Insignificance (1985) Poster

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10/10
A tantalizing convergence.
budmassey31 December 2000
What if Marylin Monroe, Albert Einstein, Joe Dimaggio and Senator McCarthy were to come together in a mind-bending evening of relativity?

This delightful roman à clef never uses the actual names of the characters it so thinly veils and scathingly exposes not only for the individuals they must have been, but also for what they came to represent over time. If you are confused by allegory, or if you like your movies served up predigested and mushy, you won't like this film. It is a demanding opus that rewards on many levels the viewer with the intelligence to appreciate it.

Dropping, for the time being, the rigorous avoidance of using the real names of the characters, we see Einstein, about to deliver a pacifist speech to a United Nations hell-bent for nukes, being visited by Marylin Monroe, after filming the notorious Seven Year Itch scene that some say led to the end of her marriage with Joe Dimaggio. They have a lovely interplay in which Einstein stumbles with suitable professorial clumsiness around the innocence of perhaps the greatest sex symbol of modern times.

Enter Senator McCarthy who thinks Einstein is a Red. He is determined to extract Einstein's assurance that he will support the activities of the House Unamerican Activities Committee while delivering the ultimate weapon in the name of peace. Add Joe, a surprisingly fragile and vulnerable person perhaps not perfectly cast as Gary Busey, who hates Marylin's exhibitionism and believes Einstein has become her lover, even though Marylin only wants to show Einstein that she understands the Special Theory of Relativity.

But there's more.

Just like each of us, these characters have their deepest fears, which they reveal one by one in haunting flashbacks. It is these weaknesses, ultimately, that lend humanity to figures we cannot help but see almost exclusively in the abstract today. Finally, we see the shocking terror of Einstein's vision, and the statement of the movie becomes clear. It is a powerful and memorable moment.

Insignificance is one of my top five movies of all time. It is utterly amazing.
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8/10
Enjoyment, like space-time, is relative
pwoods124 May 2004
Nicolas Roeg's projects are variable to say the least, but are never less than interesting. "Insignificance" is obviously, first and foremost, an adapted stageplay: it's wordy and pretty-much 'room-bound'. BUT, it pays to view this film more than once: the underlying themes are not overtly presented and, what's more, it takes a while to adjust to the juxtaposition and role-reversals of the four protagonists: Einstein, McCarthy, Munroe, and DiMaggio.

Einstein is wracked by guilt over Hiroshima yet fancies the simplicity of a sexual liaison with Munro; Munro is sick of being seen as a bimbo and craves intellectual credence; Senator McCarthy is at the height of his witch-hunting powers but is an impotent sleazebag; DiMaggio is insecure about his celebrity, self-obsessed, and prone to violence. Each of them contains the seeds of their own destruction. Each character has a troubled, abused/abusive past and a questionable future. Gradually, we see that obsession itself is the central theme. America's obsession with its postwar cultural icons and mores; the obsessions of the protagonists for something none can have: peace-of-mind and/or happiness.

Compared with the theory of relativity, a proposed unified-field theory and, indeed, the cosmos itself, all the aspirations and interactions of Roeg's protagonists seem insignificant. Yet these aspects of the physical universe (it's all quantum, trust me!) affect us when they are applied to the development of the means to destroy us. Monroe's mention of the principle behind the neutron-bomb (without naming it as such) is not an anachronism per se, but can only be understood by a contemporary audience. Indeed, ALL the references within the script are only accessible to a knowledgeable viewer: one au fait with '50s occurrences/personality cults and how they affect us in the 21st century.

This film and its screenplay are either very, very clever, or extremely opaque and pretentious. Ultimately, however, probably insignificant.

live long and prosper :)
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This flick has everything but insignificance!
gevalher21 December 2000
It was late at night, and fighting with a dream that refused to take over me I finally saw the movie...

It blew my mind away... Marilyn, Di Maggio, McCarthy & Einstein all in a small hotel room!

I really enjoyed the characterization of Marilyn by Theresa Russell, and the other actors played their parts with grace too.

A nostalgic trip to the yesterday. This movie is now in the list of my favorites.

