Directed by Mark Levinson
The joy of watching Bill Nye eloquently defend the scientific method against creationist Ken Ham obscured how fundamentally sad it was that the issue needed to be debated at all 150 years after Darwin. When consensuses on evolution and global warming can be shrugged off in America as so much liberal propaganda, it’s lovely to watch Particle Fever, which plays like a 100-minute paean to intelligence and the noble search for knowledge. The Large Hadron Collider is the biggest and most important experiment in scientific history, and this doc follows key physicists involved from the machine’s first test to its first data. “We’re going to know something,” says one, adding with deserved hyperbole, “We don’t know what it is, but we will know it, and it will change everything.” Indeed, there’s a sweet moment when one scientist is moved to tears by raw data that to even intelligent eyes seems like gibberish and scribblings.
The film has fun with just how complex this branch of theory gets, relying on charming animations that make sense on a step-by-step basis but end up utterly confounding. Terms like “supersymmetry” get thrown around casually, but director Mark Levinson (with producer David Kaplan) aims for a mood more than a data deluge; you may not find the Higgs boson comprehensible at the end, but you will find it awe-inspiring. Unlike What the Bleep Do We Know!?, an experimental documentary about quantum physics, Particle is readily watchable thanks to the narrative of the LHC preparing to go online and the winning personalities of the scientists. It’s inspiring to see important work being done for non-commercial reasons, and you can imagine that if this film were shown in middle school science classes, a few great minds might get sparked.
Opens March 5 at Film Forum