Villains and nerds – that’s what scientists are, if you believe the media. At least the “big screen.” Finding myself in a state of near exhaustion this past month, I’ve taken the opportunity to watch a few films on ‘Netflix.’ Two very different films seem to further cement the public’s perception of what scientists (and their lives) are like. We do not hold a flattering public image.
The first film was called “Rubberneck.” The synopsis, borrowed from imdb, is as follows:
Paul Harris works at a small research facility on the outskirts of Boston. After a weekend tryst with a co-worker leaves him wanting more, his unreciprocated desires gradually mold into an acute infatuation. When Danielle takes interest in a new scientist at the laboratory, Paul’s suppressed resentments and perverse delusions finally become unhinged, triggering a horrific course of events that mercilessly engulf a tortured past and fugitive present.
This, needless to say, represents the geek. The socially inept, awkward scientist, who fails to abide or even understand normal social discourse, is the anti-hero of this rather mediocre film. Sadly, at least from the standpoint of depicting life in the lab, the directors did a decent job. And if you were to ask my spouse, perhaps I do epitomize the dedicated but socially clueless researcher. But regardless of whether I fit the stereotype, I don’t think the protagonist resembles most scientists.
Film #2 was called “Smilla’s Sense of Snow,” (based on a bestselling novel by Peter Hoeg) and was a much bigger disappointment (beware of spoiler, in case you are tempted to see the film). Whereas Rubberneck didn’t raise expectations from the start, Smilla initially depicted rather heartwarming interactions between a half-Danish and half-Greenland Inuit woman with a 6 year-old Greenland-Inuit neighbor.
Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen is a 37 years old woman of Eskimo origin, who is living in Copenhagen. She is unmarried, unadapted, childless and irascible. One day her friend – 6 years old Esajas – falls down from the roof and is killed in what seems an accident. But Smilla believes he has been killed. Highly ranked people try to ‘convince’ her not to interfere, but she does not listen to them and tries to solve the crime. Her sense of snow leads her into a mystery with roots far back in time…
But from there, everything rolled downhill. I had hoped this would be a compelling drama-mystery, but in the end, a mysterious comet that landed on the Greenland ice a century earlier turned out to have mysterious energy properties that brought a long extinct fatal worm back into existence.
In this film, the ice was certainly thick, but the plot was thin, and the science was thinner yet. The villain was the owner/chief scientist of the mining company, who explained at the end that his goal was power, fame and wealth. He said this as evil oozed from the pores of his one-dimensional character.
Smilla, on the other hand, could survive third degree burns, humungous explosions and submersion in icy waters – not to mention long treks through snowy passages in Greenland. And the young woman, who was apparently unemployed and tossed out of school and university for bad behavior, had her own microscope in her Copenhagen apartment, where one assumes she purchased antibodies from Sigma and fixed samples with paraformaldehyde while cooking dinner.
Cynical? Hell yes. One thing is certain: with one film based out of the US and the other from Europe, neither continent gets any points for accurately depicting the lives of scientists.