Nobel Prize winner. Genius scientist. Valued friend and co-worker. Pedophile.
Carleton Gajdusek was regarded as all of the above. The final, that of a pedophile, would occur late in his stellar career after adopting 57 children from the tribes of the South Seas. In the documentary The Genius and the Boys director/screenwriter Bosse Lindquist, from Sweden, tells the nobel prize winner’s story from childhood to present day. It uses archived footage of his time in New Guinea studying a rare brain disease that would later lead to the discovery of prions – the particles that would emerge as the cause of Mad Cow disease. It is his time in New Guinea, and the South Seas, that would ultimately cause the demise of his career and destruction of his character.
As the documentary unfolds we are made aware that Carleton is not the typical scientist. His laboratory is not in a sleek modern building of a city funded by large corporations seeking profit. He spent his time in the wild with his subjects. Not only studying the diseases that plagued them but also their lifestyle and culture, adopting many of their beliefs and practices along the way. He is many times described as an asexual person, seeming to exist without a specific inclination towards men or women on a sexual level. Never married, he found his life experiences in the field to be his love, and the adopting of children from these areas a gift as he provided them a better life. Many of the people interviewed stand by Carleton leading us to believe the allegations of pedophilia against him are unfounded. That he was simply a single man who adopted children out of the love he felt for them and without any intent to cause harm. As the voiceover narration and interviews dive deeper into Carleton’s life there is a constant questioning by the viewer as to whether Carleton was actually a pedophile and if so whether his actions were simply a collision of two different cultures and the moral beliefs associated with both. As the truth is laid out before us and more and more information brought to life the predicament one is left with is heavy and off-putting. If an action is allowed and heavily supported in one culture is it wrong to perform in another? Can we honestly judge a person, and condemn them, because they believe in something different? These, and many other, questions are raised and will have you pondering for a great amount of time after the film concludes.
It is the conclusion of the film that changes everything for the viewer. The truth comes spilling out onto the screen through an actual interview between Carleton and the director himself, Bosse Lindquist. It is frightening to hear Carleton make admissions to specific acts. Even more so to do it with such a narcissistic tone and egotistical presence. Furthering your shock is his reasoning behind what he did and why. Is it the Western values and morals that create this reaction? Perhaps. Or is it the fact that this man may have taken advantage of a culture for his own selfish sexual desires? It is this dramatic shift in the documentary that makes it masterful on Lindquist’s part. Until this moment you never know what is truth, what is misunderstanding, or false accusations. It is only through Carleton that the truth can be uncovered and being able to witness it for ourselves is deeply unsettling. There is a definite collision between two very different worlds all surrounding a man who lived in between them both, resulting in a documentary that is as much riveting as it is disturbing.
Director: Bosse Lindquist
Producer: Jonas Kellagher
Editor: Bernhard Winkler
Screenwriter: Bosse Lindquist
Cinematography: Gunnar Kallstrom, Andreas Lennartsson, Erik Vallsten, Ellen Kugelberg
Cast: Carleton Gajdusek, Oliver Sacks, Benoit mandelbrot
Production Company: Eight Millimetres AB