Making the Grades
I clearly recall the day I was sitting in our family's Ford Fairlane and I told my dad I had a great idea. Why doesn't someone make a way to squirt water on the windshield so when the glass gets dirty you can clean it while driving? A few seconds later he demonstrated my great idea -- which was already a feature on the car. After viewing Flash of Genius, my early childhood experience gave me an additional appreciation for how Bob Kearns must have felt.
Unlike my post-invention great idea, Bob's (Greg Kinnear) "flash of genius" came years before, after being hit in the face by a champagne cork. Recognizing how his eyelid worked to intermittently wipe his injured eye, he wondered why something similar couldn't be done on a car's windshield wiper system. Heading to his workshop, this engineer and university professor assembled the first such device -- coined as the Kearn's Blinking Eye Motor. With help from his friend Gil Privick (Dermot Mulroney), an auto parts manufacturer, they presented the invention to executives at Ford. The response was enthusiastic -- until three months later when Ford cancelled the deal.
Bob went back to his life as a teacher, husband to Phyllis (Lauren Graham) and father of six. But a year or so after that, Ford began releasing cars with intermittent wiping systems. Outraged that the company would steal his idea, Bob began a long battle to claim his patent. It was a fight that would stretch well over a decade and cost him far more than simple legal fees.
Audiences love watching David and Goliath stories, and this one will provide that underdog experience in spades. Kinnear and Graham's performances are superb, and the look and feel of the film reflects the era in which it takes place (so does the frequent cigarette smoking by secondary characters). But what makes this movie even more valuable is the honesty of the portrayal of Bob Kearns. He loves his wife and kids, but his obsession with work and his need to seek justice come at a high price. Eventually his marriage fractures, leaving his children pulled between supporting their father or their mother. Yet a sense of love still persists within this struggling family as his now adolescent children try to determine what they can do to help their dad.
Although not a movie most young people will be clamoring to see, families should be aware that the verbal conflicts in this film sometimes result in colorful language, including one use of a sexual expletive, repeated scatological and other mild profanities as well as frequent terms of Deity used as expletives. Aside from the noted smoking and some social drinking, other content is limited to a moment of mild sexual banter between a married couple, a desperate man stealing a part from under the hood of a car, and a very brief view of a head from a cadaver.
It's not often we feel like we have seen a "real" family in a movie, yet the Kearns (who, in reality, were heavily involved in the creation of this film) comes across in a style that makes you want to jump in and help -- or at least send over a casserole. With the potential to stimulate great discussion about the cost of pursuing our goals and the price of pride, this movie is a Flash of Genius in more ways than one.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Flash of Genius.
Is justice always worth pursuing? Aside from money, what other ways did Bob Kearns pay for his quest in this film? How do we know when the costs may outweigh the rewards? What role does forgiveness play in such cases? On the other hand, if Bob Kearns had not stood up for his principles, how might that have impacted the situation for other private inventors?