movie?!?

The Literal Interstellar Theory


This is the theory that I had to wrangle with the longest, and it is the theory that I just gagged on when I walked out of the movie theater.  The basic gist (which I’ve included a timeline flow of on the right – but you are going to HAVE to click it to make sense of it) of this theory walks through like this.

Young Murphy cleverly finds the location of the NASA outpost.  Cooper and Murph head there.  Cooper is recruited for this mission and Brand ‘n Cooper head off to the great beyond.  They both enter the wormhole.  They head to Mann’s planet and all kinds of badness happens.  Mann basically sabotages the mission in hopes of getting picked up.

Cooper and Brand learn that Plan A was a farce just to help fund Plan B (The Noah’s Ark approach).  Cooper decides to make a play now for Edmonds’ planet – but is still holding out hope for Plan A.  They send TARS into the blackhole (Gargantua) in order to translate the gravity data and hopefully help solve the equation.  Cooper then decides to sacrifice himself in order to help Brand get to Edmond. But Cooper somehow then survives the void of space and is picked up by Gargantua.

The tesseract scoops Cooper up into the singularity and he is then inhabiting 5th dimensional time and space – which manifests itself with Cooper confined/interacting with the bookshelf in his old house.  The tesseract enables Cooper to spell out a message to himself  which says, “S-T-A-Y” by pushing books off of Murph’s shelf.  He is also able to send map coordinates to Murph by spreading dust across the floor (in binary).  But more importantly, the tesseract and its 5th-dimensional gravitationally induced communications allows Cooper to manipulate the hands of Murphy’s watch and send her the equations that TARS acquired with morse encoded watch ticks.  Dot-dot-dash-dash-dot-dot-dot-dash-dot…  This information on her watch is all the information that Murph needs to dramatically advance humanity’s understanding of space and time – as well as complete Plan A.

So, somehow, this disproportionate relativity magically – whoops, I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself – eloquently, allows Cooper to survive his drift through space and reunite with Murph.  Murph know is something like 123 years and had to be de-thawed from her cryo chamber in order to meet her now much younger father.  Cooper looks around him and sees nothing at all worth living for what with the earth dead, and what not, and the fact that Murph will soon die.  Never mind that his son is already dead. Murph reminds Cooper that Brand is just now beginning to setup plan B on Edmonds’ planet.  His planet is in fact inhabitable, but Edmonds’ himself did not survive the landing. Which leaves us with a damsel in distress and a Brand alone at the colonization site.  Cooper decides he’s going to find her.  Fade to black.

So, if you’ve already read through my entire infographic you know what’s coming next. Inevitably, Brand and Cooper setup shop on Edmonds’ planet.  They are through the wormhole, so their perspective on time is way way faster than the humans circling earth now. And now, this theory begins to get fuzzy.  They solve the problems of gravity and the fifth dimension on their own, or they procreate (or have children, one or the other) and their children, in generations past, solve the problem. Regardless, someone creates a tesseract that will allow Cooper to speak backwards in time with himself, and Murph, and save him and the people of earth from perishing forever.  It is out of this Plan B thread that comes the ability to manipulate time and space and make the leap backwards in time for Cooper.  Make sense?  Nope. I didn’t think it would, because it doesn’t make sense for me either.

Problems With The Literal Interstellar Theory

You mean, there are problems with the literal theory, other than its completely and totally full of crap?  You mean, other than that?  Gah.  When I left the theater, I was like, do what?!  Oh I got the time travel.  I got the looping logic of it all.  But you are telling me that Cooper jumps overboard to give Brand a fighting chance at her love, and also a final chance at keeping the human race alive in the Plan B Noah’s Ark approach, and not only does he not die, but he also saves the day with PLAN A?!  What?

The mood of this movie is somber.  It is brilliant.  It is thoughtful and heartfelt.  It is really really pitch perfect for an end of the world movie.  This is not an Independence Day rendition of the end of the world apocalypse happening here. No no.  In this movie this ending given to us with the literal view is not even worth thinking about for another minute.  So drop it please.  Just forget trying to work this out.

But if you are wanting a “REAL” reason to drop it other than it makes zero sense I can give you a couple. Like for example the fact that Cooper is picked up in space “with only a second of oxygen left”… holy lottery ticket Batman!  No. The proponents of the Literal Theory would have you believe that the “disproportionate gravitational conflux” – EH? is what kept him alive.  No, no. He is through the wormhole.  He is back on the standard side of time.  He is drifting through space just like we would.  You can’t say that it “seemed” like he was drifting through space for seconds, but actually it was years and years as I have seen some people argue.

Another problem I have with the Literal Theory, and this is very very significant – I’ll even give you the drifting through space lottery ticket, whatever – is the fact that Cooper is saved by Cooper so that Cooper won’t die, by a future Cooper that solves the 5th dimensional confluence of gravity.  Did you see it?

