Flatland the Movie
I really enjoyed and appreciated Edwin Abott’s 1884 classic book Flatland, A Romance of Many Dimensions, which tells the story of Square, a lawyer living in Flatland, a two-dimensional world that has height and width, but not length. It’s in the public domain and free to download at a variety of places if you’re interested in checking out a book that will change the way you look at the world.
FtF was definitely the more hard-core of the two films. We can see its Flatlander’s internal organs, the clockwork of their brains and hearts, just as we should being Spacelanders looking down on them, and just as four-dimensional beings would see our insides. The social dynamics of Abott’s world are preserved here, in all its male-chauvinist, authoritarian glory. The Flatlanders in this representation are covered with wiggling hairs, which we may assume aid their locomotion and interacts with the world. Unfortunately, the film is filled with intertitles that don’t add anything to understanding Flatland, but do everything to let you know the writer thinks you’re too stupid to get it. I definitely didn’t appreciate having my film interrupted so I could be insulted every few minutes with statements like, “Did you get that important plot point?” and “SuchandSuch should be obvious to you.”
FtM side-steps many of Abott’s more controversial social issues, or rather dumbs them down into a substantially less controversial form. Women and Men are both Squares, unlike Abott’s world, where women are intellectually inferior, however physically superior lines. FtM’s Flatlanders have fractals for their insides, and they carry suitcases with them by magical means. When they turn upside down, the eye and mouth of these Flatlanders magically switch places so as not to upset the viewer. The movie does present a disclaimer that it is not a true representation of Flatland, so as to make it more palatable to Spacelanders like ourselves.
FtM was 100% kid-safe, its concepts presented in an easily digestible format, and was filled with characters resembling those we have here in Spaceland.
FtF was most definitely not something you could watch with your kids. In fact, one scene, where an asymmetrically-shaped senator with revolutionary ideas is assassinated in the public forum, drags on forever as isosceles triangles hack him to pieces, and then into smaller pieces, and then even smaller pieces. Not cool. I was looking for enlightenment and got gross juvenile indulgence.
At 30 minutes in length, FtM barely skimmed the multitude of fascinating aspects to Abott’s world and left me wanting for more mathematical goodies. Luckily the special features on the DVD included a talk with a mathematician who walked through a thought experiment of going through our Spaceland’s three-dimensions into Hyper-Spaceland’s four-dimensions.
At an hour and a half, FtF had me checking my watch about halfway through, trying to figure out how much longer they could draw it out, and then was left gawking as the credits rolled, “That’s how they ended it??? Nooooooo!!!”
FtM has a vastly superior website with flash animations and sound effects. FtF has a flat brochure website with black text on a white background. FtM runs $30, FtF runs $22. These factoids had no affect on my impression of either movie, I mention them because there they are.
I have to go with Flatland the Movie, despite what I think is the flaw of not being alien enough in its presentation of the two-dimensional world, the film is accessible and it focuses on the intellectual, enlightenment principles I admire. The Movie’s website does make the dishonest claim that you need to buy the Special Educational Edition of the DVD if you want to show it in the classroom.
However Section 110(1) of the Copyright Act qualifies showing any film in a classroom for education as Fair Use; and, therefore, not a violation of copyright law. So share this film with your students, follow up with the extras, and have an enlightening discussion about life in dimensions one through four and beyond. You can supplement this discussion with the book, and maybe provide a few screenshots of Flatland the Film to explore the hard-mathematical realities of these worlds.