A young Carl Sagan comes to vivid life in “Star Stuff,” a short film by Croatian film director Ratimir Rakuljic. It offers a moving re-enactment of how a young boy from Brooklyn with an insatiable appetite for wonder and science grew up to become a beloved iconic figure in science communication and outreach.
The film is based upon stories Sagan told about his own life in his writings, gleaned from The Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive. Eagle-eyed diehard Sagan fans will note such biographical details as the Bensonhurst location; the science fiction novels in the young boy’s bedroom (Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess on Mars makes a cameo); a poster for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which Sagan pegged as the most defining moment of his childhood; and going to the public library to learn more about stars (the cosmic ones, not the famous faces of Hollywood).
Sagan recalled that he was just five years old when his mother got him a library card, and as the film depicts, he was astonished to discover that the sun was a nearby star, just one of billions upon billions such stars in the universe, which was so much bigger than he’d ever imagined. (That famous catchphrase led to the humorous notion of a sagan — a unit of measurement associated with a very large number of something.)
And it’s not just billions of stars: those stars make up roughly 100 billion galaxies. Perhaps you’ll empathize, as I did, with the young Sagan in the film: “Suddenly everything feels a lot bigger. Except for me.”
Image: Hubble Ultra-Deep Field. Credit: NASA. Public domain.