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Any ideas on the timeline of Interstellar's plot? How many years from now does the story take place? We know that it begins in near future, but any approximations or clues about "how many years from now?"

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    At a guess, because I'm not seeing anything in writing, I'm going to say 10-20 years in the future. The main reason for this is the drone. Doesn't he say something to the effect of "It must have been up there for 10 years or so" ... I'm fairly familiar with drone tech. I don't think the Indians have solar powered drones at this point. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Nov 8 '14 at 12:51
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This post from Bustle.com gives some good reasoning for Interstellar being set around the 2070s.

In summary: the descriptions of halcyon days gone by from Cooper's live-in father-in-law Donald sound very much like our present day. Assuming Donald was born between 1980s-2000s, he may have had Cooper's (now deceased) wife around 2030-2035. Cooper is in his late 30s, so assuming his wife was a roughly similar age this takes us up to 2070-ish.

Not sure this maths completely holds up under scrutiny, but I think it's clear from that logic that it's not as near-future as the 10-20 years from now other posts suggest.

EDIT: Thanks to Keybrd Basher for pointing out a silly mistake, now corrected.

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    I feel the reason he deliberately left out what year it takes place in is because he's also trying to invoke the story with his own message and musings on a possible future, one he feels could actually happen (from an earth dying standpoint anyway). By being deliberately vague as to when this happens, it allows for two things: 1) It expounds on the idea that this will happen and we have no idea when and where and how and why. 2) It keeps the movie from being dated, as no one can say, "Well, this didn't happen," when the year/date actually arrives in the event it actually doesn't. – MattD Nov 10 '14 at 14:43
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Jonathan Deamer has done a great job at drawing the timeline. Much of what he says resounds with me. To add to it, I think we can gain a more precise idea of Donald's birth from his dialogue with Coop about "his time". A time when everyday seemed like Christmas.

Somewhere in there he mentions that the global population at that time was 6 billion. Now, according to this Wikipedia article that must be after 1999. That would indicate that Donald is Generation Z. Which indeed implies that Cooper would had been born in 2030s and the present day to be in 2070s.

This is inline with the fact that John Lithgow who plays Donald in the movie is pushing 70 and looks his age for the part. Somebody who is born in the late 90's or early 2000's would definitely be close to 70 by 2070. So that's where the present day is set.

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    The 6 billion population clue is a great point, of course! – Jonathan Deamer Nov 14 '14 at 21:03
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There is one place where a specific year is mentioned.

In Kip Thorne's book, The Science of Interstellar, he says in the original treatment he wrote that Professor Brand discovered the wormhole in 2019. Almost every other significant event in the film, including the present day which is 48 years later, can be found using that one date though there are 7 years seemingly missing like the Will W. above pointed out.

I've done an extensive timeline here: http://joshbyers.com/blog/2015/4/what-year-does-interstellar-take-place

According the 2019 wormhole date, Cooper and Endurance leave earth April 18th, 2067.

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At the end of the film, the space station doctor tells Cooper that he is the ripe age of 124 years old. Several minutes before this, Amelia says that Cooper doesn't look too bad for someone pushing 120 years old. So, at that point, Cooper is 119 / 118 years old. A five to six year gap lost inside the Tesseract. Cooper states, just moments before Amelia's comment, that they lost 51 years using Gargantua as a sling-shot, meaning Cooper was 68 / 67 years old when Mann died.

The next mention of time passage is when the crew returns to the Endurance after discovering Miller's planet was a bust. 23 years and change. Making Cooper 45 / 44 years old at that moment.

It was also mentioned that it would take two years for the crew to make the journey to Saturn from Mars, making Cooper 43 / 42 years old when he left Earth. This corresponds with Donald's comment about Cooper being born 40 years too early or too late. So, Cooper is in his 40's. The hard thing to understand is the statement of how Murph is 10 years old when Cooper leaves Earth, and when older Murph transmits her "birthday" message, it had only been 26 years, at best. Making Murph 35 / 36 years old, nearly six to seven years younger than Cooper at the time of her message. Hard to explain. (There is not a six to seven year leap mentioned. Though, it is possible that on Mann's planet there was still a time difference. That is not proven, but we will go with it, nonetheless.) So, we have to make Murph 43 / 42 years old at this point, by her statement.

