Will Science Take the Oscars?

I have a friend who hosts a viewing of the Oscars each year. In general, I don’t watch the Oscars. Not that they aren’t interesting, especially if Tina and Amy are in charge, but basically I don’t go to the movies because I’m behind the times. Something comes out in the theaters, and by the time I can get my act together to go see it, I’m waiting for Vudu or Netflix to offer it. Sadly, cinema and I have a poor relationship.

But this time when I got my party invitation in the mail, I replied back immediately with a resounding, “YES!!!” I can’t wait, because this year scientists will take the stage. And for the first time in a while, I made sure I saw both “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game” in the theaters, enjoying every single minute.

Both movies are stunning…from their direction, to their script, to their music, to their actors—these two movies are the best I’ve seen in a long time. And their subject matter is to die for:  


Often Hollywood casts scientists as sidekicks, or the insane madman that no one listens to. Sometimes they get the lead role, but only if they’re also super heroes like Tony Stark, or Time Lords with a T.A.R.D.I.S. These two movies however put real scientists in the leading man role, and do it wonderfully. Both Steven Hawking and Allan Turing's work are key to the way we understand ourselves as humans today. Hawking’s work on time and cosmology have defined the language we use today to teach our children about the possible beginnings, and endings, of matter and time. Turing invented computational machine intelligence. Without him, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would have never created the PC in the 80’s, never mind the Smartphones we all covet in the now. Talk about standing on the shoulders of a giant.

Yet these movies aren’t only about science. Both of these men overcome great odds to practice what they love…and this is typical of scientists and creators. They will not let anything, whether it’s a debilitating illness, or an outlawed sexual orientation, stop them from living their dreams. Their minds are always with their theories, which often become something much greater than they could ever imagine.

“The Theory of Everything” details Hawking’s life and illness through masterful storytelling. The filmmakers did an excellent job at showing us life before disability laws were enacted. The scenes where Hawking practically drags himself across campus to present to his professors, or is yanked up flights of concrete stairs in his wheelchair—because there aren’t any ramps yet—are poignant. I couldn’t help but give thanks to the improvements that have been made in this arena, while also noting how much more work we have to do.

The same can be applied to “The Imitation Game.” In this case, we see Turing’s battle with living in his truth. He was homosexual, and that was a criminal act in England at the time. The irony that he was asked to spy during the war by government officials and then prosecuted later for homosexuality is palpable. Not that I’m saying the two things are related, but rather it’s clear that anything is fair in war, but not necessarily in love. In this respect, the life of Allan Turing is one of both brilliance and shame. He broke the Enigma code, and many consider this the act that won the war. It was certainly a turning point. Yet his country honored him not while he was alive, but posthumously in 2013, long past his due. Hawking got a royal title for his work. Turing was punished for his personal life.  Again, I give thanks for the improvements we’ve made with regards to LBGT issues, but I also see just how far we have to go…

Turing was a professor at Cambridge until 1952, when he was convicted of gross indecency. Hawking showed up at Cambridge in the early 60’s, barely ten years later. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if Turing had lived, and the two had met. Both loved solving puzzles above all else.

Imagine the collaboration that never happened.

I’m aware that both of these movies are up against some powerful competition for the Oscar, and I haven’t seen all of the others to make a judgment. Obviously, there isn’t a clear winner. But I can’t help cheering on the scientists—and I hope they sweep the whole thing!