The ever-expanding legend of Albert Einstein has made another splash in pop culture with NatGeo’s Genius series. Its finale airs Tuesday, June 20 at 9/8 Central on the National Geographic Channel. The series will continue with future seasons, each season depicting a new genius. The finale of the Einstein series does something helpful for the Einstein pop culture narrative: it humanizes him. (More on that in a moment.)
It’s not surprising that Albert Einstein has been the focus for its Season 1 maiden voyage. As noted in my review of its early episodes, the life of Einstein is stuffed full of intrigue, moral dilemmas, tragedies, divorces, infidelity, scandal, wars, murders, intrigue, triumphs, and anything else a Hollywood producer could dream of for a “juicy” story. As I noted in that first review, the real Einstein was not exactly the simple, wholesome grandfatherly mad scientist caricature that pop culture has created in America. Besides genius, Einstein might earn the labels of hedonist/polygamist, pacifist, globalist, pantheist, and many others, maybe, but the labels wouldn’t stick perfectly on him at all points of his life. Like any human being, he was full of contradiction: sometimes quite selfish and reckless, other times altruistic and compassionate.
While the general worldview of Einstein never agreed with orthodox Christianity or orthodox Judaism, he displayed very clearly, just by his insatiable hunger for truth and his insatiable appetite for companionship, the longing for God that is born in every heart; though for some the longing is a thorn or an itch they can never scratch, and the mad scratching leads to self-destructive choices. And frankly everyone, whether he or she be a genius or not, has experienced some form of that mad scratching. Einstein certainly did, and my first review linked above covers that in more detail.
The Genius ‘Finale’: The Moments That Moved Me the Most
While the Finale still retains some of Einstein’s insatiable appetites (he beds a woman who is allegedly married after he becomes a widower), it focuses more strongly on the deep love he still had for his wife as tragedy overtakes their marriage. It’s this storyline that I found the most moving: for years Einstein hides from his emotional problems by pouring himself into physics, but when faced with his wife’s terminal illness, he finally stops that pattern and rushes to her side, reads to her, spends time with her, and weeps with her as they mourn over their coming separation.
It’s a very sad story.
When the mind only sees the pop culture version of Einstein it’s easy to overlook the truth: Albert Einstein lived a very sad life in some ways. Even his greatest achievements in physics were dogged with events–such as the birth of the nuclear age and the creation of the atom bomb, thanks to Einstein’s letters to the president and his equations–that caused his pacifist soul great agony. And that’s not even mentioning all the sorrow he endured as the Nazis began persecuting Jewish scientists in Germany.
As a work of film craft and entertainment, the “Genius” finale is very well done because it humanizes Albert Einstein. It shows us a portrait of what most human souls look like: stubborn flames filled with beauty and idealism but beset with chaotic little knots of moral failure and sometimes torn to pieces by the strain of life’s tragedies. The orthodox Christian worldview says we are fallen human beings with a fundamental brokenness at our center, a brokenness that we cannot solve ourselves (thus the need for a Savior who addresses that spiritual problem first and foremost through the Cross); and yet despite that brokenness, because we are made in the image of God, each person displays, whether they mean to or not, glorious diamonds of beauty that reflect the Creator. Einstein displayed both–the brokenness and glorious splendor–in vivid ways during his lifetime.
The finale of NatGeo’s “Genius,” while not delving into the spiritual topics I mention above, does succeed in capturing that full spectrum of Einstein’s humanity, and it’s impossible not to be moved while you’re watching it.
Please keep in mind that the series does contain mature content and it deals with mature themes, so exercise discretion before deciding to sit down with the entire family to watch it. (For example, in the finale, Einstein beds a young woman, though no nudity or sex is seen. We see the couple kissing before, and then after we see them talking in bed. That is the steamiest the finale gets–a bit tamer than the earlier episodes.) See my first review for a little more detailed look on what kind of “PG-13” content exists in the series.
As you’ll see in the comments of my first review of “Genius,” some of my Christian readers avoided it because of the sex scenes, and they wondered aloud if studios will consider releasing edited G-rated DVDs or streaming products of their films along with the original edit of the film. Considering the huge size of the faith-based audience–and considering that many of them are just as fascinated with Einstein or other geniuses as anybody else–I wouldn’t be surprised if more studios will release G-rated cuts alongside the normal cuts to attract more viewers from that demographic.
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