Marilyn Monroe Explains Relativity to Albert Einstein (in a Nicolas Roeg Movie)

A cer­tain motion pic­ture has as its main char­ac­ters Joe DiMag­gio, Joseph McCarthy, Albert Ein­stein, and Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe. Sure, the script calls them the Ballplay­er, the Sen­a­tor, the Pro­fes­sor, and the Actress, but there’s no mis­tak­ing their real iden­ti­ties. Sure­ly this already intrigues any­one inter­est­ed in mid­cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can cul­ture, but what if I also men­tioned that in the direc­tor’s chair sits Nico­las Roeg, whose rich­ly askew visions for Walk­a­bout, Don’t Look Now, and The Man Who Fell to Earth so enriched the cin­e­ma of the sev­en­ties? Adapt­ed from a stage play by Ter­ry John­son, 1985’s Insignif­i­cance has each of its icon­ic char­ac­ters pass through a sin­gle New York City hotel room in 1954. Rough­ly halfway through the sto­ry, we get the scene above, an expla­na­tion of the the­o­ry of rel­a­tiv­i­ty: by the Actress to the Pro­fes­sor.

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe’s inter­est in things Ein­stein­ian seems at least some­what ground­ed in real­i­ty; John­son thought up the play after read­ing about an auto­graphed pho­to of the physi­cist found among the late star’s pos­ses­sions. Roeg felt a sim­i­lar­ly strong reac­tion upon watch­ing the stage pro­duc­tion, seiz­ing the mate­r­i­al as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore the theme of how “nobody knows a damn thing about any­one.” This he espe­cial­ly illus­trat­ed in the dis­tant mar­riage of the Actress and the Ballplay­er, their real-life inspi­ra­tions hav­ing been briefly mar­ried them­selves. (In the role of the Actress Roeg cast There­sa Rus­sell, his own then-wife.) Though not Roeg’s best-known film, Insignif­i­cance has nonethe­less inspired a con­stant stream of aca­d­e­m­ic and cinephilic dis­cus­sion since its release, and it received a hand­some Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion edi­tion last year. And if I had my way, I’d encour­age both film and physics teach­ers every­where to fire it up on slow class days.

via Bib­liok­lept

Relat­ed con­tent:

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe Reads Joyce’s Ulysses at the Play­ground (1955)

Ein­stein Doc­u­men­tary Offers A Reveal­ing Por­trait of the Great 20th Cen­tu­ry Sci­en­tist Einstein’s Big Idea: E=mc²

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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