Director: David Lebrun
Screenwriters: David Lebrun

Institute History

  • 2004 Sundance Film Festival


Can the rigor of science combine with the passion and emotion of art to create a unified vision of the world? This was the question pursued by Ernst Haeckel, one of the most influential minds of the nineteenth century. Through an exquisite tapestry of poetry and myth, biology and oceanography, scientific history and spiritual biography, David Lebrun's remarkable documentary Proteus tells the story of Haeckel and his role in our evolving epistemology while offering a parable about both the difficulty and possibility of a unified vision.

Biologist and painter Haeckel (1834-1919) felt torn between seeming irreconcilables: science and art, materialism and religion, rationality and passion. A commercial drive to lay the transatlantic telegraphic cable led to an epic oceanographic voyage to explore the ultimate scientific frontier at that time—the bottom of the sea. This voyage caused Haeckel to discover the radiolarian. Incredibly beautiful and diverse, these tiny one-celled creatures are among the earliest forms of life. They were the key to Haeckel's vision: In their intricate geometric skeletons, he saw all the future possibilities of organic and created form.

Nineteenth-century paintings, graphic art, photographs, and scientific illustrations come magically to life through Lebrun's innovative animation techniques. Complemented by an atmospheric score, narration, and sound design, Proteus is a splendid investigation of the sea and nineteenth-century imagination.

— Shari Frilot

Screening Details

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