Thursday, 22 January 2015

Defying Expectations: Science Biopics

Recently our appetite for science-fiction has been insatiable. From the Marvel franchise to Interstellar, we love to watch people push the boundaries of science. But what about the real-life scientists superheroes, without which the modern world would be very different? Science has always been the unglamorous sibling of humanities in culture, with many filmmakers being first to the post with biopics of their heroes; recent ones on the Beat Generation (Kill Your Darlings) and Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock), but now it’s the scientists turn to step into the limelight, with both The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything sweeping up handfuls of awards.

It’s no secret that I’m a scientist, both particle physics and mathematics are topics I study, so I was excited to see scientists make it to the big screen. The Imitation Game follows Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) codebreaking discoveries to eventually founding the beginnings of computer science, whilst The Theory of Everything follows Steven Hawking’s struggles with his disability, and the pressure of it and his work upon his marriage.

There’s an ill-informed idea that science is inaccessible for the majority of people, which is why it’s probably taken so long to produce a film on scientists. But both of these films deal with extraordinary minds and overcoming incredible adversity, and people will buy into a good story no matter what the content. Despite it being about scientists, there’s very little science, both of these films are ultimately about the humanity and challenges that faced two men, who revolutionised the world we live in.
Both men are mind-boggling. As The Imitation Game progresses, you get more of an insight into how challenging it was to break the Enigma Code, and the hard work and genius needed to do it, fathering the computer, only for to see Turing, a war hero, life destroyed by the horrific penalties for being gay. As for Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), a man who was given two years to live; continued with his life, marriage, and work, and year after year kept defying everyone’s expectations, whilst changing the way we understand time and space.

Maybe the audience is becoming more comfortable with science. Now with children learning to code based upon the work of Turing, and Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time and Space is one of the biggest bestsellers, science has become more accessible. And let’s not forget the endless fascination with science-fiction. People are starting to question more, wanting to understand more about the world and future discoveries that may impact their lives. And if that’s not science, I don’t know what is.

There’s a criticism that we raise actors and musicians to unnecessary heights, in a way we don’t for extraordinary people like, say brain surgeons. Whilst I don’t think the social construct is going to change anytime soon, I’m glad that we’re drawing some attention to the  real life superheroes who have led lives which without we would be living very differently.

Now maybe they could do a film on a woman, ey? Marie Curie or Ava Lovelace coming soon?