The 20 Similarities Between Interstellar and Inception

“Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.”

So, ‘Interstellar’, eh?

When Cutter utters (sorry!) the above words in ‘The Prestige’, it is almost as if Christopher Nolan is teasing all of us. I think the majority of us who’ve seen ‘Interstellar’ won’t really understand the hardcore Physics this movie is built around. We may certainly grasp some of it, and if you’ve read a little (which, really, you ought to), its terms won’t sound entirely alien (ha ha, see what I did there?).

What will also not feel quite alien – especially if you don’t have a life, and are the kind to think about a film long after leaving the movies – is the film’s plot. Because, as the title of this piece tries to tell you, you’ve seen it previously as ‘Inception’. How, you ask? Here’s how! Needless to say, spoilers follow…

1. This is a story of a guy with a scarred past, named with ‘C’,

Actually, this isn’t similar specifically with ‘Inception’ – all Nolan protagonists have a dark past. And yes, though Cobb is named Dom, he is usually called Cobb.

2. Who is forced to do something because he screwed up.

The film begins with Coop dreaming of crashing a plane (wink, wink*) and then tells us he became a farmer after; while we don’t know whether Cobb was always a criminal or not, he certainly had to run away and become one after Mal’s death.

3. He has a couple of kids,

A boy and a girl, in both cases.

4. Whose mothers are dead,

Don’t remember the name of the wife from ‘Interstellar’; and Mal from ‘Inception’.

5. And who are being raised by their grandfathers.

Donald for Coop and Miles for Cobb. Admittedly, though, the former’s a maternal grandfather and the latter paternal.

6. He was mentored at some point by Michael Caine,

Coop’s professor and Cobb’s father who taught him about dreams.

7. Who also introduces him to the “heroine”.

In as much as the female protagonist must be referred to as “heroine”, Anne Hathaway in ‘Interstellar’ and Ellen Page in ‘Inception’.

8. She is also the only female member of the operation he’ll be undertaking,

The scientist in ‘Interstellar’ and the architect in ‘Inception’.

9. And is named with ‘A’.

Amelia Brand and Ariadne in both films respectively.

10. Both missions are near-impossible, achieved only once before,

Scientists have only managed to land on the other planets once; Cobb has achieved inception just once.

11. And involve three stops/dreams.

Coop has the option to visit 3 planets; Cobb’s inception has 3 layers.

12. However, his motivation is only his kids.

Coop’s harried about leaving his kids in the way he did and just wants to go back; ditto for Cobb.

13. The first stop/dream is linked to water,

The waves on the watery planet that Coop faces; the rains that Cobb does.

14. And the last to ice (following, you know, the water cycle).

The second planet Coop visits has largely mountainous, icy terrain; Cobb’s last dream is in a similar place. (Bonus: if you observe the shot when Brand and Coop enter this planet, the terrain resembles Ariadne’s inverted Paris.)

15. The second step/layer features the only fistfight of a main character.

Coop and Dr. Mann go at it; Arthur fights off projections in ‘that’ scene! (For your viewing befuddlement, marvel, pleasure, and respect: Also, in case you didn’t already know, this scene has no CGI. Yup, zero!)

16. However, things go wrong, and a death creates a twist,

Dr. Mann’s death leads directly to the Coop’s visit to the black hole; Saito’s death forces Cobb and Ariadne to go to Limbo.

17. Which leads to the Hero making a sacrifice and separating from the Heroine.

Coop separates from Brand to give her a chance of escaping the black hole; Cobb compels Ariadne to get out of Limbo with Fischer.

18. Ultimately, the Hero must confront the very thing he had to avoid, and ends up achieving what he’d set out for.

Coop’s mission involved staying away from the black hole, but he sends the signals that help Murph save the Earth from within it and the tesseract; Cobb, and his team, are all wary of ending up in Limbo, but he goes there and revives Saito to ensure he gets home again.

19. But before his story ends, we see him speak to the older version of the character key to solving the plot’s crisis.

Coop talks to Murph, now an old, dying woman, who had saved humanity; Cobb talks to Saito, now an old, dying man, reminding him of when they were “young men” so that he can pull the strings to get him home.

20. But all’s well that ends well: the Hero does what he had set out to do, and gets to meet his children!

Coop meets Murph, since Jesse is dead; Cobb his kids.

As you can see, the above list is, more or less, indicative of the major plot elements of the two movies. It is their treatment, and the canvases that Nolan chooses to set them in, that essentially separates the two films. While in the realm of dreams he had leeway to create a world as he saw fit because we, as an audience, have both experienced and never given serious thought to dreams. With interstellar travel, he was bound to respect the laws and theories of Physics.

Regardless, the one quality that has always defined his movies for me, other than their cerebral nature, remains the same. Nolan’s stories and his cinema, essentially, is always about hope. His characters, scarred from the past, seek redemption, and after a mind-numbing plot, almost always find it. His protagonist is lost, endeavours, and then, against all odds, finds a moral victory that is based almost entirely on a very core, fundamental human emotion. There is catharsis and completion for him in uniting with the “other”, the missing half and quest of the character’s own morality: an unending quest for Leonard in ‘Memento’, an honest successor for Dormer in ‘Insomnia’, family for Borden in ‘The Prestige’, love for Bruce Wayne’s scarred inner boy in The Dark Knight trilogy, and his children for Cobb in ‘Inception’.

He is, in essence, selling us fairy tales and happy endings, only with a rather dark body preceding it. And I don’t think it is just the optimist in me seeing this. Emma Thomas, Nolan’s wife and long-time producer, talking to The New York Times, said “Where, in the past, he never made movies for any reason other than the fact that he wanted to see those movies himself, now he wants to make films he can watch with his kids.”

*You know which other movie begins with a plane crash, don’t you?

Before any you of you go all up in arms against me, these are only my observations. They are true, perhaps only in a limited sense of the word, but true nonetheless. If you find errors, or better still, other similarities of your own, please share them in the comments below.

Needless to add, the image used is the property of the respective copyright owners. Use is considered fair as it is academic in nature. Let me know if there are any legal issues.

Your thoughts, your criticism, your feedback – all are very welcome. They help me know if what I’ve written resonates with you. Please consider leaving a comment below and telling me how this piece made you feel.


2 thoughts on “The 20 Similarities Between Interstellar and Inception

  1. Regardless there is a difference in time betewwn dreams as well as between planets in both the movies……


    1. Thanks for sharing your view, Gowtham.

      I’ve said that the two films are similar – almost the same – in their core structures. There’re definitely some differences. I’d like to understand your point highlighting some of these.

      Look forward to hearing from you.


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