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Wrangham Talks Violence at Coolidge

Professor to speak about male aggresion alongside a screening of "Fight Club"

By Alex C. Nunnelly, Crimson Staff Writer

The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. But that’s not stopping Professor Richard Wrangham. The biological anthropology professor and co-author of “Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence,” will be appearing at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on February 8th to discuss the 1999 David Fincher film as part of the theater’s ongoing series, “Science on Screen.”

The Coolidge Corner Theatre presents the “Science on Screen” series, in its fifth year, in association with The Museum of Science and New Scientist Magazine. “The aim of the series is to educate about science while entertaining through movies, presenting a feature film or feature-length documentary on a science/medical-related topic,” theatre’s associate director Elizabeth Taylor-Mead said in an email.

“Paired with each screening in unexpected combinations, a top-notch scientist or medical expert provides insights about topics related to the film and shares the latest research on the subject.”

Over the course of their five year history, Taylor-Mead and the Coolidge Corner Theatre have screened such films as “A Clockwork Orange” with a visit from Marc Hauser, a professor in Harvard’s psychology pepartment; “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” with pscychology professor Daniel Schacter; and “2001: A Space Odyssey” with cognitive scientist Marvin L. Minsky ’50. “Audiences should expect to see a classic or cult feature film or outstanding and hard-to-find documentary, beautifully projected onto the giant silver screen,” says Taylor-Mead. “The pairings between film and world-class scientist or medical researcher are always dynamic and entertaining.” These components combine into a recipe for success, and the “Science on Screen” series has certainly proven to be a hit.

“We often have audiences lined up out to the parking lot,” says Taylor-Mead. “It’s been very popular because it captures the interest of both film fans and science geeks.”

This month’s feature is the film “Fight Club,” based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk. The topics addressed by Professor Wrangham in his talk will be the reasons behind male aggression, violence, and fighting—all of which are vividly portrayed in the film.

“Chillingly,” says Wrangham in an email, “‘Fight Club’ treats violence as fun, whether one-on-one conflicts or war-like gang attacks.” Violence, and the motivation underlying it, has been a large part of Professor Wrangham’s research over the past twenty years at Harvard University. “Wrangham has spent years studying chimpanzee cultures in the wild and comparing those cultures to human ones,” explains Taylor-Mead.

“Based on research in ‘Demonic Males,’ I will discuss why men like to fight, what makes human violence special compared to other primates, and why we are wired to relish tales of aggression,” said Wrangham. “‘Fight Club’ is a classic movie, and my talk may give [audiences] new perspectives.”

According to Taylor-Mead, Professor Wrangham’s appearance at “Science on Screen” will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to audiences. “At home, audiences won’t get this surprising combination of edu-tainment,” Taylor-Mead explains. “[They’ll get] a private seminar only shared with 400 people sitting together in the dark eating the best popcorn in greater Boston.”

—Staff writer Alex C. Nunnelly can be reached at

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