Where does genius come from? Is it the byproduct of tireless work, developmental happenstance or divine inspiration? The documentary Superhuman: Genius explores this phenomenon by portraying the lives and accomplishments of five individuals for whom cerebral superiority is second nature.
The film opens with Akiane Kramarik, a 13-year old girl from Idaho who has painted with the detail and sophistication of a grand master since the age of four. She interprets her passion for painting as a literal calling from God, in spite of a complete lack of religious upbringing in her household. In nine short years, she’s amassed an astonishingly accomplished collection of over 100 original paintings, and has published her works in numerous volumes. Her artistic intuition is guided by a force she herself does not fully understand.
Ben Pridmore is first shown browsing through the grocery store aisles for product serial numbers, and later reciting them with perfect recall to the check-out clerk. His memorization of long and complex numbered sequences is an amazement to spectators, and has earned him the top prize at three World Memory Championships. Yet his achievements have not translated into monetary success, and he remains an unemployed accountant.
The 1988 film Rain Man is perhaps the most popular of pop culture references to the enigmatic nature of genius. Superhuman: Genius traveled to Utah to meet Kim Peek (now deceased), the real-life inspiration for that Oscar-winning film. Diagnosed with savant syndrome at an early age, and told he would never be able to walk, communicate or learn as a result of his disorder, Kim has since gained notoriety for possessing the sharpest memory in recorded history, absorbing nearly 98% of everything he read.
The film also spotlights Ariel Lanyi, a 10-year old pianist and composer from Israel who was fed classical music from the moment of his birth, and Ainan Cawley, a wunderkind in the world of science who passed O Level Chemistry at the age of seven.
Each of their stories certainly inspire awe, but they also bring forth a series of perplexing questions about the human condition. Is the capacity for genius merely an untapped potential in all of us?