- The Moving Earth
Lars Becker-Larsen's production The Moving Earth offers a splendid chronicle of the scientific shift brought about through studies of planetary motion during the scientific revolution of the 17th century. The name of the film refers to the work establishing that Earth is a moving planet, and the broadly based content tells the story of this discovery. Overall, the narrative highlights the controversy between geocentric and heliocentric perspectives that was a part of those debates; we learn of how the key thinkers in Renaissance Europe who studied the celestial framework developed the ideas that ultimately moved science away from the Church's doctrine that the earth was the immoveable center of the universe. Although the story is well known, this presentation is robust and includes some degree of in-depth analysis. There is a good measure of reference to Plato and Aristotle as well as some extension of the ideas through the 19th century when Foucault's pendulum showed the rotation of the earth. Performances in key settings, period garb and insightful commentary provide the viewer with a full sense of the events and how the natural scientists overturned the Aristotelian idea of the "Unmoved Mover" (to oversimplify, this idea is used to explain how the universe was first set into motion; medieval scholasticism later translated Aristotle's "Prime Mover" into the Christian God).
The strength of the film is its multidimensional quality. Visual elements such as historical engravings, paintings, animations and manuscripts aid the presentation immensely and bring a realistic element into play that knits the ideas of several periods of history together into a seamless fabric. Much of this is quite subtle. For example, showing manuscript pages and still artwork might seem mundane, but in this case I found that the variety of these backdrops created a vivid sense of the cultural life of the times.
Particularly insightful are the discussions of topics involving the clash between science and religion, exemplified by the treatment of Galileo (and the Pope's 1992 apology for the legal process against Galileo). In this case, George Coyne, former director of the Vatican Observatory, points out that the Church's lukewarm admission of responsibility for its persecution of Galileo left much to be desired and that the conflict between science and religion evident at that time is still a part of cultural discussions. (Coyne's candor isn't totally surprising. He is also a vocal opponent of intelligent design theory, which often sneaks a Creator God in through the back door. Indeed, some say Coyne was forced out of his Vatican position because of his willingness to speak publicly about his views opposing intelligent design.)
One of the most powerful unstated aspects of this production is the way it brought to mind debates outside its topic. The producer understood the power of these old manuscripts in conveying the ideas of the thinkers the film presented. Looking at the repeated use of the physical volumes, I wondered how the e-books that are capturing our imaginations today will fare in a few centuries. In the film, the pages and the outside boards of these very old books serve as more than visual props that helped make the research come alive. Shots of their spines, title pages and internal pages, particularly the notebook pages filled with charts and graphs, effectively demonstrate that the ideas that drove the research were not pulled from the air. When the actor playing Kepler pores over Tycho Brahe's years of collected data, he conveys the intensity of Tycho's observations of the heavens as well as Kepler's desire to solve the problem of motion. I was enthralled even though I was familiar with many of the details and found myself moved to think about details I had previously taken for granted.
Still, a marriage of these artifacts with new technologies occurs. Many of the visuals that accompany the film are "moving" because of the nature of the work. One good example of how the director used...