Screenwriter, Author and Filmmaker K. Hari Kumar explains the three acts in Interstellar. Writing masterclass

Film Script Breakdown : Interstellar

Let me spill a little secret – among directors who’ve left an indelible mark on my generation, none have quite rocked our world like Christopher Nolan. I bet I’m not alone in that sentiment.

And today, we’re going on a special journey into space through a story that really stretched our imagination.

In this post, we’re going to look closely at the mysterious story plan behind Christopher Nolan’s amazing movie, “Interstellar.” This special movie didn’t just excite people all over the world; it got everyone talking about space, time, and what it means to be human. Even people who had nothing to do with it spoke about it because the story connected with each and everyone of us at the primal level.

You can listen to this on The Story Vault Podcast as well.

The screenplay of “Interstellar” is a testament to the power of storytelling. It weaves together elements of science, emotion, and sheer audacity, propelling us on a journey through wormholes and black holes, while never losing sight of the heart-wrenching connections that bind us all – the human connect and existence.

As we dissect the layers of this epic tale, we’ll explore how the screenplay crafted moments made us say “Wow!” and the sad moments that made us feel for the characters. We’ll also talk about how the clever science parts were added to the story to make it feel real.

So, get ready for a really exciting ride into space! This is “The Story Vault,” and I’m K. Hari Kumar. Before we start, make sure to find me on Instagram and Twitter; you can search for @TheHariKumar.

Done? Good… Okay, let’s jump into the amazing story plan of “Interstellar.”

The Idea

Before “Interstellar,” Christopher Nolan had already made a name for himself by writing and directing three highly successful Batman films, propelling him to fame as both a director and screenwriter. Nolan’s films often grapple with sophisticated concepts, wrapped in the full potential of what a blockbuster can achieve with state-of-the-art effects and daring storytelling. 

Most of you who are listening to this podcast might be aware that the Indian film Ghajini was ‘inspired’ from Nolan’s Memento. However, it was his work on “Inception” that garnered him special recognition. This high-concept sci-fi tale showcased Nolan’s fearless approach to complex ideas. “Interstellar” can be seen as a spiritual successor to “Inception.”

“Interstellar” unfolds in a future Earth ravaged by environmental catastrophe, facing its demise within a mere century.

At its core, the story of Interstellar orbits around the protagonist, Cooper, portrayed by the talented Matthew McConaughey. His main drive is exploration. Once a NASA pilot, he now toils as a farmer in a world plagued by food shortages. His deepest affections are reserved for his two children: his daughter Murph and his son, Tom.

Murph, the elder and only daughter of Cooper, is a bright mind with an ardent passion for science. However, her heart shatters when her father embarks on his mission with NASA to search for habitable planets in the vast expanse of space. Anger becomes a prevailing force in her life. 

This potent emotion ultimately propels her to transcend the pain of her father’s departure, leading her to unravel the gravitational equation that holds the key to saving Earth.

The film draws substantial inspiration from other monumental sci-fi masterpieces, notably Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (which happens to be another favorite of mine).

Act 1

Cooper wakes from the dream. Image courtesy –

Now, let’s dive into the story right from the start. The initial scene depicts a plane crash, which subsequently reveals itself to be a recurring dream haunting our protagonist, Cooper. While this may strike as peculiar initially, the placement of the crash holds deeper significance. It stands as the lone clue in the film, prior to his departure from Earth, hinting at his prior involvement with NASA. This is what we call ‘Show… don’t tell’. If they had not shown this opening scene, there’d have been a need for explicit dialogue regarding his past as a pilot, to prevent the audience from assuming they’ve just selected any random farmer for a mission of such magnitude.

Later, within the confines of the NASA facility, a physicist elucidates the gravitational anomalies to Cooper, mentioning, “At first they were just small disturbances in the upper atmosphere. In fact, I believe you encountered one yourself.” Cooper responds, “Yeah, when I crashed over the straits, something tripped my flyby wire.”  Thus, right from this concise sequence, various threads are interconnected. Despite its brevity, this scene conveys significant insights into the enigmatic entities referred to as ‘They’ throughout the film.

So… that’s the opening scene. Then we are introduced to the protagonist, his family, and the world in the scenes that follow. When I say ‘the world’, I am not referring to the world as in the earth. Of course, In “Interstellar,” “the world” is not limited to a single location or time period, but rather encompasses multiple dimensions, from a struggling Earth to the far reaches of space.

But let me explain what we filmmakers and writers mean when we say ‘The World’. 

In storytelling, ‘The World’ refers to the setting, environment, or universe in which the story takes place. It encompasses everything from the physical landscape and geographical location to the cultural, social, and historical context.

“The world” sets the stage for the narrative, providing the backdrop against which characters interact and events unfold. It includes elements like the time period, geographical location, society’s norms, rules, and any unique or fantastical aspects specific to the story’s universe.

In Interstellar, for example, we’re introduced to Cooper, a father of two. He is a farmer with two kids and an aging father in law. His world consists of a near-future Earth plagued by environmental catastrophe. This version of Earth is characterized by giant dust storms and crop blight, painting a picture of a planet in crisis. Advanced technology coexists with agrarian struggles, indicating a society grappling with the consequences of ecological disaster.

As the story progresses, “the world” expands to include the secret NASA facility, a hidden hub of interstellar exploration. Further into the narrative, “the world” broadens to uncharted galaxies and planets that the characters venture to. Each new planet presents its own unique environment, with distinct challenges and possibilities, showcasing the vastness and diversity of the universe beyond Earth.

I will talk more about World and World Building in a future episode of The Story Vault. Let’s come back to the first act of Interstellar.

