It’s often said there’s no magic formula in the workings of love, but what about a scientific formula? As weird as it sounds, a group of scientists in Finland decided to test the aspects of romance with considerable scientific rigor, and emerged with nothing less than a formula for what it takes for one person to fall in love with the other. It’s a project worthy of the four main nerdy characters of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, and one hopes that Tonislav Hristov doesn’t mind the comparison, because the mixture of science, romance and more than a fair share of comedy is certainly evocative of the hit series. But Love & Engineering is actually a real thing, and quite entertaining.
Our hero is Atanas Boev, a Bulgarian engineer living and working in Finland. He’s recently married and his wife just gave birth to their first child, but after the long hard search to find a little domestic happiness of his own, Atanas wants to spread the joy as it were. He starts off trying to teach some of his fellow engineers the “secret weapons of the pick-up artists,” tastefully organized in a Powerpoint presentation, but he soon decides that he needs something more calculating. So, through applying the scientific method, and arranging thorough tests and stringent data collection, Atanas hopes to find “the algorithm of love.”
To Atanas’ credit, he makes this sound less crazy than you think, and he gathers a dedicated group of nerds and geeks scientists and engineers to help him out. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing of a bad thing, but the assembled gentlemen are more or less what you’d expect; they’re the Big Bang guys except, somehow, more socially awkward and without benefit of Hollywood joke writers. In one of Atanas’ tests, guys go on a blind date, and one of them starts comparing his heavy metal drumming to playing a first person shooter before he assures the girl that dating him means no cleaning up after him because he has a maid. I’m not making this stuff up.
Atanas’ process is fascinating, even for the lay man or woman. He performs brain scans on both sexes as they talk to each other, there’s a blind smell test to deduce what factor smell plays in attraction, and the guys tell jokes to the ladies as they rate them on delivery and humorousness. As a scientist, Atanas is an able and well-spoken communicator, even though he does have a noticeable stammer. He talks about dating and relationships in I.T. department analogies, but something about it just makes sense. Woman are always hacking the system, he says, and what he needs to do is get his engineers to think more like engineers while dating. The average guy bangs on a broken TV to fix it, he explains, but an engineer will actually open it up to see what’s wrong and how they can fix it.
And just when you’re about to say that you can’t apply tech speak to something as natural and instinctual as dating, the guys start to learn how to click with the opposite sex. Okay, so maybe the guy who’s peacocking in the fake captain’s uniform is working too hard to impress, but he’s exuding confidence and making an impression, which is far cry from asking a girl about what video games she plays and then admitting that he’s run out of questions. Like any good romantic comedy, you want the potential Romeos to succeed and make a connection, and although Atanas is the only one living happily ever after in the end, you do feel a lot better about the chances of the others.
What’s fascinating about Atanas’ research, and what’s fascinating about the film, is that it flies in the face of conventional understanding about love and romance. Most of us think that love just happens, “love at first sight,” et cetera, but Love & Engineering breaks it down into steps, and phases like any other scientific precept. Does it work? As I said, the guys do show progress, and because, gladly, they’re never the object of fun or ridicule as broad stereotypes, there’s something that the average, single audience member can get out of the theories and strategies that they’re employing.
Atanas is pretty open about his results, so there’s a dare factor, but you’re encouraged to not expect immediate results because love happens over three stages: lust, attraction and attachment, and each has its own accompanying biological, chemical and physiological reaction in the body. But that’s the short term, and dating is also about long-term risk assessment: can I be compatible with this person and live with them over the coming months, years and decades? It may seem silly, and it may seem counter-intuitive, but maybe Love & Engineering is onto something. If we all take a more scientific approach to love, they’re might be a lot less divorce in the world. Maybe. That’s a very unscientific statement, though.
Love & Engineering is a romantic-comedy dressed up as a serious scientific endeavor, which delivers fascinating results on all accounts.