No one does interesting, thoughtful science films quite like David Malone. So it’s great to see again 2013’s Metamorphosis: the science of change. There’s the familiar but fascinating science of insects shape-shifting from one form to another — caterpillar to butterfly — or taking on completely new behaviours — locusts switching from loners to swarms. Explanations of tadpoles interpreting environmental cues to trigger their transformation into frogs. And there’s the disturbing, radical story of creatures that are two life forms simultaneously: genetically identical but morphologically distinct, radically different.
And humans? Malone points out how writers use metamorphosis as a double-edged metaphor for transformation because our attitude to change is deeply ambivalent. “It is through our minds that we metamorphose. We invent technologies that force us to live in new ways. Change conceived in our minds drives history. And once those changes are set in motion they become bigger than any of us individually. And this is what Kafka was pointing to in his story; how collectively we shape the society in which we live, but then that same society forces change back on us as individuals.” We both welcome and fear change, looking back to our former selves, anticipating future gain and loss.