A —- AX

A —- A(A1) — A —- A1

Cooper is A, and in the top timeline, Cooper dies.  He needs to be saved.  He needs someone to show up just in time.  So the bottom timeline shows the future self coming through with a tesseract just when he needs it to save himself from dying. This cannot happen, because he died.  Right?  Time travel all you want. Unless it is some other entity intervening, Cooper dies. But Nolan makes it pretty clear that Cooper is his own grandpa.  No no, wait.  That’s not it. Cooper is his own savior.  (That one sentence is enough to make me hate the movie.)

But its a paradox, and time travel solves and creates these types of paradoxes all the time, I hear you yelling at the screen.  My response is, if you don’t survive to create time travel, you cannot save yourself through time travel.  It is illogical.  (I know, and I hate Star Trek.)

5th Dimension Equates to All Possible Realities

One thing I’m hearing a lot is this idea of the fifth dimension representing all the possible alternate realities, and ways things could have played out.  If you have no clue what string theory is, here’s a real quick primer.  One of the initial theories to propose this was the Kaluza-Klein theory which theorized the 5th dimension was a circular, wrapped up, configuration.  Leave earth along this 5th dimension plane in a straight line, and eventually you’d up back where you started from.  The Kaluza-Klein theory basically stated that general relativity was the same, but with the added dimension overlay of electromageticism giving it this circular configuration.

So, obviously this was just a simple start to the world of string theory.  We aren’t given a theory with a many-worlds output.  String-Theory is famous for its positing of the fact that there would be many earths, with many different possible outcomes.  In this one life started.  In that one, life didn’t.  In the next one an asteroid destroyed the planet entirely.  This concept of string theory came along and took the Kaluza-Klein theory and wrapped it into their many-world theories.  So the two have become pretty intertwined.

Stephen Hawking is probably the most well known physicist to champion the world of string theory.  He has been fairly vocal in saying that, “M-theory is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe.”  So, what many have theorized is that Nolan’s perspective of the tesseract is simply a gateway or admin console that allows a 5th dimensional architect to interact and manipulate 4th dimensional time and space as well as interacting with all possible outcomes simultaneously.  These people posit that Cooper would not only be interacting backwards in time by manipulating gravitational waves in time but he would also be selecting various potential negative outcomes at will simply by choosing the strings that will forward the mission effectively and give the best possible outcome imaginable.  This theory would surmise that in an infinite 5th dimensional tesseract, Cooper will not only have the power to move in time and space, but also move cross strings infinitely.

All Possible Realities Faults

The key defense against the Literal Theory (LT) is the same defense for the All Possible Realities (APR) theory. Which is that Cooper dies before he is even allowed the chance to escape the 3rd and 4th dimensions. He would need a time machine BEFORE he dies in order to solve his getting jettisoned into space not once but twice. But what is nice about this theory is that it tidies up a pile of inconsistencies in the movie by allowing Cooper to just pick his preferred ending as easily as picking the preferred setting on his microwave.  No.  This can’t possibly be the right solution.

Long Travel Theory 

This particular theory comes straight from the Reddit Deep Webs.  You can read wawa4life’s theory completely here as well as the larger community comments.

Most people, after seeing the movie, came to this conclusion: “How can there be a wormhole that the crew goes through in the first place if the only way NASA learns how to make a wormhole is by Cooper being in the black hole and relaying the data to Murph via the Tesseract? How did the initial wormhole come into existence?”

They do?  No WAY!  Oh, wait. That’s exactly what I’ve been saying here. Never mind. I’ll let wawa4life continue…

Well the answer is this:

“So imagine this scenario: Prof. Brand and the NASA team are trying to figure out Plan A but they can’t solve the equation. Originally there is no wormhole, and they are stuck on Earth as the blight is happening. Brand sends a team of astronauts and robots on a ship and travel to Gargantua without a wormhole (it just takes hundreds of millions of years). During this time they are in hibernation. They finally arrive on the planet, colonize, and send a probe into the black hole that relays the data to solve Plan A. After a long enough time of living on Gargantua, they evolve into 5D beings, and using the data from the probe in the black hole, they create the wormhole. Since it’s 5D, they can go back and change events (time is not linear anymore). They make the wormhole, place it near Saturn, and then the events in the movie play out as we see them. This way there isn’t a paradox, because the wormhole was not constructed out of thin air.

“This fits well with the movie’s tagline: “Mankind was born on Earth, it was never meant to die here”. Originally, mankind did die on planet Earth except for the select few that made it to Gargantua and colonized the remaining humans. It was only after evolving into 5D beings that they could go back and prevent mankind from perishing on Earth. The tagline is alluding to this theory because mankind did originally die on Earth, but eventually they went back after evolving to prevent mankind from dying on Earth in the first place.”