If you have the chance to see it, don't miss it!
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10/10
Great Cinematic Experience
mark_r_harris13 June 2000
The collaboration between Nicolas Roeg and his wife Theresa Russell is one of the greatest between a director and an actress in film history, ranking right up there with Sternberg/Dietrich and Griffith/Gish. This is one of the fruits. Russell is "The Actress" (Marilyn Monroe) in a phantasmagoric nightpiece that brings together her, Albert Einstein, Senator Joe McCarthy, and Joe Dimaggio in a 1950s New York hotel during the filming of The Seven-Year Itch. The encounters between the four are mind-bending and richly entertaining, especially Monroe's delirious explanation of the special theory of relativity, using toy trains and balloons, for a delighted Einstein. (Monroe was a closet want-to-be intellectual, surprisingly well-read and capable of thoughtful comments in interviews.) Roeg's directing style is rich, propulsive, wonderfully matched to the material (which began as a stage play, although there's nothing the least stagy here, or gratuitously "opened out", either). The apocalyptic finale is fully the equal of the most comparable scene I can think of, the house-destruction at the end of Antonioni's Zabriskie Point. A not-to-be-missed experience. (By the way: what has become of Russell? Like Debra Winger, another of the great talents of her generation and her acting partner in Black Widow, she has hit her forties and Hollywood responds by giving these amazing performers nothing whatsoever to do. It's a darn shame. I'd look for Russell in more Roeg films, of course, but he seems to be in hiding too.)
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7/10
Meeting of minds
rosscinema2 June 2003
I have always been a great admirer of Nicolas Roeg and "Walkabout" is one of my favorite films. This is a film version of Roegs stage play and while most of the film takes place in a hotel room it still has some of Roegs cinematic flare. Very unique story is about a famous actress (Theresa Russell) who after a hard nights work on a film in 1954 goes to a hotel to visit a famous professor (Michael Emil) and together in his hotel room they talk. After awhile she wants to go to bed with him but as they start to get undressed her husband is banging on the door. Her husband is a famous ex-baseball player (Gary Busey) and he wants to know what is going on. The three of them in the hotel room talk about what is going on and what the future holds for them. Meanwhile, a famous senator (Tony Curtis) is threatening to take away the professors papers if he doesn't testify at a hearing. Theresa Russell is just excellent and while she's not trying exactly to impersonate Marilyn Monroe she does a wonderful job of exuding the phobia's and nuances that Monroe is very well known for. One thing the film does is show her as not only a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown but show her as a physical wreck as well. She talks of being unable to have children and at one point in the film she suffers a miscarriage. You can make an excellent case that this is Russell's best performance and I probably wouldn't argue. The film does an interesting thing in showing many flashbacks as the characters continue to talk about one thing and in the flashback we see one of many reasons for their actions. Busey also gives a good solid performance and it reminds me of what a strong persona he gives off on screen. Emil as the professor is a character that has many more things on his mind then we originally thought. The last scene in this film is a demonstration of his darker side! One of the highlights of the film for me is the little conversation he has with the elevator man (Will Sampson of "Cuckoo's Nest") and they discuss what Cherokee Indians think about at all times. But of course the famous scene in this film is where Russell demonstrates to Emil how she does understand the theory of relativity and uses toys to show this. The professor is delighted by her demonstration and so are we! Russell and Roeg are married in real life and they do admirable work when they are in collaboration and this is probably their best film together. Good performances and a very interesting job of directing make this a challenging and visually thought provoking film.
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8/10
Insignificance of relativity
Milan25 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Maybe the best Roeg film since "The Man Who Fell To Earth" (1976), and surely his last good one, "Insignificance"rolls along gathering momentum, like some enigmatic ball, seemingly going nowhere yet arriving everywhere as it explodes in a shower of illumination.

The time is 1954, a year in which Marilyn Monroe's career was beginning to crest, divorce from DiMaggio was in the offing, and the mixed blessings of her self-improvement program via psychoanalysis and the Actors' Studio were already under way. So, in the delightful encounter imagined by Terry Johnson's play (performed at the Royal Court in 1982), Marilyn flees from the gawking spectators and lowbrow frustrations of filming the subway grating scene for The Seven Year Itch to drop in unannounced on a shyly startled Einstein in the hope of intellectual stimulation ('Gee,' she sighs contentedly after being lectured sternly on the dangers of merely pretending to understand, 'this is the best conversation I ever had'). But just as a despairingly jealous DiMaggio is on Marilyn's trail, so McCarthy is hounding Einstein to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee; and in a valiant attempt to rescue the manuscript of Einstein's latest opus from being impounded as subversive, Marilyn gets punched in the stomach by McCarthy, causing her to abort the baby that might have saved her marriage. Significant events that are insignificant, in that physically Marilyn could never have borne the child anyway, while Einstein himself cheerfully throws away the manuscript he has already destroyed four times. Relativity. At the end, absently watching Marilyn go through her lines for him—only she hasn't any, Einstein sees a nuclear holocaust —only there isn't one.

