For such an epic movie, Interstellar has an appropriately epic back-story to its production, years in the making. The original script was written by Jonathan Nolan and was going to be directed by Steven Spielberg, but when that fell through, Christopher Nolan decided to edit his brother's script to include some of his own ideas. We tracked down an original version of the script Jonathan Nolan created, and there are a lot of differences.
So what exactly did Christopher Nolan change from the original?
Spoilers for the entire film ahead, so proceed with caution.
There are certainly scenes and dialogue sprinkled throughout that remain the same, and the first act is mostly upheld between the original draft and the screen version. But the last half of the script reads like a completely different movie.
Major differences between the two include:
- Murph is a boy.
- There is less animosity from Murph towards Cooper for leaving.
- There is no “ghost” or communication between Coop and Murph. Coop's involvement in the mission is sparked by a probe that falls to Earth, which Coop happens to find.
- TARS is still a humorous, sassy robot that is described roughly the way he looks on film. But the team is led by another, more humanoid-looking robot that is not found in the film.
- The mission has one clear goal: to find, study and colonize the one planet documented by the probe, which appears to have favorable conditions to supporting life.
- There were no human missions into the wormhole prior to Coop's and there are not multiple planets to investigate.
- Everything after the wormhole is different. That’s a short summary, so if you are curious about the movie’s entire plot, see below. There are too many differences post-wormhole to completely list.
- The biggest one of those post-wormhole differences is that there are, in fact, aliens. A few varieties.
- The aliens did place the wormhole there, but not specifically to save humanity.
- Coop is unaware that the gravity of the black hole is changing time until he finds decades of recorded messages from his family when he returns to the ship.
- There is no False Plan A plot.
- Coop and Brand have a romantic relationship (personally, I think removing that was one of the wisest changes).
- Murph does not save the world. He starts decoding data from the probe, but the work continues and is passed on through generations. It is not realized in Murph's lifetime.
- Coop is not reunited with his children, but ends up on Earth 200 years later and meets his great-great-grandson, who is on his death bed.
If you want the full story, you can read the script here. If you don’t feel like reading it all, we’ve created a synopsis of Jonathan Nolan's original version.
The film opens with a scientist studying a potential wormhole in our galaxy. NSA agents confiscate his research, and then the movie flash forwards to 50 years later.
Coop and his sons (that’s right – Murph is a male) and father in law are at a baseball game, similar to the one we see in the final version of the movie. There is no dust storm, but a meteor-like object flies across the sky.
The first act plays out almost the same as it does in the original with only slight modifications, with Coop driving his sons to parent teacher conferences. On the way he finds the drone, which is Chinese instead of Indian. The parent-teacher conference plays out in almost exactly the same way, and Murph is suspended.
When Coop is finished at school he gets a call. Instead of tractors moving towards his home, it’s happening somewhere else. He flies to Galveston in an old prop plane he owns to fix haywire tractors, which he had originally programmed for a customer. They’re all moving towards a crater in the Earth, which Coop finds and discovers was created by a probe (the object he saw flash across the sky earlier). Coop decodes it and finds pictures of an ice covered planet. The probe’s signals eventually lead him to the secret NASA headquarters.
Coop finds NASA and learns about the wormhole. The mission is different though – they have sent only unmanned probes through the wormhole, and now they are looking for the one habitable planet the probe documented. Coop decides to go on the mission too. Less drama ensues than what we see in the final version, but Murph is sad and wants to go with him.
When passing through the wormhole, the ship is temporarily infiltrated by the alien life forms who presumably created the wormhole. They are only visible as a distortion to space and gravity and interact with the crew but are not harmful.
When they reach the other side, they land on the planet and find that a Chinese crew has already beat them there. The Chinese had been working on the planet for years, preparing it for colonization, but died from radiation poisoning, and their robots are continuing the mission. They find small alien life forms that light up and move in the ice and collect samples of them.
They realize that the Chinese also wanted to move to this planet, but had discovered a small black hole was headed for the planet and would likely destroy it too – that even their new planet was doomed. The Chinese researchers had created some kind of black box, labeled with the translation ‘treasure,’ that appeared to change gravity. The crew extrapolates that the Chinese were going to use it to move the ice planet and save it from the black hole. Instead of trying to save the ice planet, the scientists decide to take the black box back to Earth and use it to get people off the planet and into space.
Chinese-made robots eventually apprehend the crew, and they have to fight their way off the planet. They make it off, but are then sabotaged by a robot that made it onto the ship and moves them off course. They’re sucked towards a giant black hole. Instead of falling into the black hole, a second, larger wormhole appears at the last minute. They enter the wormhole and find themselves in an empty space, where they mostly wait. Cooper and Brand develop a romance.
In that space they eventually find a station that has been previously set up. Evidently the Chinese had found this wormhole too, and had been using it to buy themselves time. Time slows exponentially in the wormhole – the scientific work of the Chinese crew would have taken about 4,000 years on Earth to develop. This is where they developed the black box to change gravity. There are also a series of black holes in this place, used to travel, one of which the Chinese believed would take them back in time to Earth before the population was destroyed.
There are other black holes with unknown destinations. Brand takes TAR and decides to explore them, but Coop wants to return to Earth to see his children. They part ways. Coop and another astronaut find more of the research from the Chinese team, load it into a probe, and try to return home via a black hole that they believe will lead to a past version of Earth. At the last second, Coop looks at the probe and realizes it is the same one he found in wreckage that led him to NASA in the first place. He decides not to go but cannot convince the other astronaut to stay as well. The astronaut leaves and the ship explodes, sending only the probe into the past.
Coop eventually takes a ship and makes it to Earth, but hundreds of years have passed during his time near the black hole, and Earth is frozen and devoid of life. He is not able to travel back in time. He visits the site of his old home and pulls out the sample of the alien creature they found on the ice planet. The creature roots into the ice and multiplies, and Coop realizes the “other” beings had planned this all along. They knew the ice creatures’ planet was going to die and thought the new, cold Earth would be a better home for them. Coop starts to freeze and passes out.
He wakes up on a space station and finds out humanity survived after all, thanks to his descendants, who continued to study the probe he sent back in time and used the work from the Chinese research. He steals a ship and decides to explore the stars and find Brand again.