Proteus: A Nineteenth Century Vision.
Article Type: Movie review
Subject: Motion pictures (Movie reviews)
Author: Batorsky, Roberta
Pub Date: 09/01/2011
Publication: Name: The American Biology Teacher Publisher: National Association of Biology Teachers Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences; Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 National Association of Biology Teachers ISSN: 0002-7685
Issue: Date: Sept, 2011 Source Volume: 73 Source Issue: 7
Topic: NamedWork: Proteus: A Nineteenth Century Vision (Motion picture)
Persons: Reviewee: Lebrun, David
Accession Number: 268790243
Full Text: Proteus: A Nineteenth Century Vision (David Lebrun, Icarus Films and First Run Features, 2004)

Nineteenth-century scientist Ernst Haeckel reconciled the profound conflict between objective, cold science and subjective, emotional art to become one of his century's preeminent biologists, artists, and naturalists. His work has been translated into 20 languages. Today, we revere him for discovering, describing, and drawing 4000 species of Radiolaria: tiny, single-celled sea organisms that absorb silica and extrude glass-like skeletons, "amoeba-like drops of protoplasm, each species a translucent cage."

David Lebrun has produced "Proteus," a visually gorgeous film that commands the interest of students and teachers of art, humanities, science, and the history and philosophy of science. I previewed this 1-hour film for my community-college biology students to their evident delight and amazement. I recommend the purchase of this DVD by secondary schools, universities, and community colleges for interdisciplinary use.

LeBrun explores conceptions of nature, including those of Aristotle, the alchemists, the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment rationalists, and the 19th-century romantic poets, the last of which viewed the "outer" world of nature as a window to the "inner" landscape of the soul. Haeckel merged the outer and inner worlds. Art Forms in Nature, his 50-volume magnum opus drawn from specimens brought back from the 3-year voyage of the HMS Challenger, took 10 years to compile. The film lingers over the contours of the elaborately filigreed "bowls, helmets, houses, windmills, and towers": the tiny Radiolaria inhabiting the deep seas.

An early evolutionary biologist, Haeckel hypothesized that the Radiolarians' physical similarities showed descent from a common ancestor, and classified them into species and families. The Radiolaria Gallery (accessible from a separate menu) can enhance a taxonomy, microscopy, or evolution unit. A humanities or non-majors biology class would use this media to investigate historical conceptions of nature, exploration of the oceans, or technology's effects on science, art, and literature. I teach a non-majors microbiology class and used "Proteus" to illustrate the multitude of forms of single-celled organisms.

DOI: 10.1525/abt.2011.73.7.13


ROBERTA BATORSKY, an experienced high school and college biology teacher, is adjunct faculty at the university of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Middlesex County College and Brookdale community college. Roberta has a B.S. and an M.S. in biology. Her e-mail is roberta.batorsky@, and she welcomes submission of classroom media for review in ABT.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.