Faithfully filming this scenario adapted by Johnson himself, Roeg has completely transformed it by placing it under his familiar sign of time and the stars. The opening image, of a wrist- watch spiraling in free-fall through space, has many ramifications: in its formal use as a device providing each of the four principals with childhood memories defining both the drives that turned them into stars and the inhibitions that burned them out; or in the more general symbolism of the timepiece stopped forever when a childhood experiment of Einstein's went wrong and which, for 'the Daddy of the H Bomb', signifies the guilty past horror of Nagasaki and the guilty future horror of what he has glimpsed next in his exploration of the precise nature of the universe.

Will Sampson, a mysterious Indian serving as a lift-boy addresses Einstein in a scene that seems like straight from David Lynch films: 'I know you. You're a Cherokee,' the elevator man had told Einstein, in a double-edged reference to the Cherokee belief that wherever he is, there is the center of the world. The thread of significance (or insignificance) has less to do with getting back to ancient wisdoms than with Einstein's complaint that people, though seeing themselves at the center of the universe, 'won't take responsibility for their world, they want to put it on the shoulders of the few.' The point is that, revered as the world's greatest repository of knowledge, Einstein knows that knowing is nothing, and thinking is what makes us significant.
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10/10
Brilliant film
jack-72234 November 2007
Yes, it's flawed - especially if you're into Hollywood films that demand a lot of effects, a purely entertaining or fantasy story or plot, and you can't actually think for yourself.

Roeg's films are for the intelligent film-goer, and Insignificance is a perfect example.

The characterizations are brilliant, the story is excellent, but, like all Nic Roeg's films - it has you thinking on every level about aspects of reality that would never have dawned on you before. His films always make you think, and personally, I like that in a film.

So don't expect to come away from watching this film and feeling all happy-happy, because it's likely you'll be disappointed.

But I think it's excellent.
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9/10
icons become deep and moving characters...
rickert17 February 2004
If you have any sort of appreciation for character and dialogue, and any sense of American cultural history, you will find a lot of very absorbing material in this film. It probably was originally a play, and that's why it's dialogue heavy, but I can't stress enough how these icons that we only have a shallow understand of are made into truly complex and wonderful characters.

