I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. It is not great, but it has more subtlety than I was expecting. If Apollo 13 was the "triumph of the nerds," then this movie is the "revenge of the nerds." Both movies in their own way champion the engineer. Apollo 13 depicts the challenges of nature, circumstance, and time. Flash of Genius depicts the challenges of greed and power. But I believe this movie goes much further in exploring the inner motivations and core desires of the engineer.
One theme explored by this movie is the power and corruption of the US auto industry as embodied by the Ford Motor Corporation. Make no mistake. This is no Roger and Me. I found Flash of Genius to contain a fairly even-handed, yet stinging, portrayal of the industry the US government seems determined to subsidize and prop-up. Given the current state of the auto industry, this movie is a timely glimpse into part of its past. It would make a good double-feature with Tucker.
A second, more surprising, theme is the nature of personality on relationships. The positive and negative effects of Dr. Kearn's introversion and focused determination are skillfully displayed. These character traits enable him to successfully solve the challenge of intermittent windshield wipers. Yet these same traits cause him to lose sight of his family relationships and, ultimately, bring great damage and trauma upon himself and others. This is the transcendent theme that had me pondering the movie for some time afterwards. Dr. Kearn's sense of justice is, indeed, very noble, but at what cost did he cling to it? This, I think, is the key question of the movie.
In addition, I appreciated the related theme regarding the place of pride in Dr. Kearn's determination and outlook. He is clearly shown not to be driven by money. But how much was he driven by pride, even hubris? Was a sense of right and wrong his core motivation or was it ultimately a desire for credit and fame? Was his insistence on manufacturing the wipers himself realistic or a hopeless pipe dream? This insistence complicated the choice Ford had to make and potentially influenced their unethical approach.
Flash of Genius has a typical Hollywood ending, so most will be pleased. I, however, found it to be a phyrric victory. What price will compensate for a broken marriage or neglected childhood? Was it really worth it in the end? As Phyllis Kearns walks out of the final scene, we are confronted with that question. Would it not have been better to accept being wronged and cheated for the sake of a healthy family and self than to have sacrificed it all for credit and acclaim?