J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Einstein’s God Model: The Physics of the Afterlife

It turns out mad scientist movies had it all wrong. It is physicists not biologists who will unlock the secrets of the afterlife. Technically, they will not cheat death, because there is no death—just different membranes of existence. It might sound exciting, but there will be a cautionary note supplied by none other than Albert Einstein. Superstring Theory and M-Theory will get radical new science fiction applications in director-screenwriter Philip T. Johnson’s Einstein’s God Model (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Reeling from the death of his (hoped to be) fiancée, Brayden Taylor latches on to something a colleague told him about Ketamine use in some sort of near death experiment. Unfortunately, Dr. Carl Meiselhoff, the physicist running the studies has recently passed away. However, his widow is willing to let Taylor take all his weird looking analog gear. That would be the God Model Project, a shadowy venture apostolically linked to Thomas Edison.

Taylor is not prepared for his solo test drive through parallel membranes, but Meiselhoff’s former protégé Louis Mastenbrook [PhD] detects the disturbance in the Force just in time. He is a cold fish, but at least he understands the physics. He also has some bitter personal history with Craig Leeham, one of Meiselhoff’s former test subjects, who has reinvented himself as an Evangelical Christian psychic after a session in the God Model helmet left him blind, but partially able to see into alternate membranes. Leeham has no affection for Mastenbrook, but he has his own reasons for joining their efforts.

You generally have to respect a film that name checks Niels Bohr, Edward Witten, and Nikola Tesla, but creating an entirely convincing Einstein lecture for its own purposes is truly impressive. Johnson is probably glossing over volumes of contradictory theory, but he gives viewers enough detail and grounding to make the quantum physics (and metaphysics) of EGM feel completely real. Granted, there are also religious implications to the God Model Project, which Johnson acknowledges, but diplomatically opts not to dwell upon. Ironically, his only mistake comes in incorporating too many special effects. Arguably, this is a case where we would intellectually engage more, if we saw less.

Regardless, the ambition of EGM is quite laudable and Johnson’s screenplay hangs together with greater consistency than many less complex, theoretically-informed genre films. In selling the film’s concepts, Kenneth Hughes and Darryl Warren also help tremendously with their authoritative performances as Mastenbrook and Meiselhoff, respectively. In contrast, Aaron Graham is achingly earnest but somewhat awkward on-screen as the bereaved Taylor. However, Andy Hannon gives the film a humane anchor as Taylor’s disbelieving colleague Devin and Brad Norman’s Leeham makes quite an intriguing wild card.

EGM’s opening credits might be the best of the year. They reflect the film’s smart, big picture, quantum sensibility. It is exactly the kind of science fiction film that deserves support when it opens this Friday (8/19) in Los Angeles, at the Arena Cinema.

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