This film is better than any college course for telling you how to create a character-driven story.
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7/10
Fair "chamber piece"
Tom May15 May 2001
"Insignificance" is a far from great film, from a stage play, directed by Nic Roeg. In the scheme of Roeg's films, this is above the level of most of his post-"Don't Look Now" work, which is characterised by judicious use of Theresa Russell as lead actress. She's actually very good here, and far from the problem in other Roeg films like "Bad Timing" and "Cold Heaven". As the "Actress", who is Marilyn Monroe, Russell is very effective, portraying her as a thoroughly depressive, but likeable siren. She plays well alongside Michael Emil as Einstein, who is excellent to say the least. He looks the part admirably, and while Theresa Russell doesn't look exactly like Monroe, she certainly is attractive enough to make the part ring true. Other players are adequate if not quite as arresting as Emil and Russell are. A pretty workable, intelligent script is directed well by Roeg, but certainly not brilliantly, like "Walkabout" or "Performance". As in other later Roeg films, he tends to rely too much on vague, insubstantial flashbacks, that add very little to the film. In many ways the film would have worked better as a shorter (say, 60 minutes), more modest piece. Still, a quite acceptable, passable film. At times quite excellent, but somewhat lacking overall. Rating:- *** 1/2/*****
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7/10
A heady mix: it's either brilliant or completely alienating...
moonspinner5513 August 2006
Director Nicolas Roeg and writer Terry Johnson have fashioned a fantastic story-conceit: to assemble four disparate icons of history in one hotel room and have them exchange their ideas and perceptions of life. Theresa Russell (finally using her innate blankness to her advantage) plays a Marilyn Monroe-like starlet, Michael Emil is Albert Einstein, Gary Busey is a famous ball-player a la Joe DiMaggio, and Tony Curtis is a Senator not unlike Joseph McCarthy. Russell is grating at first, but her performance improves tremendously, while Emil is the acting stand-out, leaving an amazing impression. Of course this is a Nicolas Roeg film, which means it is by turns difficult, distracting, overly arty (sometimes for no other purpose except to be irritating), and obtuse. Yet, the film's inscrutable nature is almost endearing: you may feel something fresh being born out of this crazy-quilt material. For discerning film-buffs, there's nothing else quite like it. *** from ****
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Brilliant Explanation of Relativity
rhausman13 January 2003
I agree with the synopsis: it's not the best of Roeg's works but it has what just might be the best scene in movie history, which describes in elegant detail Einstein's theory of relativity. The fact that Marilyn Monroe explains it to Einstein is the capper! It makes it even more interesting knowing that MM and Einstein not only knew each other but admired one another.
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6/10
Insignificance
Martin Teller30 December 2011
Joe DiMaggio, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Senator McCarthy (or rather, unnamed facsimiles of them) converge in a hotel room. The result is a thematically sprawling work, covering topics like celebrity, guilt, the plight of the Native American, the shape of the universe, Communism, and nuclear destruction. I haven't been a fan of Roeg at all, but there is something that draws you in to this film, asking you to sort it out and piece it together. The problem is, I don't think it can be pieced together. It's messy... perhaps uniquely messy or intriguingly messy, but messy nonetheless. The story (based on a stage play) flits from one idea to another, too busy trying to cram them all in to make them resonate. And I had big problems with the performances. I can't stand Theresa Russell. Partly it's her vacant, husky voice but I also just don't think she's a good actress. Tony Curtis does what he can, but the characterization of McCarthy is too cartoonish and savage to take seriously. Michael Emil is annoyingly nebbishy as Einstein, as if he'd been plucked out of a Woody Allen film. Amazingly, that leaves Gary Busey as the best member of the cast, but all he really has to do is be a dumb lout. Honestly, if the performances were just a little bit better I'd probably rank this film higher. There are at least two fantastic scenes: one where Monroe explains the theory of relativity to Einstein, and the horrifying but gorgeously surreal finale where Einstein envisions the room being ravaged by nuclear carnage. But taking the film as a whole, it's just too all over the place.
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8/10
Genius!!!
A fictitious meeting between 'The Actress' (Theresa Russell as Marilyn Monroe), 'The Professor' (Michael Emil as Albert Einstein), 'The Ballplayer' (Gary Busey as Joe DiMaggio) and 'The Senator' (Tony Curtis as Joe McCarthy) over a period of one night and morning in a hotel room. The plot may be quite surreal, but many of the scenes shown of those four individuals are based on facts, e.g. Monroe's miscarriage, DiMaggio's jealousy, Einstein's political beliefs, etc.. The dialogues are always witty, the performances of the whole cast brilliant (down to a small appearance by Will Sampson), an excellent soundtrack (feat. Midge Ure, Roy Orbison, Hans Zimmer, W.A. Mozart (an interpretation of 'Jupiter Symphony' by Gil Evans & Orchestra), Stanley Myers, and others) and it's serious message is done in a very comical way. Trivia: The film is featured in Big Audio Dynamite's music video for their song 'E=MC2'.
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7/10
Part comical, part intellectual, just a bit tragic
Robert Brogan3 October 2015
Insignificance is an interesting and talky film: part comical, part intellectual, just a bit tragic. It has some upfront symbolism, which may add value if you get it or may irritate you. While it does not really feel much at all like Bunuel films in terms of vibe, it is reminiscent in that it digests human culture through a comical dream play. The performance of Theresa Russell as "The Actress" stands out, she plays her character with a combination of winking intrigue and stoicism. How much of life is an act? How much is play? How much and what should be taken seriously? The character interactions feel at times authentic (or at least sincere), at times spontaneous, but then falling into stereotype. Anyhow, this is the type of film where your enjoyment of it will be largely based on how much you get it (there is not enough else in the film to be appreciated by itself). For myself, I understood it somewhat and enjoyed it somewhat.
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6/10
An unpredictable film that is about a meeting of two icons.
braddugg7 September 2014
An unpredictable film that is about a meeting of two icons.