Using the same logic, elderly Murph would be 98 / 97 years old at the end of the film; and had entered cryo-sleep around 96 / 95 years old. Understanding this, the mid 90's for a human in the 'future-future' is difficult to maintain for a older person. Meaning, an elderly person like Donald would not survive into his early 90's, especially in the state of how the Earth was and how the film portrayed medical care for children, let alone geriatrics. As of right now in 2014, the average life expectancy is 79 years old. So, to be fair, let's say Donald died at 87. We know that 25 years passed while Cooper was on the Endurance, and the like; giving proof that Donald had to be 62 when Cooper left Earth. That's not a bad sell when John Lithgow is 69 now, 68 when filming. Nearly, a six year gap in his physical appearance. For his physical appearance to make sense though, it would have to mean that Donald died at 93 / 94 years old. (Assuming the message from Tom about burying Grandpa is at the cusp of the 23 year gap.) Elderly Murph in the 'future-future' could barely hold out to reach her mid to late 90's without medical watch, and she wasn't on Earth; so I find it hard to believe that Donald died in his 90's. Now, using this logic, Cooper is 43 / 42 years old and Donald is 62 years old. A 19 / 20 year gap. Meaning Donald was 19 or 20 years old when Cooper was born. Plausible. Now, Donald could have had children at any point at those ages. Making Cooper possibly one or two years younger than Donald's daughter. She would be 17 or 18 at the earliest for marriage, making Cooper 15 / 16 years old. Though it would be unlikely for them to marry right away, because Cooper was working for NASA and in college for awhile. But, if they did marry right away at 17(Cooper) and 19 / 18(Cooper) and 20, Murph would not have been born for 15 to 16 years. Making Tom 15 or 16 years old, at best.

Back to Donald, if he is 62 years old when he makes the comment about 6 billion people, and inventions happening each day when he was a kid, then we have to do some research here. October 1999, marked when the world hit 6 billion people. So, in order for Donald to be a kid in 1999, he would have had to have been born in the early 90's. Which would conflict with some of Cooper's statements and things of that nature. Donald must have been generalizing then, and the last year 6 billion people were on Earth was 2011. So, he couldn't have be born in 2011 to state he was a kid when the world held 6 billion people on it. So, guessing, we'll say Donald was born in 2003. Making the year Cooper left Earth, 2065. We could go even farther and whittle it down to being late May to mid June; due to how okra and corn are planted and harvested around the New York area. I say New York because of the baseball team seen. (Nearly 51 years into our future, or 50 years if we consider it to be 2015 now. Which rounds everything off nicely.) This would also make Cooper be born in 2022 - 2023. Tom was born in 2049 / 2050, meaning Cooper was 26 or 27 years old at that point. Murph was born in 2055, making Cooper 32 or 33 years old. Donald dies before 2090. And when Cooper finally returns from his journey it is the year, 2146.

I don't think Nolan intended for the film's timeline to be torn apart like this though, and the film is really more about a father and his daughter's relationship. I enjoy the fact that a specific year is not mentioned. I think that it takes away from the message of the film, and focuses on other "background noise". But us humans, we need to know the answers to our questions. Our curiosity will never die.

If anyone has better information, please share. My math could be bad, and I could have missed out on something. Feel free to help correct this.

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I think the year is around 2040. Just a guess because Donald states that that there was 6 billion people when he was a kid. And that's around 2000. And Donald looks like he's about 40, probably 50. And Donald is not Cooper's dad. Any ways cooper was probably born in 2002 would be my guess. And he is 33 in the movie so that would make The year 2035. So my estimation was close. Correct if wrong. So Donald would be 45, which is 12 years older than cooper because I'm estimating that he was born in 1990.

  • John Lithgow was born in 1945 ... which makes him 65 when Interstellar was filmed, and imho is about what he looked in the movie, not 40-50. So if he were a kid around 2000, that makes it closer to 2055-2060... which aligns with the other answers. – iandotkelly Feb 11 '18 at 15:15

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