Interstellar begins sometime in the near future. A blight ravages mankind and makes farming anything beyond corn an impossibility. Cooper, played by Mathew McConaughey, is an ex-NASA pilot who runs a farm with his father-in-law, son, and daughter Murphy. Murphy believes that there is a ghost in her room because her books fall off her shelf without cause. Coop doesn’t believe her at first, but when a dust storm blows in across the valley and the dust settles in Murphy’s room in a defined pattern, Coop reconsiders. The dust pattern is actually a set of geographic coordinates written in binary code. Cooper determines that someone or something is using gravity to communicate. Cooper and Murphy follow the coordinates and discover a hidden NASA compound under the leadership of Dr. Brand, Cooper’s ex-professor.
Dr. Brand asks how Cooper was able to find the facility and Cooper answers that it was due to something supernatural. Dr. Brand believes that ‘They’ led Cooper to the facility, though he doesn’t know who ‘They’ are. He tells Cooper that the crops are eventually going to fail. Mankind will either die of starvation or of suffocation due to a lack of oxygen in the atmosphere. His facility is searching for a hospitable planet to move the human race to. A task made easier by the appearance, 48 years prior, of a wormhole thought to be created by a higher intelligence. The wormhole leads to a distant galaxy with 12 potentially habitable planets. By the time Cooper finds Dr. Brand, Dr. Brand has already sent an expeditionary crew into the wormhole and discovered that of the twelve planets, only three of them might be suited for human life. Only three of the members from the original expeditionary crew gave indication that there planet was hospitable. Dr. Brand plans to send one more crew into the wormhole to find out what happened to the expeditionary crew and find a new home for mankind.
Dr. Brand has two plans to insure the survival of the human race. Plan A: discover a solution that will answer the problem of gravity. With this question answered, Dr. Brand can harness gravity to evacuate humanity from Earth. Plan B: Send Cooper with a small crew carrying frozen embryos into the wormhole and hopefully set up a base camp for the rest of humanity to meet at. If the issue of gravity is not resolved, then at least mankind will be insured by Cooper’s mission. Cooper agrees to the leave his family because Dr. Brand assures him that he will be able to solve the gravity issue.
Cooper’s crew travel into the wormhole and head to the first planet. Because of the planets proximity to a black hole called Gargantua, time is dilated. For every hour on the planet, seven years will pass on earth. Cooper does not like this prospect because he wants to make it home to his kids. Cooper leaves a robot called TARS and Romilly on the space station as he and two more members head to the planet. The expedition is failed from the start and after the death of one crew member and several hours of ship repairs, Cooper and Dr. Brand’s daughter, Amelia, lose approximately 23 years. When they meet Romilly back at the space station, he has aged significantly. What was only three hours for Cooper and Amelia has been 23 years for Romilly.
After their first excursion, the crew determine that they can only hope to make it to one more planet. Of the planets, only one has continued to emit a distress beacon, the other one has gone silent. They decide to go to the planet with the distress beacon and there they find a member of the first expeditionary force, Dr. Mann, played by Matt Damon. Coop soon learns that Dr. Mann has falsified his data in order to be rescued. He attempts to kill Cooper and with a booby trap, succeeds in killing Romilly. Amelia saves Cooper and together they race Dr. Mann to the space station. Dr. Mann unsuccessfully attempts to dock with the space station and blows a large percentage of the station apart, dying in the process. Coop and Amelia successfully dock with the station but do not have enough fuel to make it back to earth.
In a last ditch effort, Cooper uses the gravitational pull of Gargantua to slingshot Amelia to the last habitable planet, losing 51 years of time due to the proximity of the black hole. Cooper ejects himself and the robot TARS into the black hole to give Amelia a chance to make it to the planet. The two slip past the event horizon, the point of no return, and find themselves floating in a tesseract outside of space and time. Cooper determines that ‘They’ are 5th dimensional beings, or beings able to manipulate at least 5 dimensions. The tesseract appears as a never-ending stream of Murphy’s bookshelf. It is essentially every moment of time that ever occurred in Murphy’s room. By navigating the tesseract, Cooper can communicate with Murphy throughout her life.
The ghost Murphy believed in at the beginning of the film ends up being Cooper from a 5th dimensional space outside time itself. The coordinates that appeared in the beginning of the movie in lines of dust were actually sent by Cooper as well. So who sent Cooper to the hidden NASA facility? Cooper sent Cooper. His position outside of time allows Cooper to help his daughter figure out the problem of gravity, eventually leading to humanities successful escape from Earth.
After Cooper helps his daughter, the tesseract closes and ejects Cooper out into space where he is rescued by a space station. The space station is named after his daughter because she was able to solve the issue of gravity and rescue humanity from Earth. When Cooper finally gets to meet his daughter, she is 124 years old while he is still the same age from the beginning of the movie.
This movie essentially looks at time as if it were a solid state. Similar to the way the Tralfamadorians from Slaughterhouse-Five view time. The past, present, and future, are just an illusion created by our experience of time. Time is depicted in an interconnected way in Interstellar. Cooper directly influences himself in the past to find the NASA facility, which then leads to his future in the black hole, which then allows him to help mankind with the issue of gravity. The movie takes it an extra step further by implying that the tesseract was made by a future colony of humans who can manipulate time.
If you were to look at this film in reverse: A future colony of humans insures their existence by creating a wormhole in the past that allows mankind to travel to a different galaxy. They build a tesseract in this galaxy so that Cooper can communicate with Murphy in the past, then allowing Murphy to solve the problem of gravity and rescue mankind from earth. If any one of these moments doesn’t occur, than the future colony of mankind would cease to exist.
With stories like these, often the question comes up of what event came first. How could Cooper influence himself from the future? Wouldn’t there be an initial Cooper who had to figure out everything on his own in order to get to the black hole? Who told that first Cooper the location of the NASA facility? Much like the question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” It is important to keep in mind that the film does not look at time in this way. The film represents time as if it were a solid state, predetermined if you will. In this predetermined time, the past, present, and the future are all interconnected and happening all at once. The film moves away from linear cause and effect, and instead gives us something very different and difficult to conceptualize.