Inspired by the knowledge that a signed photograph of Albert Einstein had been found among Marilyn Monroe’s possessions after her death, Terry Johnson’s clever play Insignificance imagines a meeting between the movie star and the famous scientist. This delightful conceit makes for some fascinating observations on 1950s America (the paranoid atmosphere of the McCarthyist era, the nuclear threat) and the nature of fame. Roeg’s adaptation opens the play out not so much spatially as laterally, effortlessly turning it into another of his wholly unpretentious explorations of big ideas and awkward emotions. Like other Roeg films, Insignificance is about a group of personalities whose identities have been shaken and transformed by the end of the drama. It concerns in particular four powerful figuresoThe Actress (Theresa Russell), The Professor (Michael Emil), The Senator (Tony Curtis), The Ballplayer (Gary Busey)owith a deep fissure between their public image and their private reality. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely intentionaloit is part of the story. The film’s ingenious playing with ideas culminates in a wonderful scene when Marilyn explains the theory of relativity to Einstein with the aid of clockwork trains and balloons.

U.K., 1985.
109 mins.

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