Interstellar, while primarily being a science fiction film with jaw-dropping sights and set pieces, is a film about a series of important decisions. Dig a little deeper into the film's themes and events, and you'll see a core of seven questions that test the moral compasses of various characters in the film, all connecting together to the point where one false move would mean things wouldn't turn out the way that they ultimately did. Here now are the major moral events of Interstellar, and the decisions key cast members made (or could have made) during the film.
Needless to say, this feature is pretty much all spoilers for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, so only proceed if you have seen the film and want to further analyze its content.
Should Humanity Rewrite Its History To Justify Its Current Societal Goals?Character: Society
Decision To Be Made: Should humanity choose a more agrarian future, or should it keep striving for technological progress in an uncertain time?
The Choice They Actually Make: In this bleak future where growing food seems more incredible of a prospect with each passing year, society on the whole has decided to turn its eyes away from the stars and embrace the theory that the moon landings were faked to bankrupt the Soviet Union. Access to higher education is limited, and an emphasis on "making farmers" is emphasized.
Consequence: Humanity effectively turns its back on higher technology, focusing on agricultural horizons instead of technological ones. This leads to NASA being forced underground, with Dr. Brand and his team focusing on the Lazarus missions, as well as the Endurance follow up. It also leads to the loss of Cooper's wife, as MRI technology could have saved her life.
The Alternative: If society didn't turn its back on technology and education, the Lazarus and Endurance missions might have had more support from the public. In which case, funding may have been more readily available, and whole colonies of people could have been sent out much earlier, instead of just smaller missions that were already operating on a ticking clock.
Was It Right For Dr. Brand To Lie To CooperCharacter: Dr. Brand
Decision To Be Made: Does he tell Cooper that Earth stands no chance, or give him false hope to complete the mission?
The Choice They Actually Make: Dr. Brand, in order to secure Cooper's participation, lies to him about the Endurance mission's purpose. Instead of disclosing the mission's true purpose of rebooting the human species (as well as saving his daughter, Ameila), Brand tells Cooper that the mission is "really" about founding a settlement for Earth's people to move to.
Consequence: Initially, Cooper proceeds with the mission as planned. However, once Dr. Brand tells a grown Murph that the hope for moving Earth's populace was a lie, Murph confronts Amelia and Cooper about said knowledge. Murph considers the possibility that her father is a liar, and Cooper is even more determined to get home.
The Alternative: Had Dr. Brand told Cooper the true purpose of the mission, he probably wouldn't have agreed to pilot the Endurance. Another pilot would have taken the mission up, and while they wouldn't have been so focused on going home, the mission might not have succeeded as well without Cooper's skill and leadership.
Planet Mann or Planet Edmonds?Character: The Endurance Crew
Decision To Be Made:Exactly as it's stated in the question.
The Choice They Actually Make: Being faced with only enough fuel to visit one of the other two planets being given the thumbs up, the Endurance crew needs to choose if they're going to visit Planet Mann or Planet Edmonds.
Consequence: After some debate over the data, and a monologue on love, the crew settles on visiting Planet Mann. Amelia's personal connection to Edmonds aside, Mann seems to have the better possibility for life, as well as presenting itself as a more efficient option to visit, evaluate, and leave.
The Alternative: Following Amelia's heart, the crew would have found themselves on Planet Edmonds, as well as in the middle of an interesting situation. While the planet would have been found as viable for colonization, Amelia would have found her lover already dead. Distraught, she might have endangered the mission in the throes of depression. It would have been the right choice for humanity, but made for all the wrong logical reasons.
Should Dr. Mann Have Accepted His Fate, Or Lied About His Planet?Character: Dr. Mann
Decision To Be Made: When faced with a lifetime on a barren planet, should he accept his fate, or lie to stay alive and possibly be rescued?
The Choice They Actually Make: Dr. Mann, after discovering his planet is not a good choice for settlement, decides to transmit a thumbs up anyway. His reasoning is because he wants to be saved by the crew that eventually (hopefully) arrives to revive him. He even sabotages his own robot, KIPP, to use the extra power cell as an extension of his capsule's power supply.
Consequence: The Endurance crew rescues Dr. Mann, but eventually uncovers the fact that his planet is unsuitable for settlement. Dr. Mann's madness almost kills Cooper, actually does kill Romilly, and ultimately ends up damaging the Endurance craft while killing Dr. Mann.
The Alternative: Dr. Mann, faced with his failure of a world, could have pulled as much data as he could and stored it in KIPP. Assuming he had the skills to do so, Dr. Mann could have put himself into cryo stasis, with KIPP sending out a repeating SOS. The Endurance crew could have attempted to rescue him at their own decision, but most likely would have landed on Edmonds and started settlement that much earlier.
Was Cooper's Decision To Go Into The Black Hole Solid?Character: Cooper
Decision To Be Made: Stay with Amelia on the Endurance mission, or ditch the ship to give Amelia her best shot at getting to Edmonds' planet and see what's inside that black hole?
The Choice They Actually Make: After a successful rescue of the Endurance space craft, Cooper plans a slingshot around black hole Gargantua, in order to get the craft back to Edmonds while using as little fuel as possible. This means that the shuttles have to be jettisoned into Gargantua, one of them with TARS on board. Cooper decides he'll jettison the other shuttle as well, riding out the black hole in hopes of gathering crucial data from inside the anomaly.
Consequence: Cooper winds up in a fifth dimensional tesseract that not only ensures his participation on the mission, but also allows him to help Murph solve the problem of getting humanity into deep space. Without this trip, none of the events of Interstellar happen at all.
The Alternative: Cooper stays on the Endurance mission with Amelia, which could have helped in terms of his expertise in engineering coming in handy with the mission. This is assuming the Endurance could have escaped the pull of Gargantua with one more person's weight bearing down on the craft. True, it's not much, but every little bit counts in a situation like this.
Is Murph Wrong For Burning The Farm?Character: Murph/Getty
Decision To Be Made: Leave Tom and his family to die a slow, dusty death; or do something drastic to force his hand and save his family?
The Choice They Actually Make: Murph, unable to leave her sister-in-law/nephew to die said slow death, sets the family's corn field ablaze to play for time while she tries to save them. And she doesn't just set a small corner of it on fire, either. She pretty much burns the whole field, the field that her family's livelihood has always come from.
Consequence: Murph has time to not only save her nephew and sister-in-law, but also to try and figure out the mystery between her "ghost" behind the bookcase, and ultimately the problem of getting Earth's inhabitants into space for colonization. Her presence in the bedroom is ultimately how Coop transmits the data from the black hole that saves humanity.
The Alternative: Murph leaves her family to die, as well as never discovers the formula for solving the problem of moving humanity into the stars. Everyone dies.
Should Cooper Have Even Left His Family For The Endurance Mission?Character: Cooper
Decision To Be Made: Stay on Earth with the family and protect them, or go into space and make damned sure Earth can survive?
The Choice They Actually Make: Cooper, under the impression that he can save humanity and his family, embarks on the Endurance's mission.
Consequence: Cooper misses most of the rest of his children's lives, and all because he bought into a lie. However, he is instrumental in not only finding a suitable environment for Earth's inhabitants to immigrate to, but his absence allows his daughter to become the true savior of humanity, thanks to his actions within the fifth dimensional tesseract.
The Alternative: Cooper doesn't go on the mission, and gets to see the rest of his children's lives play out. The Endurance mission settles on Planet Edmonds, but humanity on Earth dies due to the lack of Cooper's ingenuity.