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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Lights, Camera, Actuary

Actuaries don’t often pop up in films; we look at how they are portrayed on the rare occasions that they do


08 NOV 2018 | KATE SMITH

I took the family to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom at the cinema recently. You know what you’re going to get with Jurassic Park – scary dinosaurs fighting against technology. It’s like talking to the board at work.

Anyway – about 10 minutes in, the male lead, Owen (Chris Pratt), is reunited with the female lead, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), with whom he’s clearly previously had more than a working relationship with. “So you’re what?  Dating an accountant now? An insurance actuary?” he asks her.

I’m not ashamed to say I whooped. (My children are used to me embarrassing them in public.) If I wasn’t mistaken, someone had suggested that an actuary might be dating a dinosaur protection activist played by a Hollywood actress. That’s got to be a good thing, hasn’t it? Although I was surprised the film specified that the actuary was an insurance actuary. Perhaps it was about to surprise me by branching off in an unexpected direction, and Claire would reveal that she had spent her time since the last instalment planning for a secure financial future and sorting out her pension at an early age. Or maybe she would mention that the Jurassic World park isn’t a good insurance risk, due to the fact that it seems to get destroyed by the dinosaurs in every film.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case; Owen was just giving an example of a ‘boring’ person who Claire wouldn’t enjoy dating when compared to the thrills that come with a life dating a raptor whisperer. We’ll see who gets to have the last laugh, though – imagine the premium loading he’ll get when he comes to buy life insurance. Who do you want to date now, Claire?

I came across a more positive image of actuaries when catching up with one of last year’s movies, Downsizing. At least, I think I did. The film is a comedy based on the premise that humans invent a way to shrink themselves to five inches tall, thus using up less of the world’s resources. Towards the end, Paul (Matt Damon) meets the scientist behind the technique, who believes the human race is doomed. 

“The world has already seen five major extinctions, and now there will be another,” he says. “I didn’t want to believe it. None of us did, but there we were in Helsinki, big and small. Climatologists, bacteriologists, demographers, physicists, immunologists; 26 Nobel Prize winners among us. We built all the models, did all the maths, and all conclusions were consistent. Homo sapiens will soon vanish from the Earth. It is now an actuarial certainty.” It’s good to know that, in the event of some of the world’s greatest scientists getting together to declare the human race doomed, mere certainty won’t be good enough – it will have to be an actuarial certainty.  

My personal favourite actuary in film isn’t a particularly well-known one. In 1982, the Disney movie Tron was released. The film uses iconic visual effects to imagine a world within a computer, where computer programs are anthropomorphised and have characteristics similar to the humans that programmed them. An evil computer program has taken control of the system; Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), a super-security program, and Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a human who has been digitised into the computer world, have to defeat this Master Control Program to release information proving that Flynn is the rightful owner of a company in the human world – all while competing in real-life video games to the death. The film is most famous for its ‘light cycle’ scene, where the three rebel computer programs escape from the video games to take the fight to the MCP. 

Wait! Three rebel computer programs? See if you can guess what the third computer program was.

We meet this mystery third program, Ram, in a scene in which Flynn is locked up in computer prison. 

“Hey, Ram, what were you, you know, before?” he asks.

“I was an actuarial program,” says Ram. “I worked for a big insurance company. Really gives you a great feeling... helping folks plan for their future needs. Of course, if you think of the payments 

as an annuity over the years, the cost is really quite minimal.”

“Yeah, that’s great,” says Flynn. “Actuarial program. Nice.”

Ram is always going to be my favourite film actuary. He survives the ordeal by video games for so long, and lives to escape with Flynn and Tron, because he’s a powerful program. He’s a bit of a rebel and is willing to fight against injustice because he cares for people. 

He’s right, too – if you do think of the payments as an annuity over the years, the cost is quite minimal.


Article compiled by ‘The Secret Actuary’