Intellectual Oscars

It was nice to see the films about Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking doing so well at the Oscars, but I wonder if there would be anything like the same interest if the former had not been gay and the latter confined to a wheelchair. I yield to no one in my admiration of these two men, but it’s clear that the content of their minds was not the point. They are “human interest” stories, not stories about intellectuals. How many people, watching these two films, tried to find out about what these two geniuses actually thought? Perhaps they are the form in which people can accept intellectuals–they must be tormented or persecuted in some way. What about a film about an intellectual who did not have such problems? Or one that investigated the purely intellectual struggles of Turing and Hawking. Still, we should be grateful that these two great thinkers get the Hollywood treatment at all.

7 replies
  1. Skyler Diamond
    Skyler Diamond says:

    You’ve identified the problem, Colin. Messrs Turing and Hawking got “the Hollywood treatment” which meant that their scientific contributions were trivialized. I’m not so sure gratitude is called for here since one or more of those with whom the actors portraying them were in competition for the Academy Awards may have done a better job under the relevant criteria of evaluation. One day a producer is going to say “Let’s do _Philosophical Investigations!_” and when that happens, look out, Ludwig. (Actually, I think one already has — unseen by me.)

    JAMES HILL says:

    Well, it looks like LW was a tormented character as well. I was reading about “Wittgenstein’s Poker” in The Guardian and the NY Times–still need to read the actual book, though. Apparently, he thought constantly about suicide (3 of his 4 brothers killed themselves). And there’s “controversy” among his contemporaries and historians over how “active” he was as a “homosexual”– the interest there is either about sex or romance, probably both–but I can’t help thinking it’s largely about sex. Strange how there’s hardly any interest in how “active” other philosophers were as heterosexuals. I’m not saying LW’s sex and love life isn’t interesting–it IS interesting, and I’d be curious to know. Just because he was a larger than life sort of person, and I’d like to know more about his psychology. But I think people might also want to know how much he had to sacrifice (how much of his sex or love life he had to sacrifice) in order to maintain his status, career, and success. Consider what happened to Turing. And that gets to the whole “tormented” side of things.

  3. Kyle Foley
    Kyle Foley says:

    I think dramatizing the lives of intellectuals really can’t be done. It simply doesn’t make for good movies. If you look at the real facts of Turing’s life you’ll see that the director really had to play loose with the facts in order to inject some conflict into the film. I don’t mind that though. Historical dramas shouldn’t stick slavishly to what really happened.


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