Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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449 words on

Moebius [official, IMDB] is a 1996 Argentinian work made by film students. It was first in cinemas here in my first year and has been on every now and again in arts cinemas for ‘popular demand’. Furthermore, it’s got a fairly mathematical name, a mathematician as the protagonist and centres around a subway system. So it’s a pretty cool film which I ought to have seen long ago. But strangely didn’t – never got around to doing that. Before today.

Guy looking at Möbius strip.

The setting is thrilling: An underground train disappears from the network and cannot be found. At the same time there are ‘ghost trains’ in the system, which change signals and make noises – yet are rarely seen. This is of course where you call a mathematician for help (well, actually they called for the architect but that guy sent them the mathematician, but who’d pick nits there?). An unusually sane mathematician – a topologist even – wearing a rather cool coat in fact. Some mumbling of knots and infinities later he analysed the problem, speaking about some Möbius strip like occurrence in the network which causes the problems. He also explains this to the executives responsible for the underground systems and they laugh at him. While the mathematics shown in the film may be senseless this is of course a typical experience for mathematicians. Nobody understands, nobody even cares to listen – although they’re right.

Underground network.

Thankfully it turns out the whole mess is caused by the mathematician’s retired professor (yup, here comes the crazy maths man) who picks the young guy up and takes him with him.

While everything is a bit strange in the film and the mathematics often made me cringe, it’s still pretty cool. Underground transport is such a trademark of proper cities. I can be a bit obsessed about it. Sure, it smells bad, but that’s easily outweighed by the whole buzz. They try to make a point about that in the film as well – although a bit too esoterically for my taste. And they show different networks during the opening credits.

Besides the aesthetics and coolness of everything, however, there is a political statement hidden. People vanish, in the complex underground network, that even its director doesn’t understand; their disappearance is to be denied by the people in charge because they can’t and don’t want to understand what’s going on. According to the blurb in the cinema’s programme, they stand for the people who ‘vanished’ in Argentinia in the past. And that makes a lot of sense, although I wouldn’t have ‘got’ it myself because I know very little about South America and didn’t think along those lines at all.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

September 4, 2004, 0:34

Tagged as country:ar, film, maths, möbius, moebius.


Comment by brian w: User icon

Hmm. I’m certain there’s a famous old sci fi story with this exact premise.

Oh, it’s on the IMDB page — AJ Deutsch’s “A Subway Named Mobius,” from 1950. But it’s marked as “uncredited” in the film. Does that mean the filmmakers ripped it off, and an IMDB tipster added the credit to the listing online themselves?

September 6, 2004, 18:56

Comment by ssp: User icon

That’s very strange indeed. I don’t know Deutsch’s story obviously and I don’t know either how close the script is to that story. I.e. whether it has been ‘ripped off’ or just an ‘inspiration’. Even in the latter case a credit wouldn’t have hurt, though.

It looks like the film was more a university project as well. Perhaps another reason why the credits aren’t complete?

September 6, 2004, 23:04

Comment by Rich: User icon

My first encounter with this story was actually in a Marvel comic (I’m pretty sure it was Marvel, anyway) back in the late 50’s or early 60’s. I was obsessed with it, but could never find it, until the late 80’s when I finally ran across the original short story in an anthology and waas overjoyed to discover it. I was completely unaware it had been done in film until I just found this (10/24/05)

October 24, 2005, 23:56

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