Object Number 1973-310: Crick and Watson’s DNA molecular model, 1953.
In the display above we see a reconstruction of the original model of the double helix structure of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid). In 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson whilst working at Cambridge University, and utilising the findings of Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, who were using X-ray diffraction – a technique used for determining the atomic and molecular structure of a crystal – to study DNA, published their findings outlining the double helix model. Nine years later, Crick, Watson and Wilkins, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology.
DNA, as we all should know, is the molecule of life – responsible for the passing on of hereditary information from parent to offspring. What makes you related to your family, and other human beings, can be found neatly encoded in this microscopic coil. The reconstruction of the model uses many of the original metal plates. (Please do not touch)
In all my years as a film journalist – that’s two years (not that I can even call myself a ‘film journalist’), I had never seen a feature film in a museum. I have had the pleasure of visiting numerous screening rooms around London, visiting the BFI Imax and South Bank, and, less impressively, in year seven during a German lesson near Christmas, I had the privilege of seeing three-quarters of the Ice Cube led Are We There Yet? But, like I was saying, I had never seen a feature film in a museum.
However, thanks to the kind and wonderful people at the aptly named Science Museum, I was fortunate enough to tick that wish off my bucket-list (it’s a small and sad list), as Vulture Hound Film was invited to attend a special, one off IMAX screening of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, which is released on Blu-ray this week. If this wasn’t awesome enough, the screening was part of one the museum’s Lates series – an event held the last Wednesday evening of every month, featuring DJ’s, numerous bars and friendly staff members explaining the significance of exhibit pieces to laymen like myself. August’s theme was all things space. Hence, I presume, why Guardians made it on the billing.
It was an odd sensation. A sensation, I imagine, that is comparable to the one felt by the people in the room at Houston or Kennedy space centre, just before a rocket is about to take off, whilst that smooth, yet crackling voice counts backward from 10… 9… 8… 7… and in perfect concordance with the voice, a new thruster or burner fires up until the craft is propelled into the blue, leaving specs of white cloud, like a tear trickling down a face, to the people in the far distance. This sensation almost immediately evaporated with my first steps towards the centre of the first floor being immediately met with the DJ cranking December 1963 by The Four Seasons. And soon, the entire Museum was full of people, drinking, chatting and pointing at the numerous exhibits and pretending, and in some minute cases, actually knowing the piece’s significance.
Guardian of the Galaxy vol 2 is a fun film. Although that may be considered an understatement or an oversimplification, I think it perfectly encapsulates everything anyone could want from a Marvel movie featuring a talking racoon and an infantile anthropomorphised tree. This was my second time viewing the James Gunn directed feature, and the wit of his writing alongside the performances from the entire ensemble, still made me, and the audience, consistently laugh out loud. Moreover, the exploration and continuation of the family dynamic between this ragtag bunch of lovable rogues is well done, which, when combined with incredibly smooth pacing, means that the film never drags and always has something to offer its audience – there are many quite poignant suggestions about what constitutes a ‘good’ family. And if you are just in it for the chuckles, who doesn’t want to see Kurt Russell throw a glowing orb to Chris Pratt in slow motion, and Dave Bautista insult the attractiveness of an empath called Mantis.
It was then that I stumbled upon the Crick and Watson’s model of DNA.
I had passed this piece earlier in the night, and although it was quite interesting in a ‘oh yeah’ kind of way, it did not hold my interest for long. Yet this time, for some unknown reason, it drew me to a standstill.
“It’s really fascinating, isn’t it?” said a soft voice from behind me. I turned to see a middle-aged woman, wearing a Science Museum lanyard and a bright green t-shirt that said ask me anything.
I nodded, and she explained to me in more depth how Crick and Watson deduced a hypothetical structure for the DNA helix and the controversy surrounding Rosalind Franklin not being awarded the Nobel Prize, with the three others.
“Have you just seen Guardians of the Galaxy? I enjoyed the first one, and my son loves the tree that talks. I missed it whilst it was in cinema.”
“Its great you should definitely watch it, it was my second time and it still managed to make me laugh. I’m here for a magazine, to write an article, but I would have paid to come and watch it again.” The woman just smiled at me blankly, and we were silent for a moment, both avoiding eye contact by looking at the display case, until an idea crept into my head that I thought might fill the silence.
“You know, being here, in the museum, has made me realise something, about Guardians.”
“Oh okay? What’s that?”
“Well its just, in the film, Kurt Russel plays Star Lord’s dad, you know Chris Pratt’s character. And he, in his quest to conquer the galaxy, like every Marvel villain, remarks how he is bored with the life he discovers. He is like a planet/god figure. Anyway, he says life is disappointing and wants to take it over. His name is Ego, which got me thinking about Egoism and being self-centred, whereas the Guardians are fixated on protecting each other and the galaxy. They are like Comte’s idea of altruism – they want to save the many not the few – like the scientists who invent all this incredible stuff we see around us. They want, I guess, to make the world a better place and sacrifice their time and hard effort to ensure that happens.”
She then abruptly interrupted the flow of this thought by remarking how the museum is now closed and that I should really be on my way out of the building.
But the idea stuck with me.
Being surrounded by so many terrific inventions and discoveries, like Crick and Watson’s model, made me realise a deeper meaning to what was, up until this night, nothing more than a superficial popcorn flick; a ‘fun’ movie. In Science, yes people do have the opportunity to make a name for themselves, or earn a reputation and reap financial reward. However, the end goal, the looming discovery over the horizon, is something that, in the eyes of the scientist, will help humanity improve, become better and unshackled of the limitations of the past. In Guardians, Star Lord has to turn down immortality, omnipotence and what had been his only chance at a true father, in order to save the universe. He has to be selfless, and through his selflessness he manages to make the universe a better place.
The scientists celebrated in the Science Museum are incredibly intelligent and naturally gifted, without a doubt. But it would be false to say that they did not work exceptionally hard to make the breakthroughs they did; they too had to make sacrifices to see their vision come into fruition; they had to be selfless to bring about a change that was ultimately for the betterment of everyone.
What Guardians and The Science Museum have in common – beyond the broad, broad theme of Space – is the idea that helping others matters. An idea that may be classed as unnuanced, but is incredibly vital for everyone to hear.