Infinity

on October 04, 1996 by Kim Williamson
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   Aptly, "Infinity" opens with young physicist Richard Feynman (Matthew Broderick) gazing up at a field of stars. It's such a simple image that at this point the audience is not sure when or where in Feynman's life this moment is occurring, or what it's supposed to mean. By the time the image reappears, almost as a bookend near movie's end, the audience's uncertainties are resolved, the film's time-looping structure a sign of freshman director Broderick's confidence and its emotional impact a sign of mother Patricia Broderick's scripting calm in slowly cultivating her narrative. As such, "Infinity" stands as a good first production for First Look, which for the past several years has been building a reputation as a savvy acquirer of specialized fare.
   "Infinity's" true-life tale--which centers on the young years of Feynman, a Far Rockaway lad who after attending MIT and Princeton helped usher in the atom age with his work on the Manhattan Project, and of a popular Cedarhurst girl named Arlene (Patricia Arquette, named Arline Greenbaum in the film), whom he marries and helps fight her potentially deadly infection with tuberculosis--is primarily based on one chapter from the Nobel-winning scientist's second autobiography, "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" (The title is taken from a saying of Feynman's that Arlene made her own.) In that book and in his earlier "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!", the almost always extravagantly outspoken scientist is restrained in recalling his love for and loss of Arlene and about the emotional impact of this time on his life. Returning to Los Alamos after her passing, when someone asked him how his wife was, Feynman writes that he said, "'She's dead. And how's the program going?'.... They caught on right away that I didn't want to moon over it." Or again: "The only difference for me and Arlene was, instead of fifty years [together], it was five years. It was only a quantitative difference--the psychological problem was just the same."
   Going in, one might expect the filmmakers' key problem would be making Feynman's life calling--math and science--play in a movie, but the Brodericks have neatly hurdled this difficulty by seamlessly inserting the techie talk inside the story. Case in point: A later-in-life incident that occurred to the real-life Feynman while traveling in Brazil, in which he challenges his math abilities to those of a master abacus counter, in "Infinity" becomes a moment shared years earlier with Arline while they're arm-in-arming along the Atlantic City Boardwalk. What turns out to be the key problem, which the Brodericks do not completely overcome, is the emotional limitation built into the material by the autobiographer's near-silence on matters of the heart; the only sure way around this would have been to change history, the way Hemingway did in "A Farewell to Arms"--to make the Feynmans' real-life relationship play to the three-act structure of a modern movie. The "Infinity" that emerges does not have the benefit of a dynamic storyline, but it avoids the inauthenticity that would have resulted had the filmmakers tried introducing such a trick. In remaining "true" to the material and Feynman, they remain true to themselves, and that seems to have been more important to them than what other people--the mass movie audience--would think.    Starring Matthew Broderick and Patricia Arquette. Directed by Matthew Broderick. Written by Patricia Broderick. Produced by Joel Soisson, Michael Leahy, Patricia Broderick and Matthew Broderick. A First Look release. Romance. Rated PG for thematic elements, mild sensuality and language. Running time: 119 min. Opens 10/4 ltd.
Tags: Matthew Broderick and Patricia Arquette. Directed by Matthew Broderick. Written by Patricia Broderick. Produced by Joel Soisson, Michael Leahy, Patricia Broderick and Matthew Broderick. A First Look release. Romance, modern, dynamic, emotion, scientist, time-looping
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