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A little back story


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A little back story

Regarding the development of the film


by Petra Seeger

Two years ago, in the middle of the night, when I spoke on the phone with my well-read   „science acquaintance“, who writes and publishes a lot about science, we talked about psychoanalysis. He said that at the moment, Eric Kandel we can forget everybody in this field. The only one of interest at this time is Eric Kandel.  I had heard of him, but didn’t know much about his work. When I inquired about Kandel, he became exasperated for a moment: “Don’t you people read anything? (‚you’ is supposed to mean: all of us, his uneducated friends). You really don’t know anything! “

I don’t blame this acquaintance for such remarks, because he is very smart, and because it is worthwhile to take notes here and there when we are talking on the phone, instead of becoming emotional...

A quick Google search didn’t come up with much; only that Kandel tries to establish psychoanalysis on scientific, biological ground.
As a reminder for further research, I wrote on my kitchen board: “Eric Kandel“ and went to Berlin, where I had been invited by the “Orden pour le Mérite”.

I was there when director Wim Wenders was formally accepted into the order, which has only 80 members. And when he and the other order members (dressed in tails), accompanied by solemn brass music, filed slowly in single line into the classical hall.

I heard – as I found out later – a brilliant presentation on European constitutional law, which put me to sleep. Afterwards there was a reception with the Federal President. A huge room full of Nobel Prize winners and geniuses. The intellectual density weighed heavily in that room.

I was speaking with Imre Kertez, who wanted to know what kind of movies Wenders makes, when I suddenly saw a lady who was carrying a thick book instead of a champagne glass. I read the title: Eric Kandel.

Before I could reach her gracefully, she stopped in front of a man who looked like the one on the book cover. I left the answer to the Wenders question to somebody else and went over to Kandel: „ Last night I was looking for you on the Internet! “  „Why on the Internet? I was here! “ „An acquaintance told me that you are the most important scientist regarding the advanced development of psychoanalysis.“

AplysiaHe beamed, his eyes lit up, and he talked about altered genes, about neurons, proteins, and about his marine snail Aplysia which has grown to 30 cm and which has been living for 40 years in his laboratory, and into whose nerve cells he sometimes injects neurons, and sometimes examines what is happening in her hippocampus, and sometimes checks the withdrawal reflex of her gills, and sometimes checks her for new synapses. Just like that. Just to prove that Freud was right. Kandel spoke enthusiastically and easily, convinced, that I comprehended all of it and that it “registered” –in my neurons, as he would call it. At some point I was so fascinated that I mumbled to myself: “One should make a movie about this. “He called his wife to come over: „Denise, this is Petra, a German filmmaker. We are going to make a film together! “ Denise und Eric Kandel

Hours later he called and had gotten hold of a copy of his autobiography. After that we met in Berlin, in Köln and in Paris in 37° humidity, dined usually very well, and discussed a potential film. Sometimes I felt guilty, because I thought that Kandel could make better use of his time by doing something with his marine snail instead of talking with me. Maybe he could discover things that would change the world.

I have worked my way through his exciting autobiography and now understand something about post neurons, glutamate, neurotransmitters and have learned that it is worth it to learn, because – as Kandel has proven – my brain, and even my genes, change through just one experience.

I have also learned that Kandel, driven by his fundamental curiosity and enthusiasm, works by “playing”. That scientific work resembles artistic work; there is no prescribed path. What counts is one’s own intuition, the joy of discovery, and the strength to defend it against all odds.

Bildung von SynapsenNobody ever told Kandel to go into his laboratory and to make audible the noises of the neuronal signal transmission in the brain of a marine snail. He had worked on this for many years, until one day, when his colleague was out for lunch, and he was all alone in his laboratory, he heard this: Tack! Tack! Tack! – the speaking of a nerve cell.
50 years ago, when the young Kandel had been invited to the house of a science luminary, he openly described his goal: He wanted to prove Freud’s theory and to show evidence of the Ego, the Id and the Super-Ego in the brain. The science expert commented disparagingly that he had the impression that Kandel’s own psychoanalysis hadn’t worked too well. After that, the meal was finished in silence.

Like an artist, he had to overcome obstacles and self doubt in order to follow the path which now, at the Nobel Prize award on the stage in Stockholm, seems less complicated.

I realized that I could not get away from Kandel and the brain thing.

Eric Kandel und Petra SeegerTwo years have passed since then. Countless applications for film funding and rejections, meetings and commitments from TV stations fill several folders. A year and a half of the normal financial insanity of a film, a time period when I had to start shooting without money, are behind me. Half of a molecular biology degree study in English, many trips, a true collaboration with Eric Kandel, a few additional gray hairs, but most of all many new synapses and new connections in my brain; and hopefully the creation of a film, which will pass on my instant fascination with Eric Kandel as a person as well as his work.

Regarding my kitchen board: Meanwhile I’m writing down things which are supposed to materialize, but that’s another story.....