Contact, the Lonely Scientist, and the Loneliness within us all

The Lonely Scientist

This post is part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehnerand Silver Screenings. Day 1 is all about good scientists, day 2 is for mad scientists, and day 3 covers lonely scientists. 

Scientists are often lonely creatures. Between the time they spend in labs, doing research, sorting through endless data, and working on equipment, it’s easy to see why. But while scientists in the real world often work in teams with others, movie scientists typically don’t have that luxury, making movie scientists some of the loneliest characters onscreen. In the movies, scientists are often at odds with society or those in power, often serving as the lone voice of reason in a chaotic story. Frequently they have to pursue their studies alone, whether by choice or because they’ve been ostracized from everyone else, and sometimes their passions and beliefs make it hard for them to connect to others when the opportunity arises. No matter if the movie scientist is a good one, a mad one, or even an evil one, loneliness seems like it’s typically part of the journey for these characters. And in my mind there’s no lonelier scientist on film than Ellie Arroway from Contact.

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Tony Stark the Mad Scientist – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Peace in our time 

This post is part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings. Day 1 is all about good scientists, day 2 is for mad scientists, and day 3 covers lonely scientists. 

The idea of “mad scientists” is probably as old as science, and it’s certainly been around since the beginning of cinema. There are countless iterations, from Victor Frankenstein to Dr. Jekyll, and it’s easy to see why the concept makes for such compelling storytelling. They’re often tragic heroes in the classic sense, full of noble intentions but undone by their own ambition or shortsightedness. The mad scientist is of course distinct from the “evil genius”. Where an evil genius is typically the villain of a story, using their knowledge and ability for nefarious purposes, the mad scientist is typically a character with noble intentions who is subject to the tragic flaw of being unable to see the consequences of their actions until they’re too late. (Then there are good scientists who are just kind of crazy or reclusive, whom I wouldn’t typically classify as “mad.) To me, there’s no better use of the mad scientist trope than in last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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Jurassic Park and the Responsibility of Good Scientists

This post is part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings. Day 1 is all about good scientists, day 2 is for mad scientists, and day 3 covers lonely scientists. 

What makes a scientist “good”? Some scientists cure diseases, other scientists research new technologies that help people, while others fight to protect the planet, and we’d probably call all of these “good” scientists. But what makes a movie scientist “good”? In many films about scientists, they’re often using science to overcome impossible odds, or trying to uncover the truth when those in power would rather keep it quiet, but for me the defining “goodness” of a movie scientist is measured by their devotion to scientific ethics, to using science for the betterment of society rather than for personal gain or glory, and to understanding the consequences of science. And in my book, there’s no better example (outside of Star Trek, of course) than the scientists in Jurassic Park. And the qualities that make them good scientists are all on display in one key scene in the film.

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City Lights – “You must remember this…” Blogathon


When I stumbled upon the “You must remember this… a kiss is just a kiss” Blogathon for Valentine’s Day, I knew exactly what cinematic kiss I wanted to write about. Too bad it was past the blogathon’s cutoff year. Since I was late to the party, a lot of my favorite film kisses had been claimed, and I struggled to find a top romantic moment to write about. But I was intrigued by Second Sight Cinema‘s suggestion of a “phantom kiss,” a kiss that we the audience long for but which never happens, and I knew the perfect example of a phantom kiss is in City Lights, long considered one of the greatest romances of the silver screen but which contains not one kiss.

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Favorite Kiss – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

I’ve written a lot about Pirates of the Caribbean over the years, from my magnum opus, a two-part analysis of the original trilogy of films, to various other articles on my various favorite moments from the films (here, here, and here). With Valentine’s Day coming this weekend it seemed like a perfect time to highlight my favorite movie kiss of all time, from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End between Will and Elizabeth. There are plenty of swoon-worthy moments and kisses between the pair throughout the trilogy, but for me nothing tops their impromptu wedding and the kiss that follows. It’s a perfectly crafted mix of clever writing, action, earnest performances, fantastic music, and visual flair, all built on the backs of the films worth of relationship growth and obstacles. Take a look for yourself, and then read on to find out why I love this kiss above all others.

