This post contains spoilers for Interstellar.
For Wired’s December issue, the magazine has named director Christopher Nolan as guest editor. And while the issue might not contain the 4,000-word explanatory foreword by Michael Caine that we’d hoped (nor the all–Dylan Thomas poetry section), it does include one surprisingly thoughtful nod to the longtime Nolan collaborator. In Nolan’s latest blockbuster, Interstellar, Caine plays Professor Brand, a Kip Thorne-esque physicist who we learn is working with NASA to spearhead the “Lazarus missions,” a last-ditch attempt to save mankind by finding alternate planets, via a wormhole, capable of sustaining human life.
On one of those planets, it’s discovered that the researcher sent there, Dr. Mann (Matt Damon), lied about the transmitted data that made his planet seem like a viable option. We also see that the robot KIPP (named in a nod to Thorne) has been disabled, and Dr. Mann seemingly uses it as a bomb to destroy the Endurance crew so he can escape his barren planet.
What goes on between Mann and KIPP on his planet prior to the Endurance crew’s arrival remains mostly a mystery in the film. But, for Wired, Nolan has teamed up with comic book artist Sean Gordon Murphy for an illuminating “lost” chapter that gives some background on what led to Mann’s betrayal.
If you don’t have time to read the whole chapter (the above is two of seven total pages), here’s the gist. In it, we see Mann, struggling to come to terms with his ill-fated life on an unlivable frozen planet, and a mostly optimistic KIPP trying to get him to snap out of it. It doesn’t work: As Mann continues to become more distraught, he asks KIPP to create “hypothetical data sets” showing that human life could survive on the planet’s surface as a way to deliver “the good news they’re looking for.” When KIPP protests, Mann suggests that it “dial back the attitude.” KIPP, in turn, reminds him that using the command “Bermondsey” will change the robot’s settings. (Though KIPP warns that doing so would “leave [Mann] alone here.”) Ultimately, in the chapter’s final panels we see Mann use that command, which powers KIPP down seemingly for good.
But what, exactly, is the significance of the code “Bermondsey”? Though the name might not mean much to most Americans, Bermondsey is a district in the south of London, and it’s also where Michael Caine was born. In the film, Caine’s character programs TARS, the rather charming robot given to the Endurance crew, and presumably also programmed KIPP. Nolan’s decision to use the name “Bermondsey” to effectively “kill” these machines, bleak as it may be, also seems to be a touching show of respect for the legendary actor.