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Physicist Richard Feynman conceptualized the field of nanotechnology as far back as the 1950s. Many years later, he figured out and explained to Congress that the defective O-rings caused the Challenger space shuttle to explode. He liked to pick locks and play percussion instruments. More than anything, he wanted to visit Tannu Tuva, but it never happened. He was the youngest member of the team that invented the atomic bomb. He eventually gained the reputation of a formidable ladies’ man, but that was later. Infinity is about Richard Feynman as a young kid in love.

The girl’s name is Arline, and the boy charms her by constructing a Mobius strip. (True story: in the late Sixties I fell in love with a guy because he made a Mobius strip, right there in the cafeteria at Niagara County Community College.) Already, in 1939, Feynman is saying, “What do you care what other people think?” which later becomes the title of one of his books.

Dick shows off by challenging a Chinese man with an abacus to a calculating contest. “The harder the problem gets, the better off I am, and the worse off he is.” Okay, maybe it’s nerd love, but Arline listens to Dick’s abstruse math talk, and also does standard girly stuff, longing for a dress in a store window. They get a room, and she helps him pull out the hide-a-bed, a nice filmic shorthand for her enthusiasm about the physical side of a relationship. In 1941, he dances the jitterbug, he’s a clown, and they’re still sneaking off someplace to make love.

When Arline falls prey to a mysterious illness, Dick he treats it as just another science problem, and studies up on what could be wrong. He wins a major scholarship which will be forfeit if they marry. If they don’t marry, they won’t be able to see each other. Arline has maybe seven years to live, and they can’t kiss on the mouth because her sickness is contagious.

When World War Two starts, someone asks Feynman, “Don’t you read the newspapers?” He says, “As a matter of fact, I don’t.” Next thing you know, he’s at Los Alamos helping to invent the A-bomb. His wife is in a hospital 100 miles away. This is not your typical young marriage. The commuting goes on for a couple of years, and Arline is really starting to look bad. Despite this only being 1944, with Robert Bly and the men’s movement decades in the future, we see Feynman out in the woods, drumming and leaping about.

In 1945, it looks like Arline is on the way out. Dick borrows a car and has a hellacious time getting to Albuquerque, but he’s there when she dies. The bomb goes off. Dick gets the shakes.

I’m real happy this film got made. Richard Feynman was a person well worth knowing, and if this film will inspire people to, for instance, get hold of James Gleick’s book Genius, or Freeman Dyson’s book Disturbing the Universe, to learn more about such an extraordinary human, that will be all to the good.

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