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Cinema Curiosa presents: Proteus: A Nineteenth Century Vision

January 4 @ 8:00 pm - 9:30 pm| Main Library (Traverse City)

“Every age has its own image of the world, and every image reflects the vision of its time and of its maker.”

“The ocean is a wilderness reaching round the globe, wilder than a Bengal jungle, and fuller of monsters,
washing the very wharves of our cities and the gardens of our sea-side residences.”  – Henry David Thoreau

Local music from PPM (parts per million) @ 7-8pm

For the nineteenth century, the world beneath the sea played much the same role that
“outer space” has played for the twentieth. The ocean depths were at once the ultimate
scientific frontier and what Coleridge called “the reservoir of the soul”: the place of the
unconscious, of imagination and the fantastic. Proteus uses the undersea world as the
locus for a meditation on the troubled intersection of scientific and artistic vision. The
one-hour film is based almost entirely on the images of nineteenth century painters,
graphic artists, photographers and scientific illustrators, photographed from rare
materials in European and American collections and brought to life through innovative
The central figure of the film is biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). As a
young man, he found himself torn between seeming irreconcilables: science and art,
materialism and religion, rationality and passion, outer and inner worlds. Through his
discoveries beneath the sea, Haeckel would eventually reconcile these dualities,
bringing science and art together in a unitary, almost mystical vision. His work would
profoundly influence not only biology but also movements, thinkers and authors as
disparate as Art Nouveau and Surrealism, Sigmund Freud and D.H. Lawrence, Vladimir
Lenin and Thomas Edison.
The key to Haeckel’s vision was a tiny undersea organism called the radiolarian. They
are among the earliest forms of life. Haeckel discovered, described, classified and
painted four thousand species of these one-celled creatures. In their intricate geometric
skeletons, Haeckel saw all the future possibilities of organic and created form. Proteus
explores their metamorphoses and celebrates their stunning beauty and seemingly
infinite variety in animation sequences based on Haeckel’s graphic work.
Around Haeckel’s story, Proteus weaves a tapestry of poetry and myth, biology and
oceanography, scientific history and spiritual biography. Goethe’s Faust and the
alchemical journey of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner are part of the story, together with
the laying of the transatlantic telegraphic cable and the epic oceanographic voyage of
HMS Challenger. All these threads lead us back to Haeckel and the radiolaria.
Ultimately the film is a parable of both the difficulty and the possibility of unitary

“A Truly Stunning Film! I highly recommend [it] for a general audience, students, and scientists alike… A highly effective way to educate and entertain large audiences about science and its history.”—Science Magazine

“Thrilling! Brain food that goes down like brain candy.”—San Francisco Bay Guardian

“A visually stunning fusion of art, cinema and science that provides insight into the life of an important historical and scientific icon, and showcases the immense beauty of his minute marine subjects.”—David Caron, President of the Society of Protozoologists and Chair, Dept of Biological Sciences, Univ of Southern California

“Unique and stimulating!”—Science Books & Films

“Mesmerizing!”—Animation World

“Powerful! A remarkable movie that continually urges the mind to reach beyond what is examined on the screen… Wonderfully edited and animated, the final product is… indescribable!”—Leonardo: Journal of the International Society of Arts, Sciences and Technology

“Highly Recommended! Captivating! An exceptional resource in a variety of subject areas including biology, history, theology, and philosophy. It does a wonderful job of showing the intersection of these disciplines and how they reflect the visions of their time.”—Educational Media Reviews Online

“A stimulating scientific inquiry… A constant visual treat!”—Variety

“Wonderfully interesting…an informative overview of Haeckel’s intellectual growth.”—Roy R. Behrens, Ballast Quarterly Review


January 4
8:00 pm - 9:30 pm
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Main Library (Traverse City)
610 Woodmere Ave
Traverse City, MI 49686 United States
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