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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Me & Isaac Newton (review)

The wish to understand “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things” is what drove Douglas Adams’s philosophical detective Dirk Gently, and I’ve adopted that as my personal motto. Which is probably why I was fascinated by this new documentary from director Michael Apted. Through interviews with seven smart and witty scientists — pharmaceutical chemist Gertrude Elion, environmental physicist Ashok Gadgil, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, AI researcher Maja Mataric, cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, oncologist Karol Sikora, and primatologist Patricia Wright — Apted uncovers the very human needs that have helped create the high-tech, scientifically comprehensible world we live in, from the hunger to understand the nature of the universe to the desire to do public good, from a childhood curiosity about the world and love of learning and exploration to the longing to replace lost religious faith with a new framework for looking at the world. And the beauty of the scientific method is laid bare, as these scientists debunk the myth of the flashbulb over one’s head to explain that it’s long, hard work, taking risks, being persistent, getting lucky, and daring to be wrong that result in those moments of Eureka! This is not a film for the scientifically disinclined. But if you’re partial to the Discovery Channel and PBS’s Nova, you’ll be delighted with it.

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MPAA: not rated

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

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