Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Rossellini, 1974, 152m
This is a documentary/biopic about Rene Descartes (1596-1650) the French philosopher and mathematician. He was a contemporary of Galileo but by exercise of prudence avoided any collision course with the authorities, though his ideas, like those of Galileo, specially regarding planetary motion, were at variance with Christian religious dogma of his time. Rosselini has made a beautiful Rembrandt tinted film depicting the era. The life of the well to do Descartes as he zealously devotes his life to research is presented without the least effort at dramatization.

We share the excitement of  the scholarly life and the all consuming passion of a mind absorbed by the search for elusive truths. We attend lectures of men of medicine as they carry out dissections and hotly debate Harvey's new theory of blood circulation. We come to understand the perilous linkage between science, philosophy and religion in those times. The authenticity and grace of the narrative along with the polished and quickening dialog carry us through the long running time with little exhaustion as we savor the colors and aroma of that bygone time. Through the genius of an inspired director, one shares the wonder of existence and the fascination of history..

This is a movie about the excitement of the pursuit of knowledge, the delight in the exercise of intellect, and finally, perhaps, lack of commitment so often characteristic of scientists. Camus has said that Galileo was right in not putting his own life on the line, because the truths at stake were not important enough, inasmuch they don't touch our lives. Camus interestingly further states that the only important philosophical question is that of suicide, whether life is worth living or not.

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