Carl Djerassi-Viennas lost son


World-famous chemist Carl Djerassi refers to himself as “mother of the pill“, but is also an art collector and writer. He speaks of himself as an intellectual polygamist. The film follows him around to the important milestones of his life and work, from Vienna via Sofia, to San Francisco and London. The 88-year-old scientist, art collector and writer restlessly travels all over the world, gives scientific lectures, reads from one of his numerous books, and comes to see the performances of his plays. Writing and reading are the cure for his mental suffering, the losses and bereavements of his life – the expulsion from his home country, his daughter’s suicide, and, recently, the death of his wife.
The guidance that Carl Djerassi has found to cope with the mental anguish of his losses is a quotation by Goethe:
Your intellect cannot cure your mental anguish at all, your reason only a little, time can cure a great deal and determined activity can cure everything.


Carl Djerassi, who was born in Vienna on October 29, 1923, as the son of Jewish parents, had to leave his hometown 15 years later. Via Sofia, he emigrated to the US. In 1951, he made a big scientific breakthrough with the artificial production of norethisterone, the active substance of the contraceptive pill, as well as with the synthesis of cortisone from plant raw material. All in all, he is the author of more than 1,200 publications and received the most prestigious international scientific awards, as well as 20 honorary doctorates. With the proceeds from his work he financed an art collection that soon ranked among the biggest Paul Klee collections worldwide.

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After 50 years of highly successful scientific research, Carl Djerassi is a committed novelist and dramatist today, who has written more than a dozen “science-in-fiction“ dramas, novels and, so far, four volumes of autobiography. In his literary works he describes the human aspect of scientists and the personal conflicts with which they are confronted.
He is particularly concerned with the motivation to get self-affirmation through scientific success and fame.

Carl Djerassi also writes in order to undergo an auto-psychoanalysis. This becomes especially clear in his last work, Four Jews on Parnassus. In the conversation he is the secular Jew – in search of his Jewish identity. But unlike the prodigal son in the biblical parable, Carl Djerassi did not leave his home country voluntarily, and started a brilliant career from scratch. In spite of that, unlike the prodigal son in the parable, he was not warmly welcomed and given presents in his home country, but it was he who gave a present to his hometown.
In a sort of “return of the lost son“, Carl Djerassi donated half of his Klee collection to the Albertina in Vienna in May  2008. The scientist, man of letters and art collector refers to his youth in Vienna again and again. He sees himself as  Viennese, does not forget what happened, but has become reconciled with Austria that at last remembers its lost sons.  That is why he has accepted the offer to become an Austrian citizen and today commutes between London and   Vienna.


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