As with all things worth their share of time, recent responsibilities in the turbidity of life have prompted me to consider where my interests lie, a question that inevitably manifested itself in my own cinematic curiosities. These thoughts concerned the authenticity of cinema, on what filmmakers attempt to show, and what we as viewers are and aren’t interested in—heavy but critical questions asked last year by the closing season of The Wire. In fact, I’d credit that series’ meticulous depiction of a massive range of personnel and creator David Simon’s modus operandi of “stealing life” for sparking the theme of this piece: What movies have gotten my profession right?
I am a research scientist, a walk of life whose cinematic counterparts are relegated to a few stale options. We are either a) adequately described with a single adjective, b) contracted by the government or some other institution to explore the unknown, c) create monsters, or d) miniaturize our children and, in the sequel, ourselves. Science and scientists are frequently used as means to explore the fantastical, which is not a criticism but an observation that filmmakers are not interested in the scientists, only the plot points their escapades help reach (or incidentally the plot holes they help cover). Just a handful of films seem to be interested in the lives of people at all. I began to wonder why it is that few seem to be interested in what I value—cinematic form, an organized directorial sensibility and authentic texture, to list a couple—and if what I value in any way reflects what is indeed valuable. Years ago, Robert Altman referred to cinema as the great enabler that allowed us to live many lives. Today we go to the movies to escape.
But I digress. In compiling this list (unranked) I was not interested in the accuracy or validity of the scientific concepts presented, but rather the authenticity of the relationship between scientists and their work. This was admittedly challenging, and surprisingly so, considering cinema’s entirely capable reach. Naturally I don’t presume to speak for the entire community, but trust that the details of our work life and our inquisitive vigor cross fields of study.