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Favorite Show – Galavant

If you haven’t been watching Galavant, well you’re too late now. Its season, and probably series, finale aired this past Sunday, and I’m sad to see it go. A half-hour medieval musical comedy series was never going to have mass appeal, but it was just the sort of thing I was looking for, and it rapidly became one of my favorite shows on TV. The idea of legendary songwriter Alan Menken doing a musical TV show was enough to pique my interest, but I quickly discovered last season that Galavant was more than just great songs from the Disney vet. It stylistically combined Disney musicals with Monty Python (specifically Spamalot), The Princess Bride, and Mel Brooks movies to create one of the funniest shows out there, but as the presumed series finale approached I wasn’t prepared for just how emotional the show could be, without losing its humor, nor how attached I’d become to these characters. Add in the fact that Galavant was perhaps the most self-aware and self-depreciating show in history and you’ve got a recipe for something unique. If this really is the end, and I hope it isn’t, I’m at least happy that Galavant existed and even got unexpected second season, and I hope more people will discover it as the years go by.

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Friday Favorites: Favorite Scene – West Side Story


Many of my favorite movies have that one scene that I simply have to watch.  I’m sure you have them to.  When you’re flipping through TV channels and you come across a movie that you love, you’ll sit and watch it until that one scene plays and then you’ll feel free to change the channel to something else.  For me and Jurassic Park, it’s the T-Rex attack, or inAliens it’s Ripley in the Power Loader (unless Aliens is showing on AMC, where they split the film’s finale in two so they can air 5 minutes of commercials right smack in the middle), or the Diva’s song in The Fifth Element.  This past week I was channel surfing and came across one of my all-time favorite musicals on Turner Classic, West Side Story, and I lucked out because it was right before the start of my favorite scene, the one I just have to watch.

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Friday Favorites: Favorite Scene – Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.

All Star Trek fans were saddened by the death of Leonard Nimoy two weeks ago.  His impact on Star Trek as a story, saga, franchise, and experience is probably second only to Gene Roddenberry himself, as his character, Mr. Spock, is probably the defining character of Star Trek, ahead of Kirk, Picard, or any of the others.  And while many articles celebrating his life and his work on Star Trek have focused on either his memorable quotes (“Live long and prosper” “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” or “I have been and always shall be your friend”), the two Star Trek films he directed (The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home), or Spock’s biggest moments in the show or the film series, my mind keeps returning to one particular scene near the end of the final Original Series film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

To understand the scene (which is not available on youtube), here’s a brief summary of the film up until this point.  The Undiscovered Country tells a parable about the end of the Cold War, with the Klingon Empire dying and an attempt to forge peace between them and the Federation, longtime enemies.  Spock, now an ambassador, has reached out to the Klingon Chancellor and brokered a peace deal, and has brought the Enterprise and her crew out of mothballs in order to take him to escort the Chancellor to a secret location to sign a new treaty.  Kirk and many of the others would have rather stayed retired, and Kirk in particular is opposed to the plan, as he has “never trusted Klingons, and (he) never will.  (He’s) never been able to forgive them for the death of (his) boy.”

Things get off to a rough start as the Klingon ship and the Enterprise meet, but things get much worse when the Klingon ship is attacked in such a way where the Enterprise is blamed for it and Chancellor Gorkon is murdered.  Kirk and McCoy are blamed for Gorkon’s death, and are sentenced to life on a remote prison planet, but are eventually rescued by Spock and the Enterprise, who suspect a saboteur is on board.  They eventually uncover a conspiracy attempting to thwart a peace agreement between the Federation and the Klingons, orchestrated by high ranking members of both the Federation and the Empire, including Spock’s Vulcan protege, Lt. Polaris.  Having learned of their plans, the Enterprise rushes to intercept a prototype Klingon ship attempting to disrupt the peace talks.

As they travel at maximum warp towards a battle in which, even if they arrive in time, they’ll be outmatched, Kirk pays Spock a visit as the half-Vulcan, half-Human lies meditating in his quarters.  What follows is a quiet, subtle, contemplative scene where these two men, getting on in years, discuss the future in partly veiled terms while questioning what led them to this point.  Kirk seeks to interrupt a brooding Spock by asking:

Kirk: Dining on ashes?

Spock: You were right, it was arrogant presumption on my part that got us unto this situation.  You and the Doctor might have been killed.

