The Fantastic Mr. Feynman

Richard Feynman, the brilliant American physicist, was one of the most captivating communicators in the history of science. That’s how he’s portrayed in Christopher Riley’s The Fantastic Mr, Feyman, an engaging BBC documentary now available on the Netflix streaming network.

Feynman was a Nobel Prize recipient who endowed physics with a human face, says one of his pupils. A former colleague describes him as a “showman” who had an ability to articulate complex concepts with humour and simplicity.

The author of Surely You’re Joking, Mr, Feynman, a scientific best-seller, Feynman was a charter member of the Manhattan Project, which built the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in the summer of 1945. He was also a leader in the field of quantum mechanics.

Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman

He was born in 1918 to a working-class Jewish family in New York, but the film stays completely clear of his religious background. When he was still a child, Feynman’s father whetted his intellectual appetite by reading passages to him from the Encyclopedia Brittanica. By the age of 10, the precocious Feynman had his own laboratory at home. At 17, he had won a mathematical contest and been accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Upon graduation, he joined the Manhattan Project, based in Los Alamos, New Mexico. In a place brimming with more exceptionally bright minds per capita than probably anywhere else in the world, he impressed colleagues and superiors with his towering intellect.

Amid the adulation, Feynman was left broken-hearted by the untimely death of his new wife, Arlene.

Although the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki prompted Japan to sue for peace, thereby shortening the war in the Pacific theater, Feynman was deeply disturbed by the number of Japanese civilians who had been killed by the powerful blasts. “I was really in a kind of depressive condition,” he says in an interview.

Richard Feynman, center, at Los Alamos
Richard Feynman, center, at Los Alamos

During the postwar period, he taught at Cornell University and the California Institute of Technology, where he conducted path-breaking research in a new field, quantum electrodynamics. In 1965, he shared the Nobel Prize with two other scientists.

Popular with students. Feynman appears to have been a down-to-earth and approachable teacher who had a knack for connecting with people.

In one of his last undertakings, he solved the riddle of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster.

Feynman was a remarkable man and The Fantastic Mr. Feynman pays tribute to him and his achievements.


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