Indeed it's bizarre considering that this does not have a story per say except the line of the story which might have said "What might have happened when Einstein encountered Marilyn Monroe?". This interesting question in answered rather interestingly in this film. The scene in which Marilyn interprets theory of relativity to Einstein is so revealing and indeed hilarious, it puts out a layman's perspective in front of great scientist and it's wonderfully done.

Also, there are two more principal characters The Senator and The Ballplayer as they are referred to, had I been American I would have correlated them to Joe McCarthy and Joe Dimaggio. Since, I was unaware I had to dig through wikipedia to learn the relationships. Yet, the conversation was so intriguing and inquisitive that it just made me wonder what would come next.

There are really very significant moments in the film and I am not very sure, why was the film titled as "INSIGNIFICANCE". The beauty lies in concealing the obvious and revealing the mystique and putting it out very very interestingly in a very minimal space. Space, I am referring to is the shooting space. The film was mostly shot in an apartment. The space in the apartment was superbly used.

The art direction, set design, and even the cinematography created the mood and atmosphere that I believe was apt, be it the flashback scenes of the characters or those during the conversation, it was all done well.

To determine in line, what this film is actually about is a tough job for me, as I cannot contemplate the point or comprehend on the whole as to what this film actually meant. I can only say, it was based on a conversation that would have been simple, if these were normal people, but there are 4 eccentric icons who are famous and that would take the whole film to a new realm.

All that said, it is interesting and even absurd at times, as it does not conclude, say or do anything, except for a few laughs and few interesting moments. It's beauty lies in the absurd which I agree with, yet I wished it had a few more interesting moments than the ones. I am going with 3/5 with is interesting film that could have been so much more.

Thanks to Nicolas Roeg, this is the first film of this director and he seems to be have an interesting wit and a good head and perhaps, I will review a few more of his films.
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7/10
Another Look at Marilyn Monroe
gavin694215 April 2014
Four 1950s icons meet in the same hotel room and two of them discover more in common between them than they ever anticipated.

Strangely enough, Gary Busey was top billed but had a relatively small part compared to the other three. I am surprised the top bill did not go to the iconic Tony Curtis, who actually knew Monroe in real life (making his interaction with Theresa Russell all the more interesting).

Although there are four 1950s icons, the focus is really on Monroe, with such moments as her explaining relativity. She is the timeless "dumb blonde", but here we are asked to think of her as a whole person and not just the stereotype she played in the movies. (Her personality is again explored in "My Week With Marilyn", where she is seen as a tragic figure.)
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9/10
What if...
mylimbo20 May 2007
New York, 1953. One hot night, four famous iconic figures will come together. The professor (Albert Einstein) has come to NY to give a speech, which he has, the senator (Joesph MacCarthy) on his back. Later that night his gets a surprise visitor; a famous actress (Marilyn Monroe). Who actually wants to discuss the theories of Relativity. Soon her ball-playing husband (Joe DiMaggio) turns up at the hotel room, begging to work things out for their crumbling relationship. Flashbacks of childhood, important events, perceived consequences of their actions creep in to show how these individuals cope with despair and a hidden fear waiting to break out.

Now that's one-of-a-kind! Adapted off a stage-play by Terry Johnson (who would also script the screenplay for the film), "Insignificance" is an odd, quirky, seductive and downright curious fictional pop-culture gimmick in the hands of director Nicolas Roeg. This inspired and cerebral experimental effort might be rooted in its stage-play origins, because it does feel theatrical and most of the action occurs in a hotel backdrop and one main suite. The cramp look only enhanced the moody and smoky atmosphere of New York to great effect. However these limitations can't contain the fruitful and daring ideas that Roeg manages to randomly storm up visually and through the meaningful material. The way he reflects on the characters' (who are suggestively famous figures, without the need of naming of them) philosophical journeys and interpretations of their notions is stimulating in a spiritual sense, with the memories gelling into the present and visions showing their fears of realisations, which depending on what you're seeing is either beautiful, or hauntingly implemented. There's plenty of food for thought and hints within the verbosely innovative (if sometimes awkward) script, with the main focus concerning the present situation, but the flashbacks gives us the personal make-up (sex, power, enlightenment and glory) of what makes them who they are and how much of a burden it can be in there already demanding lives. Sure the story might not lead to anything by the end, and it can feel disjointed, but the dreamy vibe and intelligent arrangement irons out those folds and makes sure it never turns giddy. Peter Hannan's sensually fluid photography and Stanley Myers' titillatingly oozing blues soundtrack fit in snugly with Roeg's stylistically subdue and established style of directing. He makes it look like he's working with something big and large-scale, but otherwise that's not the case and a small little universe is created. The vintage costumes and locations of the period all come off fittingly enough. What made the film for me had to be the impressive acting it boasted from the main four. Theresa Russell's perky, drop dead gorgeous appeal of the sexy pin-up actress is a growing portrayal that definitely held the film together along with an genuinely excellent and endearing performance by Michael Emil as the professor. Tony Curtis marvellously plays it up as witch-hunting senator and Gary Busey is suitably good in the stoically gravel manner as the ballplayer. Showing up in minor, but amusing support roles happen to be Will Sampson and Patrick Kilpatrick.

