Michael Freyn’s Copenhagen was one of the better acclaimed plays of Rangashankara, Being produced by Centre for Film and Drama, it starred Prakash Belawadi, Nakul Bhalla and Sharanya Ramprakash. Somehow, the effect of the theatre being jam packed by first year Christ University students from Theatre classes, was that of a school trip. This was compounded by the play being headily scientific, to boot. Which was probably a turn off point for them, by the sounds of their ringing phones. A pity, privileged are they to consider such events outings not a paucity, as it is for me.
A typewriter’s clickity-clack leads to the Bohr couple talking. Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg have a charming father-son relationship and can go on reminiscing of days past and theory. Heisenberg is all about the sciency-weincy. Bohr wants that to be understandable even to the layman. Both enjoy riffing off on theoretical Physics. As a science student myself, I could follow their discussions based, not on knowledge gathered from textbooks and long hours of rote learning, but rather, from the Carl Sagan books I have read so far. Except the references to U-235 and U-238, of course. Hello again, Organic Chemistry. The characters might or might not have been bombarding neutrons in their laboratories, but there, in the theatre, the script was overwhelming us with information and trivia on the Golden Age of Science.
There is an interplay of physics and politics, here. The once-close relationship between Bohr and his protegee, Heisenberg, is over shadowed by the the awkwardness of the Third Reich occupying Denmark. After the thawing when the two meet in 1941, Margerethe’s incisive commentary on their relationship is humorous. Prakash Belawadi is the master craftsman of the theatre. Nakul Bhalla is sharp as ever.
The usage of lighting was captivating. At one point, a strobe effect and beeps were used to mimic the shedding of light on the atomic particles. As the play progressed, the light intensified the actors’ faces, to tell their point of view, until finally, the three faces were all that were visible. This was when the whole story’s loose ends had unraveled.
The plot is a mixed bag of repetitions and reminiscences focused on the question- What actually happened on that fateful day in Copenhagen? What happened to the great Bohr-Heisenberg partnership? Copenhagen could also be the primary characters’ long, exhaustive guilt trips. It is a far-seeing vision playing of their various parts in that fateful lunch and its aftermath. Herein lies the acclaim of this play. We get a glimpse into these great scientific minds and their thought processes. Morality vs. the allure of Scientific Discovery.The dialogue, the banter which gives me more understanding on the subject they are schmoozing about- I had to work to hold my attention to it, but it was worth it.
The play reminded me of Mindwalk directed by Bernt Amadeus Capra, in certain ways.
I shall begin hard selling at this point; build up your sceptic wall already.
To say the dialog driven film is merely an adaptation of The Turning Point by the director’s brother Fritjof Capra is unfair.To say that the film is just about a poet, a politician and a scientist having conversations in an island monastery, Abbey of Mont. St. Michael, France, is an understatement. The first few notes of theme music resemble their conversation. Particularly, Sonia Hoffman’s back and forth elucidations on various philosophies and scientific illuminations is that winding violin bow in the theme music by Philip Glass. It is named Comets and Vegas. Apt.
I like listening to the audio version every once in a while. It has opened up vistas I knew not, previously. For example:
“No saint stands alone” translated to “American voters want their leaders to be dumber than they are. They figure they’ll do less harm that way. It is an expensive form of cynicism.”
Individual notes of music seamlessly seep into each other as probability patterns of interconnections, and the relationship between time and pitch makes melody. This is how Sonia compellingly explains particles in atomic Physics. This is how I finally understood Music and Science – two subjects I do not have any practical understanding of – in a few simple metaphors and explanations.
Somehow, they even work in the continual exchange of matter and energy in everything. Basically, this custom I follow, of not touching things when in bad moods, so as to not transfer that negative emotions- validated!
Pablo Neruda poetry Enigmas performed by Thomas Harriman, the disparaging poet.
You’ve asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.
You ask me whom the Macrocystis alga hugs in its arms?
Study, study it, at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.
You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,
and I reply by describing
how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.
You enquire about the kingfisher’s feathers,
which tremble in the pure springs of the southern tides?
Or you’ve found in the cards a new question touching on
the crystal architecture
of the sea anemone, and you’ll deal that to me now?
You want to understand the electric nature of the ocean
The armored stalactite that breaks as it walks?
The hook of the angler fish, the music stretched out
in the deep places like a thread in the water?
I want to tell you the ocean knows this, that life in its
is endless as the sand, impossible to count, pure,
and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the
hard and shiny, made the jellyfish full of light
and untied its knot, letting its musical threads fall
from a horn of plenty made of infinite mother-of-pearl.
I am nothing but the empty net which has gone on ahead
of human eyes, dead in those darknesses,
of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longitudes
on the timid globe of an orange.
I walked around as you do, investigating
the endless star,
and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked,
the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.
Translated by Robert Bly
An atom described as a French island, planets compared to oranges and cherries. Cosmic significance of music of the spheres. Mechanistic Cartesian Descartes influence on the world of breaking simple truths down to chunks of swallow-able information instead of a taking a step back to view the whole picture. The nature of light and matter brought about the Crises of Perception… Okay, look. The entire movie is up on Youtube for your viewing pleasure. This film is instrumental in the eye opening experience of the beauty and wonder of Science, along with Carl Sagan books, of course.
It is a very cerebral film, unfortunately. The books I mentioned are at least high-brow, but that is how the play Copenhagen feels. You have to allow yourself to slog through these, maybe give them time and a few tries, to enjoy it thoroughly but it so satisfying. I fervently believe your energies will be worth it.