Friday, February 11, 2011

Newton Defeated


Producer: Mark Pybus
Director: Philip Martin
Starring: David Tennant, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, Donald Sumpter and others
Rating: *** (3 of 5)
Pros: Great story and some amazing views from Principe
Cons: Somewhat difficult to understand for the uninitiated

Isaac Newton's Theory of Universal Gravitation has been the standard for cosmic Physics for centuries. At Cambridge, Newton is God and nobody is supposed to question him. But when science gets a ahead of even the British genius, a conflict of interest comes to play. Add World War II to that and you have a perfect story.

Einstein, having done some path-breaking theoretical work on gravity, comes to the University of Berlin. His personal life is in a wreck but his scientific career is all set to take off. Meanwhile, Eddington becomes director of the Cambridge Observatory and, like everyone before him, is all a praise for Isaac Netwon. But when the two start to meet, that too as a German and an Englishman in the middle of World War II, the world begins to change.

The Special Theory of Relativity is dastardly simple but the hardest thing in the world is to accept it. That's even harder to do for the General Theory of Relativity. Upon Einstein's instructions, Eddington sets off to Principe to test the theory. If it is disproved, then Einstein would be lost in the dustbin of history. But if it is proved, then science would have changed forever. And we all know what happened.

The movie gyrates well between the characters' personal conflicts, their losses during the War and their commitment to the greater good of mankind and science. It is not a history lesson; rather, it is a moral lesson for those who seek to use science for political victories, or are too blinded by politics to accept science. In a way, this movie could serve as a moral lighthouse for scientists.

Stunning images from Berlin, Cambridge and Principe never let the movie get boring. The revolving model of the solar system is beautiful; when it was made to stop revolving was deeply symbolic. The story sticks to history as far as possible, although it seems to suggest that Einstein stayed in Berlin throughout the War, which is not true (he moved to America).

For those who are passionate about science or who would like to revisit a part of scientific history that finds few parallels, this is one movie that is a must-watch. Ad for the blissfully ignorant, it's a good lesson in morals. (OTFS)

PS: More on the Theory of Relativity

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