What is Christopher Nolan\’s Interstellar About?


Interstellar-logoScience fiction fans, science buffs, and rabid devotees to all things Christopher Nolan are beginning to become very excited over his new movie “Interstellar”, which finally hits theaters this November. The movie was at one time going to be directed by Spielberg, but then Nolan came on and re-wrote the original script with his brother. The movie is based on a story by Jonathan Nolan, Kip Thorne, and Lynda Obst. For the science buffs out there who are aware of Kip Thorne, you can expect a lot of wormhole and black hole stuff in the film.

Back in 2008 an early draft of the script leaked online. This was the Jonathan Nolan draft, which was then re-written by Christopher and him. So the movie will definitely be somewhat different, but this week’s trailer seems to confirm that it is still following the same overall story.

I’ll put a warning here that there will be minor spoilers in this article. I’ll try to keep specifics to a minimum, but remember a lot could have changed from 2008.

Some differences I noticed via the trailer:

  • The character of “Murph” is now a girl as opposed to a boy in the script.
  • The scene of the crew being put into water containers (for cryo-freeze?) isn’t in the 2008 draft.
  • The “Indian” drone is a Chinese drone in the script. The Chinese play a huge part in the draft, but it’s possible they changed them to India due to how much money movies make in China these days.
  • The 2008 draft of the script has robots in some key roles, and while I looked very carefully in the trailer I couldn’t spot any of those characters. It’s possible they are deliberately hiding them until later.

I’m writing this article as people seem to be inventing the movie in their head already, and are expecting something it isn’t (at least in the 2008 draft). It is an absolutely fantastic science fiction movie, but far too many people are expecting a cerebral “2001” style film with philosophical debates between the crew as to what interstellar travel means to the human condition. That’s not this movie. If you want to compare it to an Arthur C. Clarke book, this is more “Rama” than “A Space Odyssey”.

The story is set in the near future. After a present-day opening where a stable wormhole is discovered, the story jumps 50 years to an Earth where the large governments have failed, and everyone is running out of food. People live in small farm communes and just try to survive while a blight is wiping out crops. The main character, Coop, has a farm with his two kids and father-in-law (his wife died of brain cancer that wasn’t caught because humans reject technology now) when one day they find a space probe.

This probe has a homing beacon and they use it to find an old facility where a team of scientists are working on a secret mission to launch a ship into the wormhole that was discovered early in the film, and they’ve been waiting for this probe to return to confirm what they’ll find on the other side.

As Coop is an engineer in a world where his skills are wasted, they need him for the mission and he reluctantly agrees to leave his kids to help find a new home for the human race. The ship, which was built in orbit, leaves Earth and enters the wormhole. This is where the trailer ends, and it amounts to the first 45-60 min of the movie.

There’s a whole lot more they didn’t show, and I honestly don’t know if we’ll see much of the 2nd or 3rd act in the marketing. The trailer does have one shot of Coop in the ship from later in the movie and the bright white planet outside of the window is a clue that they are keeping a big part of the script intact. But a lot of what happens on the other side of the wormhole would be hard to market correctly as it’s pretty strange. Not strange in a psychological way like in the trippy 2001 scenes, but strange in that it goes very “out there” with the kind of things we may discover through interstellar travel.

Black holes also play a big part of the story, as do the theories of time dilation around a black hole. The way time is involved sort of brings a small “Inception” angle to the movie. If you liked SciFi stories like 12 Monkeys where elements come full circle, you’ll enjoy how the story wraps up if they don’t deviate too far from the 2008 draft.

People viewing the trailer have theories as to who Jessica Chastain is playing in the movie, and I’ll just say that they are correct in their assumptions. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but if they keep the 2008 draft’s finale, it’s a great science fiction story.

If I had to describe Interstellar it would be “Mission to Mars” (but MUCH better than that movie) with a tiny bit of “Inception” (the way it plays with time dilation) while telling a hard science fiction story the likes of which we really haven’t seen in a big budget way. It deals with theories and concepts that are normally limited to science fiction novels, and if they don’t change too much from the 2008 draft, it’ll be a future classic.

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