Kirk: The night is young!  You said it yourself, it was logical.  Peace is worth a few personal risks.

Kirk wonders around the room, messing with Spock’s things, before finally getting to the deeper point he wants to discuss:

Kirk: You’re a great one for logic.  I’m a great one for rushing in where angels fear to tread.  We’re both extremists; reality is probably somewhere in between. … I couldn’t get past the death of my son.

Spock: I was prejudiced by her accomplishments as a Vulcan.

Kirk: Gorkon had to die before I understood how prejudiced I was.

They both stare into space before Spock finally sits up and looks at his friend, delivering my favorite line that Spock has ever delivered, in one of Leonard Nimoy’s finest moments as an actor:

Spock: Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness?  Would that constitute a joke?

Nimoy gives Spock a weariness and even a tinge of bitterness that lies just under the surface, still suppressed by Spock’s Vulcan half.  Yet he also appreciates the irony and even the humor of the moment, when these two old heroes, whom the universe is passing by as the Federation enters a new era and whose own prejudices that once served them so well are now working against them, are called upon once again to save the very universe in which they seemingly no longer have a place.

Kirk tries to comfort Spock:

Kirk: Don’t crucify yourself, it wasn’t your fault.

Spock: I was responsible…

Kirk: For no actions but your own.

Spock: That is not what you said at your trial.

Kirk: That was as captain of the ship.  Human beings—

Spock: But Captain, we both know that I am not human.

Kirk: Spock, you want to know something?  Everybody’s human.

Spock: I find that remark… insulting.

Kirk: Come on, I need you.

In many ways, The Undiscovered Country was a farewell to the Original Series crew, set up as their final mission.  The Next Generation had now taken over the reins, and was already four years into their seven year run, with spinoffs Deep Space Nine and Voyager coming soon.  All three series were set in a different era of the Federation, and all aired in a different era of television, where special effects were more impressive, stories were more intricate and cerebral, writers strove for a level of realism, stories were more serialized, and there was considerably less camp.  By comparison, the Original Series was quaint, outdated, and generally less popular.

But The Undiscovered Country did more than just unceremoniously kick those familiar faces out the door to make way for the new, it also celebrated what made them unique and special in the first place, while showing that even these old dogs could learn some new tricks, and be a part of a more thoughtful, mature, emotional, and symbolic film than audiences were used to from them.  And while there was still an action packed finale to come, this scene encapsulates everything I love about the film, the cast, and Leonard Nimoy in particular (though Shatner is great in it as well).

And since this scene isn’t available for me to embed here for you to watch, I’ll leave you with another scene, the final of the film and the last time we see the entire crew together, signing off for the last time as a family.

What do you think?  Do you remember this scene from The Undiscovered Country?  What moment springs to mind when you remember Leonard Nimoy?  What is your favorite Star Trek series, film, or character?  Let me know in the comments!

Friday Favorites: Favorite Speech – Independence Day

Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love movie speeches.  And as today is the 4th of July, I will once again be reviving Friday Favorites for today in order to feature one of my favorite all-time speeches.  In fact, this was my first ever favorite speech, and my first memory of ever intentionally memorizing film dialogue.  I would rewind this scene again and again just so I could get not only the text of the speech down but also the cadence, timing and delivery.  And considering I make a point to watch Independence Day every July 4th, today seems as good a day as any to post this speech:

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Friday Favorites: Favorite Speech – Jaws

Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.

I haven’t done a Friday Favorite in a while, mostly because no one reads them, but I felt in the mood to revive it for at least one more week.  I was recently listening to one of the Thrilling Adventure Hour podcasts which parodied sections of Jaws, and like most references to my favorite films it triggered a lot of emotions and memories about the classic 1975 film.  Jaws is truly a masterpiece, far more than just its legacy of propelling Steven Spielberg to the big time and creating the modern idea of a summer blockbuster.  Some highlights of the film are obvious, from John Williams’ iconic score, to Spielberg’s Hitchcockian vision for the film, to some of the all-time best scares, to lines like “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  Other things are more subtle, like the genius editing by Verna Fields who does some truly creative things to build tension, or the script’s ability to make a film about a killer shark with the film’s real villain being the town’s mayor.  For me, however, the best part of the film might be this:

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