Interstellar McConaughey Nolan

Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar features a pretty powerful message about love, but it’s not all sweetness and light. It doesn’t shy away from the darker side of humanity, particularly in a third-act twist that puts our heroes in jeopardy.

In a new interview, Nolan discusses that divisive scene, laying out the logic and motivations that led to the big moment. We’re purposely being vague here because we’d hate to be the jerks who ruin the movie, so let’s just slap up a big fat spoiler warning and head to the jump where we can talk freely.

If you’ve seen Interstellar, you probably already know exactly what scene I’m talking about: Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and the Endurance arrive on Dr. Mann’s planet, having been lured there by promising data. Once they arrive, however, it emerges that Mann (Matt Damon) faked the data so he could get rescued. Mann attacks Cooper and leaves him to die, then sets out to initiate “Plan B” on Edmunds’ planet.

We got to learn a bit more about Mann’s story after the fact, thanks to a prequel comic penned by Nolan. Now the filmmaker has dug even further into Mann’s motivations in a conversation with The Daily Beast:

It’s very straightforward: selfishness and cowardice. It’s very human, and I love what Matt did with that; he found the reality of it. It’s the kind of sequence where you loathe the guy because he’s doing something that you feel you might wind up doing in a similar situation. It’s very logical, but the rationalization of it is extraordinary—the way he was able to rationalize his own cowardice into a positive thing. Loneliness and desperation will make us do crazy things.

Explaining that the sequence was inspired by classics like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, Nolan continued:

[Mann is] not exactly crazy. It’s weirdly logical, but appallingly selfish. The only outcome to the mission for him was [a colony]. I think, and it’s something we talked a lot about — and it’s something he says in the film — that there was no doubt in his mind that his was going to be the planet, his was going to be the mission. So whatever the risks, he felt very confident. And when he’s confronted by the bleak reality of just dying out there alone, it all starts to unravel.

And just so we’re clear, Dr. Mann is not named after a certain fellow filmmaker. “I did apologize to Michael Mann, too,” Nolan said. “I told him, ‘It’s not intended as an affront!’”

As happy as Nolan was to discuss the Dr. Mann twist, however, he was not as willing to break down everything else about the film. “No way, man!” he said when asked to explain the ambiguous ending.

“You’re just going to have to go back and see it again. It’s there for you to make what you make of it. People do always have radically different interpretations of things I put in there, but I know what I think and I don’t like it to have any more validity than the experience you have watching it.” Good thing we’ve got those unlimited tickets that’ll let us rewatch Interstellar to our hearts’ content.

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