OPTIMUM is an exploration into the legacies of three 19th century visionaries who helped shape modern industrial society. Influenced by the maxim, "Everything should be useful, all human resources should be optimized and made profitable", each man played an integral role in the formation of a universal philosophy that would allow humanity to become more efficient, more productive, and more powerful. One discovered the principle, the second a tool, and the third, the ideal field of application for this tool.
Jeremy Bentham, a jurist by trade, held the first key in the formula. One of the founders of Utilitarianism ("The pursuit of selfish interest leads to the common good"), Bentham, through a series of published works, laid the foundations of liberalism and constituted a universal system for increasing the potential usefulness of all individuals.
Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor, was the second to help lay the cornerstone for the optimization of all human activities. An obsessive classifier (he once calculated the 464 reasons for the breaking of a plate glass window), Babbage invented a litany of common gadgets and tools, from the speedometer to the standardized postal rate, but his most important contribution, came with the design for the Analytical Engine. A device capable of calculating any mathematical operation, it is the genuine forerunner of the computer.
The Analytical Engine would open up humanity's horizons of efficiency, but it was Francis Galton, the son of a baker, who would indicate the ideal field to which it could be applied: Genetics. A vocal proponent of eugenics, Galton devoted his life to the study of genetically transmitted traits and characteristics, in the hope, of identifying and eliminating 'undesirable' or criminal tendencies. His findings, though flawed, outlined the ultimate phase in the Utilitarian crusade: the creation of a customized biologically programmed human being.
Through archival photographs and a treasure trove of scientific diagrams, blue prints, and drawings, the film traces the development of their greatest ideas and materializes, via animation, their most audacious inventions.
Employing a sardonic wit, OPTIMUM takes the viewer on a fascinating journey into the world of 19th century science. Meticulously researched, the film illustrates how three eccentric European intellectuals envisioned the current genetic revolution even at the dawn of the industrial age.
"An informative and entertaining overview.... As the film makes clear, with a dry and perpetual humor, all three of these men were examples of genius-gone-batty. Just how offbeat their research was is explained in meticulous details with vintage photographs, drawings, diagrams and delightful animations."—Leonardo: Journal of the International Society of Arts, Sciences and Technology
2001 Vancouver International Film Festival
"This quirky and, at some times, sinister film co-joins three 19th century visionaries... The subject and intellectual content is for juniors and seniors in high school, and up. It is an absorbing and thought provoking film and recommended for very large high school collections, or college and university collections."—Educational Media Reviews Online