We’re introduced to Cooper, who’s struggling to navigate the changes in the world. His daughter, Murph, makes a curious discovery involving falling dust. She believes there might be a presence in the room trying to communicate with her.

Murph finds a ghost in the room communicating through dust.

This revelation leads them to a hidden NASA facility, where Cooper’s longtime friend, Professor Brand, unveils an ambitious plan for an interstellar mission. Brand lays out PLAN A and B, to Cooper, emphasizing that it’s Earth’s final hope to discover a habitable planet before dwindling resources lead to the extinction of humanity. They’re in need of skilled pilots for the mission, and they’re asking Cooper to step in. Plan A would take those who remained on earth on the ship to a new habitable planet. Which is inspired from mythological stories about pralay and the ark. Plan B involved taking specimen and starting over on the new planet. However, this also means that Cooper would have to be away from his children, and due to the relative nature of time, if he ever returns, his kids might have aged or even passed away. Cooper grapples with a profound moral dilemma: choosing between saving humanity and potentially missing out on his children’s crucial years of growth.

And that decision… is the end of Act 1. 

The end of Act 1 in a story typically marks a significant turning point or a moment of decision for the protagonist. It sets the stage for the main conflict and propels the story into its central challenges. In “Interstellar,” the end of Act 1 occurs when Cooper agrees to embark on the interstellar mission to save humanity, despite knowing that he’ll be separated from his children for an extended period due to the effects of time dilation. This decision sets the course for the rest of the narrative, as Cooper and his team venture into space, facing unforeseen challenges and discoveries.

Act 2

This is where the story shifts into high gear. Cooper, leading a crew of intrepid explorers, sets out on their audacious mission. While Murph waits for her father at home, Cooper and crew pass through dangerous interstellar travel. One of their missions ends in failure, and they lose a crew member on an unstable planet full of water. Then they decide to venture into Dr Mann’s planet based on Anna Hathaway’s insistence. That’s where we have that infamous conversation about love that can connect souls.

Dr Mann gives hope and then leads Cooper into the darkest moment of his journey.

We are almost nearing the interval point. The unexpected encounter with Mann initially hikes their confidence in the mission’s success. However, here, the narrative takes a dark turn. Mann’s deceit and ill-fated attempt to seize control of their spacecraft shatter their hopes of a triumphant return home. The crew confronts the harsh reality that their loved ones may have aged significantly, if not moved on entirely, in their absence.

The crew grapples with the grim truth that a reunion with their families may be beyond reach. Cooper learns that Brand never believed in Plan A. It was always Plan B.

Back on earth, Murph has turned as old as Cooper (when he had left earth). This again was an emotion seeded in the first act. For Cooper, the haunting notion of never reuniting with his loved ones is emotionally devastating. This is the lowest point for our characters.

A daring plan emerges, born out of desperation. They aim to harness the unique properties of the black hole to reach the last potentially habitable planet. Yet, this choice comes at a significant cost – an additional 51 years of Earth time. Cooper comprehends the gravity of this sacrifice, recognizing it as essential to fulfill the mission’s purpose.

In screenwriting terms, Act 2 is typically the longest and most eventful section of a script, characterized by rising action, challenges, and character development. The interval point is a pivotal moment where the story takes a drastic turn, often leading to increased stakes and complications. The lowest point for the characters tests their resolve and determination.

There was never a PLAN A.

Then we transition into Act 3, where the characters make a crucial decision or take a significant action that propels them towards the story’s climax and resolution.

Act 3

The climax takes an unexpected turn. The meticulously planned use of the black hole’s force doesn’t go according to script. In an act of extraordinary selflessness, Cooper hurls himself into the black hole, hoping to give Brand a shot at survival.

Cooper finds himself in a four-dimensional space, a tesseract, intricately linked to Murph’s room in the past. He seizes this extraordinary connection to relay vital information. Remarkably, he emerges from the black hole, rejoining humanity in the vastness of space. He shares a deeply moving moment with an elderly Murph, the very same Murph who once believed her room was visited by a ghost, not realizing it was her father attempting to communicate through time.

The Fifth Dimension.

Now, a man displaced both in time and space, Cooper embarks on a quest to find Brand, revealing a newfound appetite for adventure.

The story’s structure deftly weaves together high-stakes action with touching emotional layers. Cooper’s transformation from a reluctant explorer to a determined savior of humanity stands as a testament to the adept storytelling in “Interstellar.” This narrative framework ensures our captivated engagement from start to finish, making “Interstellar” an indelible cinematic odyssey.

Image Source –


“Interstellar” beautifully balances cosmic exploration with deep human connections, blending scientific grandeur with heartfelt emotion. The dual-narrative structure, weaving between astronomical science and intimate relationships, adds depth to the story, even if some aspects are open to interpretation and veer into sentimental territory. This interplay of science and emotion elevates “Interstellar” into a compelling and unforgettable cinematic experience.

And that wraps up this episode of The Story Vault with K. Hari Kumar. I hope this film’s screenplay  breakdown has given you the inspiration and guidance you need. Try watching Interstellar again after listening to this episode. It will help you understand the intricacies involved in telling stories at such a depth. Remember, my friends, you are storytellers with incredible tales to share. Let your imagination soar, let your words flow, and let your stories captivate the world.

If you have any questions or if there are specific topics you’d like me to cover in future episodes, don’t hesitate to reach out. Make sure you subscribe/follow my podcast, The Story Vault, on Ep.Log Media app or your preferred streaming platforms.

Until next time, keep writing, keep dreaming, and remember, your stories have the power to change the world.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *