This Theory About The Ending Of 'Interstellar' Changes Everything

Christopher Nolan is undeniably THE best filmmaker of the past 15 years. No one can deny his importance and the cult following surrounding his work.

Moreover, no other British/American filmmaker has been able to work so freely on big scale productions. But more than an incredible talent, the public knows and admires Nolan for his restless effort to create stories that have different layers, that one must see through a maze of clues, usually all connected by one common thread.

Interstellar, his latest work to date (2014), is no exception to this rule. Obviously, with what seems like a perfect ending, which is too classic for Nolan, everyone thought the same thing: there must be more to it. Another theory. And that's the case. Of the many fan theories available online, let's discuss the most probable one. I'm gonna take it even further and affirm firmly: Yes, this theory is the only way to see the film.



(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

The film's summary

To begin, let me refresh your memory. It seems pointless to warn you at this point since you've clicked on this link and probably saw the film but... Spoilers alert!

At the end of Interstellar, Cooper, stuck in a 5D space built by futuristic beings within a black hole, manages to share with his daughter Murph, now grown-up, the quantum data to solve the gravity equation. He manages so using Morse code on the clock hand of the watch he gave to his daughter as a farewell gift.


"the bulk beings are closing the tesseract", then Coop falls in a wormhole, in which he meets his spaceship, and does the famous handshake with Brand. In the next shot, we see him drifting in space, his eyes closed, unconscious, maybe even dead. He seems close to Saturn. Suddenly, a light, we can discern an approaching spaceship in the distance. Cut to black. Here's my theory, Coop's story ends here (and the end credits could've rolled out at this moment).

But no, Nolan added another 10 minutes. I'll come back to this choice in my conclusion, but let's focus on my theory for now. According to me (and others), these 10 last minutes are actually all in Cooper's head, as he drifts off near Saturn after his encounter with the black hole.


In this instant he's experiencing a NDE, a near-death experience. The phenomenon is defined as " a personal experience associated with impending death, encompassing multiple possible sensations including detachment from the body, feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, warmth, the experience of absolute dissolution, and the presence of a light"; as well as a "tunnel experience or entering a darkness. A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase." I think it's safe to assume that Christopher Nolan intended to open this theory with this scene. And many clues in the film point to it.

Death in soul

To start with, regarding his state of imminent death in the shot of him floating in space, two things point to it. The first being that Cooper was thrown out of a black hole. As astrophysicists and NASA explains, the gravitational pressure of a black hole is so strong that a human being couldn't survive in it without suffocating.

When you know Nolan worked on Interstellar's screenplay with Kip Thorne, the world's black hole reference, it seems unlikely they would've left such an incoherence in the script. In the film, it might even be possible that Cooper was already dead when he entered Gargantua, or close to dying. In that case, either the 5D sequence was only hallucinations, or maybe he acted unconsciously, guided by the "bulk beings" and TARS. Furthermore many NDE subjects have reported being "prisoners of geometric shapes (such as the infinity and yin/yang symbols)."


The image of infinite space in the tesseract's 5D? Two minutes earlier in the film, Cooper is in his ship, heading straight for the black hole. He sees light projections coming from ahead and begins to scream, suddenly we shift back to his son Tom on Earth, in front of the burning farm. The scene cuts, and we're back in the cockpit, where Cooper regains consciousness after (we guess) he was out for a couple of minutes.


(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Is this when the film goes into NDE? The fact that the bright lights disappeared as he woke up, and the fact he lost consciousness before entering the black hole, a geometric shape, makes it all very possible. Now it's up to you to decide. Personally, I chose to believe that this phase is real, and that his imminent death doesn't happen until the moment he comes out of the Tesseract.

The second clue is in the music playing during the space drifting scene. Just before it cuts, Hanz Zimmer (who delivers a masterful partition) concludes his song 'What Happens Now' with a high organ note, that remains constant and lingers in time. Just like an hospital's electrocardiogram and its continuous sound when a heart stops beating.

Matt Damon and “Muuuuuurrrph”!

After this scene comes the happy ending, where Cooper wakes up in the space station that has his name (well actually his daughter's),  returns to his newly rebuilt farm, sees his daughter on her hospital bed (now three times his age), repairs TARS, steals a ship and flies off with the ambition to find Brand on Edmond's planet after finding the ideal ecosystem for human beings. Let's be honest, when you think of the ending this way, it's sound way too good to be true. And that's exactly why I prefer to believe it isn't true, it's all a result of the NDE. I have the proof!

