Past Science on Screen Programs

The following titles, speakers, and topics have appeared as part of the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Science on Screen program. You can also download a full program guide here.

8 MILE
Film Synopsis:
A poor Detroit kid nicknamed B Rabbit (rapper Eminem) lets out his feelings and frustrations with twisting, clever raps admired by his friends, who keep pushing him to enter a weekly rap-off.
Speaker: Charles J. Limb, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and faculty member, Peabody Conservatory of Music, Johns Hopkins University
Topic: The neural basis of musical improvisation, especially freestyle rap


12 MONKEYS
Film Synopsis: A convicted criminal (Bruce Willis) living in a future world devastated by disease travels back in time to investigate the origins of a virus that wiped out nearly all the earth’s population decades earlier.
Speaker: Carl Zimmer, award-winning science journalist, blogger and author of 11 books about science, including A Planet of Viruses and Parasite Rex
Topic: The history of real virus outbreaks and cutting-edge research on previously unknown viruses that might attack in the future


2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
Film Synopsis: Mankind finds a mysterious, obviously artificial, artifact buried on the moon and, with the intelligent computer HAL, sets off on a quest. Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Speaker: Marvin Minsky, pioneer in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT; technical advisor to Stanley Kubrick on the production of the film
Topic: Artificial Intelligence


ALPHAVILLE
Film Synopsis: Hard-nosed detectives, evil professors, surrealist poetry: French New Wave master Jean-Luc Godard mixed these elements and more together to create this visionary piece of sci-fi cinema, in which American private-eye Lemmy Caution is sent to the city of Alphaville on a search for a missing agent.
Speaker: Sheila Jasanoff, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Topic: The interactions of law, science, and politics in a democratic society


THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971)
Film Synopsis: A group of scientists investigate a deadly new alien virus before it can spread. Based on the bestselling novel by Michael Crichton.
Speaker: Dr. Alfred DeMaria, Chief Medical Officer and state of Massachusetts epidemiologist, Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Director, Center for Laboratories and Disease Control
Topic: Modern science's ability to handle a new biological threat


AMERICAN BEAUTY
Film Synopsis: Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a depressed suburban father in a mid-life crisis, decides to turn his hectic life around after developing an infatuation for his daughter's attractive friend.
Speaker: Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard; author, Stumbling on Happiness
Topic: The nature of happiness and affective forecasting: the uniquely human ability to predict the pleasure or pain of future experiences and make choices based upon those predictions


BABETTE’S FEAST
Film Synopsis: A French political refugee works for two devout spinster sisters in remote Denmark. When she unexpectedly wins a lottery, she decides to create a real French dinner, which causes fear and suspicion among the guests until they're won over by her culinary mastery.
Speaker: Guy Crosby, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry and Food Science, Framingham State College; Adjunct Associate Professor of Nutrition, Harvard University School of Public Health; science advisor, Cook’s Illustrated magazine and America’s Test Kitchen
Topic: Science of taste: How does our sense of taste work? How does taste act in concert with other senses to allow us to recognize flavor? Why do some foods taste good to us, but not to others?


BEST IN SHOW
Film Synopsis: In this Christopher Guest mockumentary, a colorful array of characters competes at a national dog show.
Speaker: Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVS, Professor, Section Head, and Program Director, Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences, Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine; author, The Dog Who Loved Too Much
Topic: Dog behavior and intelligence, and our relationship with our canine companions. Do dogs really think and react, feel and anticipate, as their owners believe? Are they really proud when they win and distraught when they lose? Do we over- or underestimate our canine charges?


BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE
Film Synopsis:
Two totally excellent dudes (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter), doomed to flunk out of high school unless they pass an upcoming history report, take a time-traversing phone booth into the past to learn from influential historical figures.
Speaker: Edward Farhi, Professor of Physics and Director, Center for Theoretical Physics, MIT
Topic: The physical feasibility of time travel


THE BIRDS
Film Synopsis:
Frenzied feathered flocks terrorize a small California town in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, and Jessica Tandy.
Speaker: Theodore Stankowich, Visiting Postdoctoral Scientist and Teaching Fellow, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University and Adjunct Research Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Topic: The rationale, risks, and rewards of mobbing and other types of animal defensive behavior


BODY HEAT
Film Synopsis: In the midst of a searing Florida heat wave, a woman (Kathleen Turner) convinces her lover, a small-town lawyer (William Hurt), to murder her rich husband.
Speaker: Michael Baum, Professor of Biology, Boston University
Topic: The biological mechanisms controlling sexual differentiation and adult display of courtship behaviors


A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME
Film Synopsis: Directed by documentarian Errol Morris, A Brief History of Time centers on the life and work of the cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, including his contributions to our knowledge of time, black holes, and the origin of the universe.
Speaker: Alan Guth, Professor of Physics, MIT
Topic: What can particle physics tell us about the history of the universe?


A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
Film Synopsis:
In future Britain, charismatic delinquent Alex DeLarge is jailed and volunteers for an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government in an effort to solve society's crime problem... but not all goes to plan.
Speaker: Evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser, Harvard College
Topic: The interface between evolutionary biology and cognitive neuroscience, focusing on the mysteries of language evolution, conceptual representation, social cooperation and morality


COMA
Film Synopsis: A young surgical resident in a Boston hospital unearths a chilling conspiracy in this intense medical thriller, based on the best-selling novel by Robin Cook.
Speaker: Physician and author Robin Cook
Topic: Ethical issues arising from advances in medical technology


CONTACT
Film Synopsis:
Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), after years of searching, finds conclusive radio proof of intelligent aliens, who send plans for a mysterious machine.
Speaker: Paul Horowitz, Professor of Physics and of Electrical Engineering, Harvard University
Topic: The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)


CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
Film Synopsis:
Two men, Judah Rosenthal, (Martin Landau), a prominent ophthalmologist and family man whose mistress threatens to expose his financial and extramarital misdeeds, and Cliff Stern (Woody Allen), an idealistic filmmaker offered a lucrative job shooting a flattering profile of a pompous TV producer, must examine their own morality.
Speaker: David DeSteno, Associate Professor, Social Psychology, Northeastern University and co-author, Out of Character: Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us
Topic: Character and moral decision making


CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
Film Synopsis:
In Q'ing Dynasty China, two warriors in pursuit of a stolen sword and a notorious fugitive are led to an impetuous young nobleman's daughter, who has remarkable secret skills.
Speaker: Andrew Cohen, Professor of Physics, Boston University
Topic: How representations of martial arts in films violate the principles of physics, especially the laws of conservation of momentum


DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE
Film Synopsis:
A documentary investigating the devastating effects that a globalized economy has had on the residents of a Tanzanian fishing village
Speaker: Les Kaufman, Professor of Biology, Marine Program, Boston University; scientific advisor on the film
Topic: The effects of human activities on the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems


THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)
Film Synopsis:
An alien travels to Earth with his giant robot protector to warn human beings that they must live peacefully or be destroyed as a danger to other planets.
Speaker: Dennis Hong, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Founder and Director, Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory, Virginia Tech
Topic: Recent advances in robotics, with an emphasis on humanoid robots, and their potential social implications


DEATH IN VENICE
Film Synopsis:
In Luchino Visconti’s lush and haunting version of Thomas Mann’s novella, an artist obsessed by his ideal of physical and spiritual beauty jeopardizes his own life to be near the object of his desire.
Speaker: Nancy Etcoff, faculty member, Harvard Medical School and Harvard University Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative, psychologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, and author, Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty
Topic: Why we are susceptible to beauty and how our brains perceive it