A memorably striking, fresh and tour de force meditation piece of metaphysics linked together by four different extremes. Some might find it pretentiously estrange and too talky, but this one had me wrapped up in its own little unique world to worry too much about its shortcomings.
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10/10
Ritual Ideas Relativity - Everything is relative except this film
Rodrigo Amaro30 July 2011
The most imaginative of the human brains out there couldn't picture a meeting between Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Albert Einstein and Senator McCarthy on a same hotel room in the 1950's like the ones who made "Insignificance". Writer Terry Johnson and director Nicolas Roeg ("Don't Look Now" and "Walkabout") takes real personalities and pictures them on an perfect hypothesis that play with reality. There are parts when we think this meeting might have happened even though the disclaimer at the opening says it didn't (the characters are listed as The Professor, The Senator, The Actress and The Ballplayer but it's quite visible to see who they are). It's funny, it's dramatic and it's a great artistic chronicle of a period.

So, here you have Albert Einstein (Michael Emil) having some Physic lessons with Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell, magnificent) while she's running away of her husband, the famous baseball player (Gary Busey), their relationship seems to be going unwell; and in the middle of all this there's the McCarthy's (Tony Curtis) paranoid against Communists and also against the Professor, of whom he calls to testify on a Energy Committee proving his loyalty to his adopted country, revealing his new secret projects (something related with the 'Shape of the Universe'). There's way more than that in the film's story and you really have to see it with your own eyes to see how wonderful this is.

"Insignificance" deals with the characters own persona's, their fears, their ideas, their pasts and possibly their futures, and all of that is presented by Roeg in mosaic flashbacks and insights beautifully presented, photographed and edited. Between the special moments of the film that really are unforgettable the ones I really liked were: the filming of the immortal scene of "The Seven Year Itch"; the conversations between Marilyn and Einstein, very surprising things they have to show to each other; Einstein throwing all of his work out the window, a bunch of flying papers across New York City; DiMaggio's concept of the universe shape being round just like anything else in the world; the great presence of Will Sampson playing an Indian Elevator Attendant who believes Einstein is a Cherokee Indian; the explosion imagined by the Professor in his hotel room, with the fire dissolving Marilyn to pieces (incredible special effects were used in this scene). The imagery was so priceless that inspired Big Audio Dynamite in their composition of the song "E=mc2" which pays an tribute to Nicolas Roeg's films (the video clip includes scenes from this film and the other as well).

It's like watching a strange dream since Roeg is excellent in making films that seem to have a magic quality about it that few directors know how to translate it into the screen. More films like "Insignificance" need to be made now, we're missing some creativity these days even in artistic films. Surely, this movie is not what the title says it is. 10/10
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8/10
Goodbye Norma Jean
Ali Catterall3 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
It is not known whether Marilyn Monroe ever met and spoke with Albert Einstein (and since the mysterious disappearance of her diary after her equally mysterious death, we may never know), but in their lifetime the opportunity was there.

Scripted by Terry Johnson from his own play, Nicolas Roeg's Insignificance imagines an encounter in a New York hotel room one night in 1953 between the two icons plus Joe DiMaggio (Busey), and Senator Joseph McCarthy (Curtis) - but only on one level. On another level, it elevates - or reduces - these 'personalities' (and what a lousy phrase that is) to mere avatars (the characters are deliberately unnamed), at once greater and lesser in status.

