Flash of Genius (2008)

Rated PG Our Rating: V- 1; L-1 ; S/N- 2. Length: 1 hour 59 min.

You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to
hear, although the Lord persistently sent to you
all his servants the prophets…
Jeremiah 25:2

Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord,…And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 5:33-6:4

The family admires Robert s new wiper invention.
2008 Universal Pictures

This story of the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper follows closely the David-vs-Goliath tra dition of the little person up against the greedy corporation. (See Erin Brocovich; The Insider; and even better, A Civil Action.). Robert Kearns (Gregg Kinnear) is a college professor and part-time inventor who comes up with his idea after witnessing a crash during a light rain. Joining with a friend to set up a factory to manufacture his product, he expects Ford Motors to play fairly when he leaves them a model of his wipers. Wanting to save money, they dismiss him and then come out a new car utilizing his invention. Apparently in their arrogance they believe that they are too big and impregnable to have to worry about some insignificant college professor suing them. Their pockets are so deep that it is cheaper to pay their lawyers to tie up the litigation for years until the suer runs out of money and patience.

Against his family and partner’s wishes Robert engages in the long , unequal legal battle. Eventually, because he has spent everything and turned down the advice of his lawyers to accept Ford’s settlement offer, he even represents himself in court. We are left wondering at the end if his victory was worth the cost. A powerful story of a determined man, or is this a portrait of an obsessed man.? We are left wondering if his gains were worth the costs?. Sadly, the public failed to support another film about a little guy against greedy corporations (despite today’s public disgust over government bail outs), so the movie quickly sank from sight. If you missed it, watch for the DVD—this is another one of those little films worth your time.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) How do the opening scenes of rain show the truth of the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention?

2) How is the first part of the film a typical American success story? What do you think of the son’s suggestion that they pray for rain? How is Robert’s prayer an attempt not to manipulate God into doing the supplicant’s will, but nonetheless a plea?

3) What do you think of the way in which the Ford executives handle the inventor and his invention? Not the best advertising for Ford, is it?

4) How do we see that Robert’s crusade is turning into an obsession damaging to all concerned?

5) How does his family at times give him the support he needs to carry on, and how are they a hindrance? In what ways do we all need such support in our own struggles? How does the film show the difficulty or tension between Robert’s role as prophet (or Goliath slayer) and that of husband and father? What do you think about what it cost him to win against Ford?