DIAL M FOR MURDER, 3D Version
Film Synopsis:
Alfred Hitchcock thriller about an ex-tennis pro bent on murdering his wife. When things go wrong initially, he improvises a brilliant plan B.
Speaker: Experimental psychologist Steven Pinker
Topic: The history and science of the mental representation of 3-D space


DIRTY HARRY
Film Synopsis:
A San Francisco cop (Clint Eastwood) with little regard for rules tries to track down a serial killer who snipes at random victims.
Speaker: Amy Brodeur, Assistant Director, Biomedical Forensic Sciences Program, Boston University School of Medicine
Topic: Scientific tests and procedures used when a violent crime is being processed


THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE
Film Synopsis:
Luis Buñuel interweaves dreams and dreams within dreams into this surrealistic satire, in which a group of well-to-do friends repeatedly tries to have a meal together, only to be interrupted
Speaker: Robert Stickgold, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director, Center for Sleep and Cognition, Harvard Medical School
Topic: The dreaming brain and the role of sleep and dreams in memory reprocessing


DONNIE DARKO
Film Synopsis:
A troubled teenager (Jake Gyllenhaal) is plagued by visions of a large bunny rabbit that manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, after narrowly escaping a bizarre accident.
Speaker: Psychiatrist Bruce M. Cohen, MD, PhD, President and Chief Emeritus, McLean Hospital and Director, Shervert Frazier Research Institute
Topic: Current research into the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia


DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Film Synopsis:
Screen adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson tale of a doctor's experiment on himself to separate good and evil.
Speaker: John Durant, Director, MIT Museum, Adjunct Professor, Science, Technology and Society Program, MIT, and Executive Director, Cambridge Science Festival
Topic: Victorian attempts to grapple with a Darwinian view of the world


THE ELEPHANT MAN
Film Synopsis: A Victorian surgeon (Anthony Hopkins) rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous facade, there is revealed a person of intelligence and sensitivity.
Speaker: Virginia Kimonis, MD, expert in clinical biochemical genetics
Topic: Genetic mutations in progressive diseases


ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
Film Synopsis:
A couple (Jim Carrey & Kate Winslet) undergo a procedure to erase each other from their memories when their relationship turns sour, but it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with.
Speaker: Daniel Schacter, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University
Topic: How our brains form memories of intense emotional experiences


FIGHT CLUB
Film Synopsis:
An office employee (Edward Norton) and a soap salesman (Brad Pitt) build a global organization to help vent male aggression.
Speaker: Dr. Richard Wrangham, Professor of Biological Anthropology, Harvard University; author, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence
Topic: How violent social behavior is rooted in male genes and what makes human violence unique as compared to other primates


FORBIDDEN PLANET
Film Synopsis:
A starship crew goes to investigate the silence of a planet's colony only to find two survivors and a deadly secret held by one of them.
Speaker: Rodney Brooks, Director, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, MIT, Professor of Robotics, and chief technical officer, iRobot Corp.
Topic: Artificial Intelligence


FULL METAL JACKET
Film Synopsis:
Stanley Kubrick’s powerful Vietnam War drama about a squad of raw Marine Corps recruits who endure dehumanizing training under a sadistic drill sergeant and fight in the Tet Offensive.
Speaker: Jonathan Shay, MD, PhD, former staff psychiatrist at the Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic, Boston and author, Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America
Topic: Moral injury as a wound of war and combat trauma


GROUNDHOG DAY
Film Synopsis: A weatherman (Bill Murray) finds himself living the same day over and over again.
Speaker: Peter Galison, Professor of Physics and the History of Science, Harvard University
Topic: Time loops and multiple realities


GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER
Film Synopsis:
Matt and Christina Drayton (Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn) are a couple whose attitudes are challenged when their daughter brings home a fiancé (Sidney Poitier) who is black.
Speaker: Mahzarin R. Banaji, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University
Topic: How our unconscious attitudes towards race sometimes run counter to our admitted beliefs and the use of innovative research methods to measure bias


