Flash of Genius (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Length: 119 minutes.
Grade: CCBB=C+
Budget: $20 million
Box Office: $5 million (4.5 U.S., 0.5 Intl., DVD)
Written by: Philip Railsback (First movie)
Directed by: Marc Abraham (First movie, but he’s produced a ton, including Children of Men, Dawn of the Dead, Bring It On, Rundown, Emperor’s Club, Spy Game, Thirteen Days, Family Man, and Air Force One)
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Dermot Mulroney, Lauren Graham, and Alan Alda

This is the true story of the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper and then spend years of his life trying to reclaim damages from Ford for stealing it from him.

Entertainment Value: C
This movie was very frustrating, mostly because it’s not anything you want it to be. You want it to be a story of triumph and victory against all odds, but it’s not. You want it to be uplifting and inspirational, but it’s not. You want to see a man exercise wisdom and perspective in the conduct of his life, but he doesn’t. You want to see the greedy corporation admit fault and be humbled, but they aren’t. It’s just irritating. And to top it all off, you can’t possibly like the main character the way you can love Jeff Bridges in Tucker. But, then again, that’s the nature of true stories, and this is a great example of a true story that’s so unpleasant to watch that you have to wonder whether it’s worth telling. Still, kudos for being willing to honestly tell such an unenchanting tale.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B+, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B+, Language C
There is some social drinking, some depiction of cadavers, and the language you have come to expect from a PG-13 movie these days. There’s just one word between this and straight PG.

Significant Content: B
Corporations can’t be trusted, except that they can be trusted to behave badly. A man is successful by pursuing a dream and making sure he gets credit for it. There’s a hefty price to pay for demanding your rights. Engineering is one of the most important areas for ethics. Greed, whether financial or for reputation, is a powerful force. Annoyance is the mother of invention.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
As I’ve already mentioned, I have to say this is art in the sense of being a faithful depiction of what can only be called a tragic life. I applaud the determination to tell this story without making it into an “underdog triumphs” whitewash, even though I enjoyed it much less because of that fact. It’s useful, even if it isn’t fun. And the anguish of the characters is beautifully portrayed.

Discussion Questions:
~Why is ethics so important in the field of engineering? Would these same concerns apply to science? Why is it so difficult to get men who work on “how to” do something to stop and seriously ponder “whether” they should be doing it in the first place?
~Should our system of justice provide some other way of punishing corporate crimes besides mere monetary penalties? Should companies be subject to losing their business charters or incorporation status temporarily or permanently just as citizens can go to jail? Should corporate officers have to pay these penalties themselves?
~Who in this movie is using someone else for his (or her) own purposes? Is anyone in this movie not using other people?
~Discuss the role of greed in this movie, both for money and also for recognition. Did Kearns turn recognition into an idol? Consider how his pursuit of his notion of justice led him to neglect and destroy other areas of his life.
~Who betrayed the marital vows: Bob or Phyllis? Who betrayed the marriage?
~Given Ford’s history of ethical lapses such as this case, the Pinto, and the Explorer rollovers, should their company be disbanded?
~How important is it to you that you get credit for the things you’ve done? Is your desire for recognition Biblical?
~From God’s perspective, does it matter whether Kearns gets paid by Ford or not? Would a more Christian Kearns be satisfied merely to know that millions of people were living less aggravated lives because of his invention, even without being paid for it? Why is Bob so emphatic about demanding compensation?
~To what degree would you say Kearns’s bullheadedness is irrational? Why does he want to manufacture the part in the first place? Is his obstinacy sinful? Is it a noble crusade?
~Is Kearns a success? Is his victory Pyrrhic? Do you think what he gained was worth what he lost?
~Kearns’s lawyer tries to convince him that a large settlement with no admission of wrongdoing is the essence of victory in the legal arena. What do you think of this?
Overall Grade: C+
Tucker was inspiring, despite suffering defeat. Flash of Genius is depressing, despite achieving victory.

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