The ap­pli­ance of sci­ence: ge­niuses in the movies

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

Two biopics on

– one by Robert Red­ford, one by Steven Spiel­berg – are cur­rently un­der­go­ing ges­ta­tion. Yet there has never been a se­ri­ous cin­e­matic study of

or It is enor­mously de­press­ing to note how lit­tle in­ter­est main­stream cin­ema has in sci­ence.

Paul Muni won an Os­car play­ing the great French mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist in

But that was way back in 1937 and Pas­teur’s work had an eas­ily ex­pli­ca­ble prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion.

The same could be said of the man who found a cure for syphilis, played con­vinc­ingly by Ed­ward G Robin­son in Dr Ehrlich’s Magic Bul­let (1940).

– more an in­ven­tor than a re­search sci­en­tist – was deemed suf­fi­ciently grounded to be played by Spencer Tracy in Edi­son, The Man (1940). Greer Gar­son wasn’t at all bad in 1943’s

(What was it with sci­ence movies and the early 1940s?) How­ever, later worth­while the­atri­cal re­leases fo­cus­ing on the great par­a­digm-shift­ing the­o­rists are shame­fully rare. A Beau­ti­ful Mind (2001)? Give us a break. Barely a line of

work sur­vives into that soppy film. Kin­sey (2004)? Well, that’s more like it, but sex re­searcher, is hardly one of the im­mor­tals.

John Hus­ton’s (1962), star­ring Mont­gomery Clift, is a de­cent at­tempt to get at the Vi­en­nese mas­ter. It is, how­ever, no­table that, like Kin­sey, a dose of sex was re­quired to scare up stu­dio in­ter­est.

Sadly, the movies’ vi­sion of the typ­i­cal sci­en­tific ge­nius re­mains a ma­niac with ec­cen­tric dress sense – Jeff Gold­blum in The Fly (1986), Colin Clive in Franken­stein (1931) – cack­ling as he un­wit­tingly brings catas­tro­phe to the neigh­bour­hood. What a dis­grace.

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