HACKERS
Film Synopsis:
1995 techno-thriller about a teenager and his friends who discover a plot to unleash a dangerous computer virus. They must use their own prodigious computer skills to find the evidence while being pursued by the Secret Service and the evil computer genius behind the virus.
Speaker: Videogame designer Jesse Schell, Professor of Entertainment Technology, Carnegie Melon and Founder/CEO, Schell Games
Topic: Which parts of Hackers have come true, will come true, and will never come true, and some of the cool things we can expect in gaming and technology


JAWS
Film Synopsis:
When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace a small New England island community, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
Speaker: Aquatic biologist Greg Skomal
Topic: The truth about great white sharks and why we fear them


THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)
Film Synopsis
: Roger Corman’s cult classic about a hapless plant-shop clerk who breeds a new species of plant that not only talks, but also needs a special kind of food to survive: human flesh and blood.
Speaker: Aaron Ellison, Senior Research Fellow in Ecology, Harvard Forest
Topic: Carnivorous plants


LONGTIME COMPANION
Film Synopsis:
The first film to put a human face on the AIDS epidemic, Longtime Companion follows the lives of a small circle of friends from the first mention of the disease in the New York Times in 1981.
Speakers: Kenneth Mayer, Professor of Medicine and Community Health, Brown University School of Medicine; Joe Elia, editor of the Massachusetts Medical Society's daily news service "Physician's First Watch"; and Matt Foley, Associate Director, Client Services, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts
Topic: The historical trajectory of the AIDS epidemic and current medical breakthroughs


THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT
Film Synopsis:
An altruistic chemist (Alec Guinness) invents a fabric that resists wear and stain as boon to humanity but both capital and labor realize it must be suppressed for economic reasons.
Speakers: Marc Abrahams, editor of The Annals of Improbable Research and founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and Harvard chemist Daniel Rosenberg
Topic: Inventors, invention, and the age-old question, Is it possible to create clothing that never gets dirty and never wears out?


MA VIE EN ROSE (MY LIFE IN PINK)
Film Synopsis:
Ludovic, a good-natured 7-year-old boy who has decided he’s a girl and can’t wait to grow up to be a woman, stands his ground when his parents, teachers, and school mates try to reason with him.
Speaker: Norman Spack, MD, endocrinologist and co-founder, Gender Management Service, Children’s Hospital, Boston and Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
Topic: Gender variance and transgenderism


THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
Film Synopsis:
David Bowie stars as a humanoid alien who comes to earth to get water for his dying planet.
Speaker: Robert Weller, Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Chair, Anthropology Department, Boston University
Topic: Issues raised in the outsider's experience of modern Western culture.


MARNIE
Film Synopsis:
Mark (Sean Connery) marries Marnie (Tippi Hedren) although she is a habitual thief and has serious psychological problems, and tries to help her confront and resolve them.
Speaker: Phillip Freeman, training and supervising psychoanalyst at Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute (BPSI) and member of the faculty of the Departments of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the Boston University School of Medicine.
Topic: The use of the language of cinema to convey the uncanny sensibilities of dreams and traumatic memory


NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)
Film Synopsis:
A group of terrified people in a farmhouse hide from bloodthirsty zombies
Speaker: Steven Schlozman, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Topic: Necro-diagnostics and the theoretical neuroscience of zombies. How exactly does a zombie brain function?