The title Insignificance is both apposite and deeply ironic; here, DiMaggio's net worth has been reduced to little more than a picture on a bubblegum card. Monroe too is reduced to her constituent parts of dress, hair, lipstick, wiggle and voice. By uncovering their insecurities and reversing their roles, the film brings into sharp focus received notions of celebrity, exploding the cult of personality.

Furthering the theme, there will be another explosion at the film's climax: Hiroshima in a hotel suite, in which 'The Actress' is burned to a cinder in seconds; a literal deconstruction of fame. Goodbye, Norma Jean. History informs the script, which in turn, shakes history upside down. As Roeg mused after watching Johnson's play for the first time, "These characters were mythic, not invented by any single person, not the public or the press, probably not even by the characters themselves." As played by Theresa Russell, Marilyn (a closet intellectual in real life), lectures a childlike Einstein ('The Professor', played by Emil) on the theory of relativity using balloons and a flashlight, while getting The Professor to show off his legs, in conscious parody of her own role in The Seven-Year Itch, the movie The Actress is seen to be working on in the film's opening.

History records that Monroe's then-husband, fading baseball star DiMaggio (played by Busey as a tenderly psychotic simpleton), was unhappy about her iconic dress-splaying scene in the film, precipitating their break-up. Right on cue, we discover the jealous 'Ballplayer' in a bar, bemoaning the fact that if, "I want to see her underwear, I just walk down to the corner like all the other guys".

In contrast to The Professor, The Ballplayer believes the universe is round - a contention shared by Native Americans. But the Big Chief (Sampson, of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest fame) who operates the Roosevelt Hotel's elevator has been all but disenfranchised from his own culture: "I no longer Cherokee - I watch TV." Meanwhile, 'The Senator' is investigating The Professor, who is on the eve of delivering a pacifist speech to the United Nations, but whom The Senator suspects is a Red. In fact, as he divulges to Monroe, Einstein is wracked with guilt over Hiroshima, and what the white heat future holds. Yet in a seemingly godless universe, all such worries and aspirations are rendered insignificant in the light of a higher (atomic) power.

Roeg really is the perfect director to bring Johnson's stage play to the screen. Throughout, tortured childhood flashbacks and pessimistic flash-forwards (ka-boom!) draw unexpected connections between time, place and circumstance, with the repeated visual motif of a wristwatch employed to mark time's passing - but perhaps also to suggest all time is one time; each moment co-existing. As evinced by his back catalogue, it's something of a hobbyhorse for a director enchanted with the notion of synchronicity - see Don't Look Now in particular. Here, 1920 bleeds into 1945 and drip-feeds into the 1980s, a period in which another 'Actor' has taken on his greatest role as the President of the United States.

If all this sounds rather heavy going (quantum physics is surely involved), the execution is anything but, owing to Johnson's witty, zippy screenplay, Roeg's playful direction, opening out an essentially stagey set-up - and the cast themselves, who are on stellar form. Tony Curtis especially leaves denture marks in the wood panelling as the paranoid, impotent Senator, who is seen attempting congress with a Monroe impersonator (a real one, as opposed to Russell's), before being let down by his dwindling member.

Of course, Curtis once co-starred with the real Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, and whose embrace he memorably described as like "kissing Hitler". As Roeg commented, "Everything suddenly seemed connected... when the film began to take shape even the actors themselves seemed part of this endless linking." It all goes into the pot, to be boiled down and served up in new and fascinating ways.
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1/10
Pretentious, tedious, overcooked tripe
vyto3420 July 2003
Roeg has done some great movies, but this a turkey. It has a feel of a play written by an untalented high-school student for his class assignment. The set decoration is appealing in a somewhat surrealistic way, but the actual story is insufferable hokum.
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A True Stinker!
chouteau200010 January 2002
This is truly one of the worst movies in film history, from the stagey setting to the cardboard characters to the ridiculously weak script and plotline. If you find the concept of a fake Marilyn Monroe having a miscarriage on a toilet seat enticing, however, I highly recommend running out to rent it. What the people behind this film had in mind is an enigma. It fails on every level and isn't the least bit entertaining in any way. The fairly credible actors who were involved in this--such as Gary Busey and Theresa Russell--should be ashamed of themselves. I actually feel deep sympathy for anyone who rents or buys Insignificance.
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1/10
Marilyn Got It All Wrong
disinterested_spectator22 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"Insignificance" imagines how four cultural icons, referred to as the Professor (Michael Emil), the Actress (Theresa Russell), the Senator (Tony Curtis), and the Ballplayer (Gary Busey), obviously corresponding to Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Joseph McCarthy, and Joe DiMaggio, might have met and interacted.

