The topic of this half hour documentary from director Benita Raphan is quite interesting, but the style is only mildly appealing, and indeed somewhat frustrating, to me.
The film is about genius and intelligence and related concepts. But there is little rhyme or reason to its organization. There are no sustained, developed arguments. Instead it is a series of random musings, reflections, aphorisms, etc. from various academics and other learned folks, along with anecdotes about historical figures that are supposed to illustrate certain aspects of the phenomena in question (though to me the connection was rarely very clear). Helen Keller and the mathematician Paul Erdos are referenced repeatedly in this way, though various other people such as Einstein and Joan of Arc are mentioned at least once as examples of one thing or another.
The accompanying visuals, and the music, are interesting and spooky and at times surreal, rather than directly relevant or illustrative of anything. You never, for instance, see any of the people speaking. For that matter, you rarely see the historical figures that are talked about, except in some kind of animation.
So both verbally and visually the film is very impressionistic. That gives it an interesting feel, and certainly I’m impressed if not overwhelmed contemplating how much time and difficulty and creativity must have gone into putting it together, but substantively there’s just not much there.
Like I say, no ideas are really developed or argued for; they’re just kind of tossed out in a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness manner.
Still, it is thought-provoking. Though the participants aren’t given an opportunity to properly explain and defend the positions they espouse, or even to make clear and explicit how the historical anecdotes relate to those positions, the content and style of the film encourage the viewer to reflect on these things for him or herself.
I’m not inclined to go along with those who seem to be denying that some people are more intelligent than others (one of the sillier versions being that the very concept of “genius” is inherently illegitimate because it’s a “masculinist” term). Though, again, if I had the whole argument in front of me instead of just the conclusion, I’d be more than happy to consider it.
I’m a “genius,” by some measures. More so early in my life than now. I feel like I’ve faded badly as the years have passed. But this film did get me thinking about that–about lost potential, about what it even means to be intelligent, about how much it can go up or down in a lifetime, etc. So I appreciate it for having that effect, even if it’s not structured in a way that best connects with me and is most valuable to me.