PRIMER
Film Synopsis:
Four friends/fledgling entrepreneurs, knowing that there's something bigger and more innovative than the different error-checking devices they've built, wrestle over their new invention.
Speaker: John Joannopoulos, Professor of Physics, MIT
Topic: A scientific look at the accidental nature of innovation


PULSE (KAIRO)
Film Synopsis:
Japanese university students investigate a series of suicides linked to an Internet Web cam that promises visitors the chance to interact with the dead.
Speaker: Physicist, educator, novelist, and essayist Alan Lightman
Topic: An exploration of the delicate divide between the physical world and the spiritual world


RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Film Synopsis:
Archeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.
Speaker: Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology, Boston University
Topic: Prehistoric archaeology and lithic technology


RICHARD FEYNMAN: NO ORDINARY GENIUS
Film Synopsis:
An intimate and moving BBC documentary portrait of charismatic Nobel prize-winning physicist and amateur musician Richard Feynman, as told by his friends, family, colleagues (including Stephen Wolfram) - and himself.
Speaker: Stephen Wolfram, physicist, inventor, author, creator of Mathematica, and CEO of Wolfram Research.
Topic: The role of curiosity, competition, and mentoring in the academic scientific world, as exemplified by Richard Feynman


SLEEPER
Film Synopsis:
A nerdish store owner is revived out of cryostasis into a future world to fight an oppressive government. Written, directed by, and starring Woody Allen.
Speaker: Brock Reeve, Executive Director, Harvard Stem Cell Institute
Topic: Advances in stem cell research


SO MUCH, SO FAST
Film Synopsis:
Candid documentary chronicling one family’s remarkable battle with the paralyzing neural disorder ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).
Speaker: Jamie Heywood, founder, ALS Therapy Development Institute and brother of the film’s subject, Stephen Heywood
Topic: The current state of ALS research


STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN
Film Synopsis:
Admiral Kirk's midlife crisis is interrupted by the return of an old enemy looking for revenge and a potentially destructive device.
Speaker: Jeffrey Hoffman, professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and a former NASA astronaut
Topic: The dynamics of life aboard a spaceship, including parabolic trajectories, zero gravity, and the equivalence principle


STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME
Film Synopsis:
Admiral Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew time travel from the 23rd century to 1986 San Francisco in search of long-extinct humpback whales, the only creatures that can respond to a mysterious space probe that's threatening Earth.
Speaker: Dave Wiley, Research Coordinator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s (NOAA) Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Topic: New insights into the amazing underwater lives of humpback whales, as revealed by new technologies


SUPERMAN (1978)

Film Synopsis: An alien orphan is sent from his dying planet to Earth, where he grows up to become his adoptive home's first and greatest super-hero.
Speaker: Max Tegmark, Associate Professor of Physics, MIT
Topic: The science of superheroes: the laws of gravity, the density of Krypton, teleportation, understanding the Big Bang.


THEREMIN: AN ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY
Film Synopsis:
A documentary about the inventor of the first electronic synthesizer instrument and his subsequent life after he was abducted by the KGB, as well as a history of his instrument.
Speaker: MIT Professor of Music and Media Tod Machover
Topic: Musical innovation that is aided by technology


TRANSCENDENT MAN
Film Synopsis:
A documentary, directed by Barry Ptolemy, exploring the life and provocative ideas of renowned technology inventor, entrepreneur, and futurist Ray Kurzweil. Inspired by Kurzweil’s book The Singularity is Near.
Speakers: Ray Kurzweil and Barry Ptolemy
Topic: The Singularity – Kurzweil’s hotly debated vision of a future in which humans will merge with their machines and vastly extend their longevity and intelligence


VERTIGO
Film Synopsis:
A San Francisco detective (Jimmy Stewart) suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend's wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.
Speaker: Psychiatrist Catherine Kimble MD, Clinical Instructor, McLean Hospital
Topic: Vertigo and anxiety


THE WILD CHILD
Film Synopsis:
Based on the journals of a French doctor in the 18th century, the dramatized story of his attempts to educate and civilize a young boy found wandering in the wilderness without any comprehension of human life.
Speaker: Judy Shepard-Kegl, Professor of Linguistics, University of Southern Maine
Topic: Language acquisition


WINGED MIGRATION
Film Synopsis:
Documentary on the migratory patterns of birds, shot over the course of three years on all seven continents.
Speaker: Ornithologist David Allen Sibley
Topic: The flight dynamics of birds