Early in the movie, Einstein and Marilyn are in the same hotel room together, and by using a bunch of props that happen to be available, like balloons and flashlights, she gives a lively demonstration of her understanding of relativity theory, much to Einstein's delight. Presumably, this scene is supposed to warm our hearts that Marilyn, whose screen persona was that of a dumb blonde, was actually smart enough to grasp the essentials of Einstein's theory. And, by extension, it is supposed to make us feel smart in the bargain, for what Marilyn is saying is easy to understand, so those watching the movie who have little familiarity with the theory are flattered into thinking they understand it too.

Unfortunately, Marilyn has it all wrong. That is to say, Terry Johnson, who wrote the script for the play and the screenplay for the movie, got it all wrong. Johnson, by way of Marilyn, makes a mistake not uncommon for someone making his first attempt to understand the idea that a clock moving at a high rate of speed will run slow, according to Einstein's special theory of relativity. If, as a clock on a spaceship moves away from the Earth, it sends a signal back to Earth every second, it will appear to be running slow, because each successive signal has further to travel. But it doesn't take a genius like Einstein to realize that you have to take into account the spaceship's speed and distance from the Earth. In fact, allowing for that speed and distance in recording the signals coming from the clock is something any second-rate physicist would know to do. Actually, it is probably something that would occur to a liberal arts major. The time dilation predicted by Einstein's theory, however, is an actual slowing down of a clock that can be observed even after you allow for the extra time it takes for each signal to reach the Earth.

As a result, the movie's attempt to show how smart Marilyn is completely fails. It reminds me of the gaffe in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), when the Scarecrow tries to show how smart he has become once the Wizard has given him a diploma. He supposedly enunciates the Pythagorean Theorem, but he botches it so badly that he enunciates a formula that is not true of any triangle that has ever existed.

In the case of "The Wizard of Oz," however, one's enjoyment of the movie is not impaired by the Scarecrow's mistake even for those who are aware of it. "Insignificance," however, would not have been much of a movie even if Marilyn had gotten Einstein's theory right, and the fact that she didn't only makes things worse.
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7/10
Theresa Russell is a knock-out Marilyn!
JohnHowardReid20 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
A movie that's hard to classify. It's not strictly a crime movie even though the actions of Senator Joe McCarthy are most definitely illegal and an abuse of his power and privileges. On the other hand, it's not strictly a comedy, a romance or a political debate. What makes the film work is not so much what happens or what is said but the performances of two people – Theresa Russell as Marilyn Monroe and Michael Emil as Albert Einstein. Alas, Tony Curtis is not even a tenth as convincing as Senator McCarthy. Admittedly, unlike the other characters who are firmly grounded in reality, McCarthy's talk and actions are, to say the least, unbelievably bizarre. I can't picture McCarthy going anywhere or doing anything without a police escort. He was a hated man who received well over a thousand threatening letters after he started making headlines. Furthermore, Curtis doesn't look the least little bit like McCarthy. He doesn't act like McCarthy, he doesn't talk like McCarthy and – above all – he never gives the impression that he is McCarthy, whereas Miss Russell comes across as a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe. She has Marilyn's mannerisms down pat, although she seems admirably careful not to overdo them. Emil is an easily recognizable (though by no means a dead ringer) for Albert Einstein. As for the fourth and least important member of the lead quartet, Gary Busey does not impress as Joe DiMaggio. He doesn't act like Joe, he doesn't talk like Joe, but takes his cue from Curtis and overacts. In public, Joe was always quiet and restrained. He came to life on the field. How he acted in private life, I've no idea, but I'm sure he didn't act like a neurotic loser, which is the way Gary Busey interprets him. Fortunately, the role is not only small but comparatively unimportant. It's Theresa Russell who makes the movie work – aided to some extent by Emil's acting and the time-capsule art direction. Available on an excellent Magna DVD.
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