In the new science-fiction film Interstellar, just released last week, Earth is dying. NASA has detected a wormhole leading to a galaxy with three planets potentially suitable for human habitation, and launches the spacecraft Endurance to investigate these planets in the hope of transplanting humankind to at least one of them.
The movie comes from an A-list collection of principals: Christopher Nolan, who made Memento, Inception, and The Dark Knight trilogy, directed the film and co-wrote its screenplay with his brother Jonathan (or “Jonah”) Nolan. Matthew McConaughey, Ann Hathaway, David Gyasi, and Wes Bentley star as the crew of the Endurance, with Michael Caine and Jessica Chastain playing NASA scientists seeking a solution to the crisis back on Earth.
The elaborate equations seen on blackboards in the movie behind Caine and Chastain were all written by Kip Thorne, a CalTech theoretical physicist who conceived of Interstellar almost a decade ago with his friend Lynda Obst, the producer of a varied roster of hits including The Fisher King, Sleepless in Seattle, The Siege, and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. Obst and Thorne had been set up on a blind date in 1980 by their mutual friend Carl Sagan. They didn’t work out as a couple, but they remained friends and occasional creative partners.
Thorne is credited as an executive producer on Interstellar, but his more specific role was as the film’s science adviser, one who worked closely with Christopher and Jonah Nolan throughout the writing, production, and editing of the film to ensure that its fantastic story remained rooted in actual science. His book The Science of “Interstellar,” a 324-page volume explaining his scientific rationalization for every aspect of the film’s story—each of its sections clearly labeled as “Truth,” “Educated Guess,” or “Speculation” —has just been published. This interview, like that book, discusses aspects of Interstellar’s story in detail, so if you’re wary of spoilers, we’d advise waiting until after you’ve seen the movie to read it.