Nolan is known for writing lines that always have a deeper meaning that makes sense further in the story. The lines are never just said for the sake of it. As a matter of fact, Dr. Mann (that crook), played by Matt Damon, tells Cooper an intriguing fact, about 30 minutes earlier in the film. "The last thing you see before you die is your children." Five minutes later Mann betrays Cooper, leaving him agonising on the glacier, and asks him "Can you see your children now? They're with you right now." While he escapes and Brand attempts to save Cooper, he tries to remain conscious, and pictures his last memory of Murph, from years before.

Why is this line so important for my theory? Because if it comes up twice in the story, even though it doesn't bring anything to the story, there must be a reason behind it. In the final act, just before Cooper really dies in space, Dr. Mann's theory comes into place. Cooper imagines the life he would've had if he had been saved in time: Healed on a space station and finally reunited with an older Murph.

On top of that, who hasn't noticed that when he enters Murph's hospital room, the family members around the bed make space for Cooper, but he doesn't care for them. We don't even really see their faces in the shot. After two minutes with Murph, he retires the same way, walking back, and Murph's grand-children (and his) surround the bed again, without paying attention to their great grand-father and hero. You'll also notice Nolan's craft in this shot.

All of this seems odd, even irrational right? Well it seems rather logical if you apply my theory to it. Cooper doesn't recognise his grand-children and great-grand-childen. He imagines their physical presence, but has no idea what they look like nor who they are. And just like a dream, he leave the room walking backwards as they come closer to Murph.

True, but since Dr. Mann mentioned his "children",where his Cooper's son in the hospital scene? Well to begin with, if he imagines his daughter 100 years older, it's very likely Cooper already imagines his son to be dead, since he was older than Murph. Secondly, I think everyone who saw Interstellar knows it by now, Cooper doesn't seem to care much for his son.

It's one of the criticism you can make about the film. And thirdly, when Cooper was agonising on Dr. Mann's planet. waiting for Brand's help, he only pictures his daughter since their bond reflects Cooper's personality, even if it's a shame for poor Tom.

The Three T : Tunnel, TARS and Televisions

Finally we can also look for clues about this theory within the Cooper station. Did Nolan hide anything in the background? One element is very obvious, at least it seems it was put there to make the theory possible: The space station has the shape of a giant cylinder, with at the end of it... a bright white light, used as a 'sun' for the humans.

Humm.. And please remind me what people who go through NDE experience? That's right, they see a tunnel with a light at the end of it. Moreover, the representations of this tunnel coincides with the images of Interstellar.


My train of thought is guided by THIS very detail. Because for the rest of what I've brought forward, it's difficult to know what is true and what can only be applied to my theory. Two questions remain though. First off, a little logistic incoherence. The men that saved Cooper on the station put the dysfunctional TARS in Cooper's farm.

And it just seems very unlikely that, from the point of view of the rescuers, they would leave the robot to rust. TARS might be the only witness to all of what happened during the interstellar trip. The station's engineers would've tried to work on the robot to collect valuable information. Especially since Cooper manages to fix him using only a screwdriver. If we follow our theory to the end, and we consider Nolan's greatness, once again TARS waiting for Cooper in his living room is only his visions, that he imagines before dying.

Finally one last odd thing in the film's end, and I think everyone noticed it: the TVs in the station that plays in loop testimonies of life on Earth, from when Coop lived there. Some of the extracts are used at the very beginning of the film too, as shots within the story. So yes, you can suggest the TVs are here as a kind of memorial, or that Cooper's recreated farm is like a museum (which would explain the red ropes guiding Cooper in the house when he enters), but they also look like something out of a dream.

In fact, at the very beginning of the film, we hear the first testimony of an old lady saying "my father was a farmer", Cooper is asleep, as if he was just reliving his last moments on Earth in his final visions. But I understand this last point is a toughie to demonstrate, even though I prefer to believe in this projection possibility.

Interstellar Anne Hataway

(Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

There's one thing for sure, with the film's open-ending, Nolan allows us to imagine the possibilities, just like he did in Inception. Because look at the facts, would a director that pays so much attention to every detail would be satisfied with this banal ending. It could also be because his mainstream status asks of him to create this 'alternative' simple ending. But that actually hides with great subtlety the REAL ending to Interstellar.

Read more -> Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ gets first thrilling teaser

By Florent Bodenez, published on 11/08/2016


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