What if people could move objects with their minds? What if one person could put thoughts into another’s head? What if others could see the future? These questions have fascinated comic book authors, science fiction writers, and movie and television scriptwriters for decades. The science fiction thriller Push proposes a constellation of superpowers for its characters, pitting its protagonists against an unscrupulous organization known as Division.
The characters with paranormal abilities in Push run the gamut from Movers with telekinetic powers to Watchers who can see the future to Pushers who put thoughts into the minds of others. Sniffs possess more unconventional abilities—they can find people and know their actions by smelling objects their quarry have touched. Bleeders destroy objects and cause internal bleeding simply by screaming.
The film takes place almost entirely in present day Hong Kong, where a 13-year-old Watcher named Cassie joins forces with Nick, a Mover, to find a very powerful Pusher, Kira, who recently escaped from Division with a drug capable of amplifying paranormal powers. Division wants the drug back, but the local mob (which has a Watcher and two Bleeders in the family) wants it too. The climactic battle in a skyscraper under construction features all the major powers and a classic “gotcha” ending.
It was nice to see an action film that includes several powerful female characters. The audience will likely root for Cassie and Kira, but they are up against the mobster’s daughter, who is a very skilled Watcher. And later in the film, Nick is nearly bested by a female Sticher later in the film. (Stichers can heal or injure people simply by touching them.) Although Cassie’s power is the ability to know the future, she also learns to take action to change her future through the course of the film. I hope young women who see the film will take that message and apply it to their own lives.
In addition to the empowerment of young women, there are a few ways teachers could use the paranormal in Push to introduce science topics. Bleeders, who can use their voices to break glass, shatter doors, and cause substantial trauma to people around them, exhibit an interesting phenomenon. It is possible to break glass with sound (as shown on an early episode of Mythbusters, and in old television commercials for audio tape). The trick in the real world is to match the frequency of sound to the natural frequency of the glass you are trying to break. The sequence of matched sound waves hitting the glass interferes constructively (or resonates) and causes the glass to vibrate so violently it breaks. The classic film of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse is an example of how destructive resonance can be. Bleeders seem to generate sound that resonates with every glass object around them, even though each object should have a different natural frequency. A second question I had about Bleeders is how they can do so much damage without injuring themselves. Sound energy decreases with distance from the source, so I’m curious how they could break glass 10 meters away without damaging their own hearing.
I also found the Sniffs intriguing. It makes sense that we leave residual molecules on items that we touch, and those molecules could be picked up by a super-sensitive nose. Dogs have a much better sense of smell than humans because they have many, many more odor receptors and more active genes coding for different kinds of odor receptors than we do. If a human being had the nose of a bloodhound, he or she would likely be a very effective tracker, and even be able to sort out what that person had been doing recently. The images the Sniffs get from objects they smell simply takes that tracking one step further.
Finally, physics or physical science students who have studied energy might notice that Movers are particularly impressive. Movers can change the motion of objects without touching them; they can pick up guns, deflect bullets, and fling people across a room with no apparent effort. The question that comes immediately to my mind is: Where is all of that energy coming from? As a single quick example, Nick gets the worst of a fight with a Division Mover and is lifted off his feet and smashed into the ceiling above. The other Mover has to increase Nick’s gravitational potential energy (by lifting him up) and also increase Nick’s kinetic energy (by speeding him up to fling him against the ceiling.) When normal humans do this kind of work, the energy comes from chemical processes in our bodies causing muscles to contract, and when we use up our energy we get tired and hungry. It would be neat if screenwriters took some note of the energy requirements of the special abilities they give their characters. Perhaps Movers would need a lot more food after using their abilities, or they might be able to tap into some other energy source to which normal humans do not have access.
While I doubt Push will win any awards, it does provide science teachers with a pop culture starting point for discussions of resonance, energy, and the senses.
Jacob Clark Blickenstaff is Assistant Professor of Physics and Assistant Director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of Southern Mississippi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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