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We don’t glamorize physics. Whether theoretical or experimental, there’s very little recognition of the incredible, fascinating work that those dedicated to either side of the physics coin devote their lives to. As we maneuver through our day-to-day routine — watching TV, clocking in at the office, wondering if we should have that second donut — physicists are busy unraveling the complex mysteries surrounding the foundations and building blocks which construct the universe we live in. It may not be perceived as sexy, but I’ll be damned if someone says it doesn’t make for an utterly compelling documentary.
The film in question is Particle Fever (), directed by Mark Levinson, who gained a doctoral degree in particle physics from Berkeley before transitioning to the film industry. Particle Fever follows the lives of six scientists in the years leading up to and surrounding the activation of the Large Hadron Collider — the giant ring that blasts particles together at velocities close to the speed of light. Edited by Walter Murch, who delivered the final cuts of such cinematic greats as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, the 99-minute doc cuts between breathtaking views of the magnificent grandeur of the facilities buried underground at CERN in Switzerland, personal footage of the scientists going about their day’s work, and incredibly well-designed graphics that aim to illustrate dense, complex theories to an audience who may otherwise balk at such ideas.
If you have little to no interest in the subject matter, Particle Fever will likely not change your mind. However, for those willing to dip their toes into the world of advanced physics research and experimentation — and I highly recommend that you do so — what will transpire is a front row seat into one of the most important discoveries in modern science. Yes, the elusive Higgs Boson particle, which was oft rumored but never proven, is the main focus here. Watching the drama, humor and elation that comes from condensing five years of work into one film humanizes a field of research otherwise alien to average Joes. Even as they throw concepts at the audience that will likely hurt more than a few brains, the magnificently intelligent scientists who work at CERN or conduct research at Stanford and Princeton prove that, regardless of the perceived or real importance of what we do, we are all inherently human in the way we engage with the world.
When asked what he hoped the audience would take away from the film, Levison responded ”I hope they have a certain appreciation for the wonderful, monumental achievement that is embodied in particle physics.” You absolutely will.
Particle Fever opens Friday, March 21, at Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Call 202-783-9494 or visit landmarktheatres.com.