The general understanding of Murphy’s Law is, “Anything that can go wrong will.” We say this anytime anything sucks, like some mantra of pessimism. When Interstellar‘s Murph Cooper asks her dad why she was named after something bad, he explains with the original wording of Murphy’s Law, a version of “Whatever can happen, will happen.” This is the key to the entire film, plot holes and all.



Interstellar is complicated, but for a work of science fiction, a great deal of the science explored in the film is correct. Scientists have weighed in positively on the way the wormhole looks, the way the black hole looks and behaves, and the way Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is talked about and applied, especially in reference to time.

Time, this thing we never have enough of, gets even scarier when space travel through worm holes and next to black holes is introduced. Michael Caine’s character Dr. Bland puts it, “I’m a physicist, I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of time.” When Cooper loses decades of his daughter’s life in just a few hours, the audience is confronted with a particular cruelty of time we don’t experience.

But, with humanity’s back against the wall, mourning personal tragedies seems to be a luxury, not a right. The survival of the human race must be considered, not the tugging of a human heart, but why? If you and everyone you love dies, why does it matter if there are more people? That, at least, seems to be the point the film is getting at, that without the personal, without love and bonds between particular human beings, there would be no reason to continue. In fact, it is Cooper’s love that ends up saving all of humanity.

Is love a dimension?

What happens after Cooper sacrifices himself and enters the singularly, and the sensory manifestation of the “tesseract,” he enters a place where time, at least in a particular location, exists at the same time. (Rust Cohle is nodding somewhere in approval.) After realizing that he’s infinitely behind his daughter’s bookshelf, and can communicate with her via gravity, he realizes that he has been her “ghost” all along.

This is the key to the salvation of humanity: in a little girl’s bedroom. Cooper also is struck that his colleague Dr. Amelia Brand’s flowery theory about love being a powerful force of its own is correct. She tells him as they argue about which planet to spend their limited supply of fuel on, “Love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful, it has to mean something . . . Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space.” Cooper looks on her skeptically, but he ends up living this space/time transcendence by communicating through time via gravity.

But here’s the thing, if Cooper had bought Dr. Brand’s grand speech about love, and went with her to her planet, he never would have found himself in the tesseract and communicating with the doomed people of Earth. His skepticism was part of the plan.

Is there free will in Interstellar?

Absolutely not. The mysterious “they” who open up the wormhole and gives Cooper the coordinates of NASA via piles of dust in Murph’s room, are actually Cooper himself, and the evolved descendants of humanity. We have saved ourselves by doing everything that we needed to save ourselves, which involved traveling through time, but does not involve changing the past.

Cooper realizes this in the tesseract. He initially tries to change the past by sending the “STAY” message, but everything he does has already been done, and is unchangeable. If, at any point, anyone had not done what they had done, the wormhole would have disappeared, and then possible the past would change, and humanity would be left to starve and suffocate on a dying planet with no escape route. In the world of Interstellar, we become our own gods, laying out a predestination once we transcend dimensions of time and space.

This brings us back to Murphy’s Law. Everything that could happen to save humanity, did, and once we evolved to the point of experiencing time on a different plane, a plane where everything happens at once, it’s obvious that everything that could happen does happen. That idea doesn’t sit comfortably well with people like me who cling to the possibilities of choice, but it is necessary for the fiber of the film, and for a way to understand how time travel could actually exist.

A part of Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” is recited four times during the film. They are desperate line calling at our fierce desire to survive, a desire ignited by our love for each other. In this case, though, our fierce struggle to survive doesn’t result in our survival, but instead, is just a part of it.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.