The Long Travel Theory Problem

I think I can debunk this theory in one sentence.  Just because a human is “hybernating” doesn’t mean their body will survive “millions of years”.  We allow this concept to go unchecked in a movie that utilizes it for 10, 20 or 30 years… but millions?  No.  Suspension of Disbelief shows up and rocks your world at that point.  No.  That isn’t going to fly I don’t think.  Not at all.  If we thought that hybernation could solve the problem of life longevity, I’m thinking we would have thrown all our resources at it already and solved this problem for once and for all.  I mean, infinite life?  Hello!

Well, NOW WHAT?!?

Alright. So if the movie’s literal theory is fatally flawed and can’t be fixed by using M-string theory, or any sort of long travel theory, then what do we do?  What we need to do is clean up that crazy infographic timeline I gave you so that we can actually understand what the literal theory actually looks like, so that when I tear it to shreds it will make sense.  So here, try this on for size:


 The Post Mortem Theory

The only way that I make sense of Nolan’s movie Interstellar is actually a fairly simple explanation.  When Cooper jettisons himself to give Brand the help she needs to make it to Edmonds’ planet and he is adrift in space… remember that moment?  Yeah, Cooper dies.  From that moment on, everything we see in the movie is a vision that Cooper has as he’s dying. His getting picked up by the tesseract, the interactions with Murph, and meeting Murph again at the space station, heading off to find Brand?  All a dream.  These are all manifestations of a guilty conscience as he realizes the fact that he has failed his daughter and is attempting to make sense of it all.

I hear you crying FOUL! at the top of your lungs. Oh yeah? Then explain to me the illogicalness of the movie.  Give me a theory that even makes half sense and I’m all about it.  But I’m sorry, this is the only possible sensible explanation.  Nolan talks about how he knows about every inconsistency in ever movie he makes and he’s ok with them because most people don’t notice.  But with Interstellar he has created a logical fallacy big enough to drive a truck through. And anyone dumb enough to not notice this big of a plot hole should have their movie watching rights revoked.  (Just saying. hah.)  Anyway, to more clearly illustrate what I’m talking about I have created two more charts, one shows the specific details of what never actually occurred because Cooper was dead.  And the second one shows the actual events that most likely occurred in the movie as a result.  (obviously, click them to inbiggify them)


Walking through this is easier if you think through logically what cannot possibly happen.  I’m going to give the movie the wormhole.  Otherwise we just have nothing.  Zero movie.  But we have to say that it is a naturally occurring black hole that spontaneously appeared.  Never mind the fact that it should have eaten the sun and the earth, etc.  (Take a deep breath Taylor.  You can do this.)  So if NASA has sent in probes, and somehow, they were able to send back communication about the planets they’ve investigated we have propped the movie up enough to continue forward surmising.  Cooper and Brand enter the wormhole and arrive at Mann’s planet.  Mann sabotages their mission with his selfishness. Brand and Cooper get off the planet, but barely.  Cooper ejects and sends Brand on towards Edmonds’ planet.

Cooper is drifting in the void of space.  And then he dies there.  And in his dying he sees visions of a dreamed tesseract that allows him to communicate with Murph at various stages in her life. He dreams of leaving the tesseract and being picked up by a passing ship just before dying.  He has visions of keeping his promise to Murphy.  And then he imagines heading off to meet with Brand and helping her establish the colony of humans utilizing the ark – the Plan B.  This is all an oxygen deprived dream.  Or better yet, its a Jacob’s Ladder equivalent, of his releasing all the detritus of his life before being able to move on to the after life.

As Cooper is drifting dead through space, we need to swivel our focus now to Murphy.  Without the TARS data, which would only be communicable via the tesseract, Murphy would not have been able to solve the gravitational problems and colonize space with the current survivors of earth. So Plan A would have failed.  But what about Brand?  She would have arrived on Edmonds’ planet and would have grieved his death. She would have found it habitable, and then she would have established the ark and began the colonization process with the DNA of the Ark. So human life would have survived the failure of planet earth.

Oh I know there are weaknesses in this theory. But when you point them out, my answer is invariably going to be, explain to me your theory, and how it has fewer gaping holes in it than mine?  Hahah. No, seriously, I’ve been struggling with this damn movie since I first walked out of the theater. Normally I crank a movie review the night after I see it. But this one wasn’t like that at all. I struggled and struggled and struggled with it until I decided my first thought in the movie theater was all that was left. He’s dead, I said to the guy next to me.  Nope. He died long ago. And although I wish I could have come up with a better explanation to solve the problems with this movie, I could not.  Do you have a theory that I should include here? I want to hear about it below.  Tell me just how bad my theory sucks. I want one that I can really believe in.  Come on guys!  Give me something better!  And Benjamin, here’s a shout out to you for pushing me to finally get off my butt and get this done. And then pushing again!  haha.