shivver13 (shivver13) wrote,

Physicists FTW!

Though I'm building up my library of DT works (except The Decoy Bride, which was horrible enough to make me want to voice my opinion by not spending money on it), I haven't actually watched much of it. I'm kind of finding the same problem with classic Doctor Who: I've got tons of episodes we could watch, but it seems I prefer to spend my time writing or playing Guild Wars. However, two nights ago, it was an hour and a half until bedtime, I was bored, and I noticed that "Einstein and Eddington" was 94 minutes long. Perfect!

The short version is that I enjoyed the movie: good story, fine performances, interesting conflicts. In case you don't know, the movie is about the emergence of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity and his collaboration with Arthur Eddington for the experimental evidence that the theory is sound. It was particularly interesting to me because I'm trained as a scientist, and while I no longer do science, I'm still very interested in both theory and history.

The thing that appealed to me the most about this movie was how the background - World War I - affected the science in both Germany and Britain. Both Einstein and Eddington were portrayed as upstanding scientists, in it for the discovery of truth and knowledge, while the other scientists on both sides had other priorities. The Germans were mostly interested in science for the sake of building weapons for the war and to entice Einstein to work for the University of Berlin, Max Planck had to hide that they were supporting the war effort. In addition, he had to justify Einstein to the the university, explaining that his work on gravity doesn't have practical application, but proves to the world that German science is supreme.

On the other side of the channel, the Royal Society was concentrating on maintaining Britain's edge over German science, in specific making sure that Newton's work was never contradicted. The head of the society, Sir Oliver Lodge, insisted on ignoring Einstein's work because Einstein was German and he was working on gravity, one of Newton's main contributions to physics. The way that both sets of scientists lost their scientific integrity under the pressure of more political and emotional matters, and the fact that both sides corrupted in a different way, was fascinating.

The individual stories of Einstein and Eddington were less interesting, especially Einstein's, at least to me. In reality, Eddington was very concerned with reconciling his science with his Quaker faith, and this was touched upon in the film, though only lightly - his struggles in that direction happened much later in life. In the film, he was more concerned with fighting the British bias in order to seek the truth that he suspected was in Einstein's theory. He also took stands against the general hatred of Germans and the attacks on Quakers because they were pacifists and did not go to war with the rest of Britain, which, at least from his Wikipedia article, seems to be in-character for him. The film did touch upon his sexual orientation, having him have to deal with his unrequited male love interest going to war and dying at the hands of German chemical weapons, but I was very glad that his orientation in itself was only a minor point - the film could easily have centered his motivations on it. Instead, it used the situation to contrast him with Sir Oliver: both Eddington lost William and Sir Oliver lost his son at the Battle of Ypres to the Germans' chlorine gas, but while Sir Oliver reacted by rejecting all German science and making cooperation with German scientists a treasonous offense, Eddington fought to support Einstein's work, because he believed that though the Germans and the British were at war, science stands apart and should not be influenced by it.

Einstein's story, to me, was not at all sympathetic. He started in Switzerland with his family - his wife Mileva and his two sons - and moved to Berlin to work at the university. There, he met his cousin Elsa, with whom he had a love affair (he later married her). His story was thus about this affair and the breakdown of his marriage with Mileva, while also dealing with the increasing pressure from the university to produce something to show up the British and to publicly support the German war effort. Unfortunately, I found the portrayal of the love affair to be rather forced, with some attempt at being artsy by having them express their love through discussing how they felt about different composers' music. Throw in one very abrupt and unnecessary sex scene in a classroom at the University of Berlin, and I pretty much felt no interest in the character at all. Eventually, I was watching the German side of the story only for the scenes with Planck, which is sad because the movie definitely spent more time on Einstein than on Eddington.

In the end, Eddington proves the merit of Einstein's theory by experiment, and despite the threats of being arrested for treason, presents his findings to the Royal Society, directly confronting Sir Oliver's bias. With his results, Einstein of course is finally recognized for his achievements. Thus, though the emphasis of the story was on Einstein and his love affair, the real hero of the film was Eddington, who developed from the tentative, shy new director of the Cambridge Observatory who was derided for being too young for the post into the man who risked treason and opposed the director of the Royal Society to uphold his beliefs and support Einstein for the sake of science. I think that if Einstein's part of the story had a point, if Einstein had developed at all, this might have been a fantastic film (well, maybe - some of the important speeches were a trifle forced and preachy), or perhaps they should have made the film primarily about Eddington, with Einstein only appearing to provide context. However, I did find it to be enjoyable and educational, and it was a good way to spend ninety-four minutes.
Tags: real life, review

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