Death by Design: The Life and Times of Life and Times is a unique documentary that focuses on cytology (the study of cells), particularly cell signaling and programmed cell death. The documentary integrates art, philosophy and science by featuring interviews with prominent biologists integrated with microphotography, animation, music and scenes from old Hollywood films. I would recommend this documentary to someone who is interested in both art and science. I found the scientific information to be very basic, however I still enjoyed the documentary, particularly the interview with Nobel laureate Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini. She is a neurologist who discovered nerve growth factor, a very inspiring person who has made such huge contributions to science despite facing many adversities. Dr. Levi-Montalcini enrolled in medical school in Italy in 1930 against the objections of her father who thought that it would “interfere” with her “duties” as a wife and mother. Her academic career was then interrupted by Mussolini’s “Manifesto of Race” and the laws that were established to prevent Jews from academic and professional careers. As a result of this, she set up a lab in her bedroom to study nerve fibers in chicken embryos, making cell signaling discoveries that laid the groundwork for her later research and discovery of nerve growth factor.
Here is a short summary of the film from Netflix:
Peter Friedman and Jean-Francois Brunet’s unusual 1995 documentary, which has won accolades the world over at various film festivals, attempts to demystify cell structure. Aided by microcinematography, the movie gets under the skin, so to speak, of the body’s building blocks and references classic movies and other postmodern influences to share the intricate details of a very scientific and fascinating tale.