Einstein and Opie

I am behind the curve.

In fact, I am behind the curve in every curve of the physical universe Albert Einstein had the fantastical vision to see.

I am also behind the curve in watching National Geographic’s brilliant series “Genius,” which last year featured the story of Einstein’s life based on the work of the brilliant biographer Walter Isaacson.

If it weren’t for Pablo Picasso, I would have missed Einstein altogether.

Looking through the weekend’s “New York Times,” I read a wonderful article about Antonio Banderas and the transformative role he is taking on playing Picasso in Season Two of “Genius.”

Which of course led me to wonder who had been the subject of Season One.  So I turned to my On Demand and there I found – Einstein.

But this is not the sad, dog eyed Einstein of photographs and posters, looking mournfully shaggy into a camera lens.

This is an Einstein that sparkles and shines as brilliantly as the rays of light Einstein studied with such dreamy determination to develop and later prove his theory of general relativity.

This Einstein is vital and vigorous as a young man, plucking the beards of his scientific elders who cannot grasp the theoretical delights Einstein posits because their roots are based on scientific observation that leads to physically certifiable results – like plucking nitrogen from the air to create fertilizer to grow crops for a Europe on the verge of food storage

Or more deadly, creating mustard gas for use in World War I.  That these two things were created by the same man, Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry Fritz Haber, is disturbing and shows how good people can do immoral things for what they have convinced themselves are the “right” reasons.

This is only one level of moral dichotomy addressed in this story. Like the universe, Einstein’s personal life bends and accelerates and runs to gravity, it’s complexity as deep as the equations Einstein as professor scrawls across the college blackboards in the classrooms where he teaches.

And there are black holes in his life, along with atomic explosions that he never sees coming. Most of these deal with his first marriage and the loss of custody of his two sons when he divorces.

Equally transformative is the way the blue-eyed, blond Johnny Flynn, a poet and musician raised in England, becomes the dark-eyed, dark mass of dynamic hair as the young Einstein. I am glad I waited until after I had watched most of the series to Google Flynn.  It was truly a “that cannot possibly be the same person” moment.

Geoffrey Rush as the older Einstein needs less physical alchemy to take on Einstein’s persona. He is, after all, Geoffrey Rush – as observable a phenomenon as the sun itself.

Who knew watching all those Mayberry episodes that Opie was going to grow up to be the director to explore the subject of genius in such a cinematic way –  on an electronic TV screen light years in technology removed from the cathode tubes that first brought his face into our living rooms in the 1960s?

All on waves of light Einstein once only theorized about.

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