Drawn to physics and mathematics from a very young age, Descartes nevertheless gave in to his father’s wish and studied civil and canonical law, but his scientific curiosity did not dwindle. Peppered with details from beginning to end, this film accurately tells about Descartes as a scientist: his reading of Della Porta’s works as a teen-ager, his meeting with mathematician Father Marin Mersenne and his devices, his solution to the mathematical problem raised by Isaac Beeckman from Middelbourg and his interpretation of the circulation of blood.
However, Descartes went well beyond the mere observation, study and interpretation of phenomena. His actions were motivated by his desire to get rid of any bias, to check facts and opinions and to accept only those things he could be sure of.
What really interested him - and what stimulated Rossellini most - was the search for a method to acquire knowledge. Which can also be said of cinema.
That is the reason why Rossellini’s Cartesius has been regarded as an autobiographical work - Descartes was looking for a way to acquire knowledge, whereas Rossellini was looking for one to disseminate its findings.
The method used by the director is unmistakable: showing facts as they really are, avoiding any alterations caused by that need to thrill and entertain which is a distinctive feature of film-making. So Descartes can even be dislikeable and lazy as a character, for he is smart and marks the beginning of a rational approach to knowledge, thereby paving the way for the onset of modern science.
Cartesius is Rossellini’s last TV biography: as was the case in the previous ones (including Blaise Pascal and Age of the Medici) a lot of emphasis is placed on dialogues and details, and this requires a big concentration effort from the audience.