Friday, December 31, 2010

Einstein and Eddington (2008)

This BBC TV docudrama relates the well known events surrounding revolutionary changes in science which occurred in the first two decades of the last century. Einstein's two theories of Relativity ( the"Special" and the "General") which pointed out the limitations in Newton's ideas of physics, were propounded in 1905 and 1916. Einsteins ideas were radical (like the fact that "time" is different for different observers) and did not gain acceptance till they were experimentally verified. Eddington was the British scientist who carried out this verification by observations of a total solar eclipse carried out in Africa in1919. Of course the ultimate verification was the nuclear bombs used in WW2 but that is a different tale.

The events narrated take place in the background of WW1 and both the scientists face opposition in their native countries (England and Germany). Einstein, a Swiss citizen refuses to sign unconditional allegiance to the German nation and Eddington faces opprobrium for collaborating with a scientist from the country England is at war with, and that too in an endeavor which may prove the views of Newton, the greatest British scientist, wrong.

The film tries to tell us something about the personal lives of the two men. Eddington is a devout Quaker who refuses to enlist in the war. I had always imagined Einstein as a gentle and refined person. What we see here is a  noisy, theatrical and coarse exhibitionist. It is hardly a picture of genius. Einstein was probably given to, and in a position to afford playing the fool, but could hardly have been this clumsy joker. What we see is the universalized stereotype. There is no serious attempt to bring out the human being behind the myth.

A highly forgettable movie.


Just Another Film Buff said...

Just wanted to wish you a great year ahead, Mr. Rana. You've been doing some really good stuff here at Onlyne.


S. M. Rana said...

Thank you, dear friend from beautiful Bangalore, which bears many memories. Thank you for your precious words of encouragement.

Here's to the future!!

Jack L said...

Sounds rather like a missed opportunity to make something very interesting.
It's a shame really as I don't think there have been many cinematical representations of Einstein and I would definitely have watched this one if it had seemed better...

Excellent and informative review as always!

S. M. Rana said...

Yes, a less literal ad more fleshed out approach, like "Patton", "Gandhi" or even "The Social Network" may be required. After all, he lived through turbulent times and was instrumental in shaping them a good deal, and was a colorful enough personality, with his due share of romance(this has been far over-emphasized in the present film, making him look just short of lecherous, with a distasteful leering expression)and personal troubles. He was a great person apart from his science, a confirmed pacifist for one thing, keenly interested in politics and history, having even been offered President-ship of Israel. Certainly deserves a better deal some day.

vivek said...

Hello, Mr. Rana. Sorry for the really late reply. Had basically been away on work.
I see that your journal has grown steadily over the last few months. Very nice.
Wish you a great new year.

S. M. Rana said...


How nice to hear from you again!! Wish you wonderful things in 2011 and to remain in touch!!

Ronak M Soni said...

Er, just one thing: the atom bombs didn't have anything to do with relativity (I've studied both at a non-trivial yet non-deep level); Einstein's role in it was that he helped convince FDR to start building it.

By the way, Jacob Bronowski explains relativity well, in a way that still seems relevant to me while studying the subject:

S. M. Rana said...


The mass energy interconvertability relation is one of the conclusions of special relativity. Much more went into making the bomb, including Einstein's letter to Roosevelt, and the fission process.

Thus the bomb cannot exist without E equals mc squared which is derived from relativity.He is not for nothing called the father, albeit accidentally (since he was ironically a staunch pacifist), the father of the bomb.

Ronak M Soni said...

Actually, the fact that you could break a nucleus and produce energy was found out independently by the people who were working on radioactive substances (in the same early nineteen hundreds time range).
People would have assumed it was potential energy of some sort, and I'm not sure that some theory of that sort didn't float around for a while before this was proposed.

Sorry for replying so late. I forgot I had commented here.

S. M. Rana said...

I have never heard it called potential energy, though on could as poetic license. The reaction of fission is exothermic because the binding energy of the products is more than of the unsplit nucleus--in effect mass-energy conversion.

Ronak M Soni said...

No no, you misunderstand me; what I'm trying to say is that till the nucleus splitting to give energy was discovered no one thought of applying relativity there.
E=mc2 was a convenient explanation not the reason the phenomenon was discovered.