I’ll stipulate that I’m not wild about Natalie Portman, but her description of her character in Thor as a Jodie Foster in Contact-like passionate scientist who works on the fringes of her field makes me considerably more excited about a movie I was already enthusiastic about. Portman, of course, has a distinguished academic background in science, and I image that’ll help inform her character considerably. In between this and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which uses Alzheimer’s research as an origin story for a world in which humans are cattle on a world ruled by evolved simians, it should be a good summer of on-screen researchers.
I don’t know that there’s an optimal way to portray research scientists on-screen. I do worry, a bit, about Portman’s emphasis on emotion and being out there, and being proved right, which I think was a bit problematic in Contact, too, in the Emotive Lady Scientist Endures A Lot, Is Right, and Can’t Prove a Damn Thing sense. I don’t want a world where women scientists in movies excel because of their ladybits and tear ducts, but because they’re rigorous and smart, some of which can be driven by emotion. And I have some concerns about mad scientist stories, given the state of science education and scientific understanding in the country right now. I would really rather not plant any seeds about scientific inaccuracy or misdirection that flowers into the ugly blooms of denial of climate science, or evolution, or general distrust of the scientific community. Even and especially if the seeds are planted by James Franco.