Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Hollywood has long had a love affair when it comes to the genius narrative. These geniuses are people (mostly men) who are so intelligent that they focus on their thoughts at the behest of any sort of relationship that could benefit them as people. Because they lack any sort of social skills, they are often seen as ostracized, either by self or others, and are severely mocked because the outside world reacts to their isolation. They are misunderstood as weird or arrogant because their intelligence threatens the people within their purview.
The narrative formula of the misunderstood genius is always maintained, regardless of the fact that they are real or fiction. From John Nash and Mark Zuckerberg to Will Hunting and Sheldon Cooper, the misunderstood genius always has a problem connecting with others. Their knowledge or goals are in the forefront of what drives them on a regular basis, so we root for them to overcome their social anxieties; they are not whole until the supporting characters translate genius to the audience to make them understood.
With this week’s release of Danny Boyle’s biopic STEVE JOBS, as well as the recent release of Ed Zwick’s PAWN SACRIFICE, this week’s edition of Throwback Thursday takes a look at some of our favorite movies about the misunderstood genius.
Matt Damon is wicked smart in his 1997 film GOOD WILL HUNTING, directed by Gus Van Sant (MILK). His Will Hunting mops college hallway floors, drinks a lot of brews with his buddies, solve student’s math problems, and most importantly, likes to cause a ruckus. It’s the kind of apples we like, cinematically speaking.
But above all, he’s arguably a “genius.” He passes his time reading books and solving obscure math equations that are beyond most people, even college professors.
The film does a great job of exploring Will Hunting’s troubled life. There’s even a line spoken in the film about how far Hunting would go if he wasn’t as problematic as the equations he likes to solve. It’s a tough cookie for somewhat-psychiatrist Sean Maguire (the Oscar-winning and late Robin Williams) to crack– but as the film later proves, emotional issues can be solved by the love of a good woman… and a simple hug from Robin Williams. It’s not your fault.
– Preston Barta
In most movies where misunderstood geniuses are front and center, it can tend to be melodramatic. “No one gets him, or that he’s gone through so much adversity to get here!” It’s all the same sort of formula, whether fiction or biographical. However, with REAL GENIUS, they made a comedy where the genius is placed in a school of geniuses but is misunderstood because he’s 15. Mitch (Gabe Jarrett) comes to the prestigious university because of his gift for laser sciences. He’s taken under the wing of Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), who learned long ago not take his brain so seriously.
After a breakdown and prank at the hands of jealous workmate Kent (Robert Prescott), he knows that he must fight the adversity; he belongs, regardless of his insecurities and fears. The movie is one of my favorite 80s comedies, filled with sharp wit and a breakout performance from Val Kilmer. REAL GENIUS shows that real geniuses can have a sense of humor, it’s not all just jargon and thought.
– Jared McMillan
Geniuses don’t have to be portrayed by as mathematicians or scientists. They are more associated with the term because of their intelligence. This is the case with Phil Alden Robinson’s SNEAKERS, a film about a cabal of geniuses, con men, and ex-feds that get in too deep when they retrieve a black box. They run a security business, getting hired by companies in order to show their weaknesses. Their leader has a shady past however, and it leads them to getting blackmailed into stealing said black box, which happens to help decrypt encrypted messages through communications systems.
The film boasts an all-star cast that features Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, and Dan Aykroyd to name a few, as well as boasting a fantastic score by the late, great James Horner. There is a subtle humor in the comradery between the cast, so when they speak in jargon or crack codes, it shifts into a serious tone. They need to know answers, they need to solve these puzzles; there are “too many secrets” where they live. It can get a bit slow at certain points, but it is a fascinating spy drama.
– Jared McMillan
STEVE JOBS opens in limited release tomorrow, and opens nationwide on Oct. 23.