Wednesday, February 27, 2008



Ye Liu as Liu Xing, Meryl Streep as Joanna Silver and Aidan Quinn as Jacob Reiser
in Dark Matter
Directed by Chen Shi-zheng, US, 2007
Photo Credit: Matthew Margo

Dark Matter, the film directed by Shi-Zheng Chen, (who has a background in opera) is a well-made, well acted, (almost operatic in a way), dramatic exploration of a brilliant Chinese student coming to study for his PhD in cosmology at a prestigious university in California.

Meryl Streep, as a woman dedicated to helping Chinese students adjust to their new cultural environment, Aidan Quinn, as an insensitive, even ruthless professor, and Ye Liu, the star, as the Chinese student, are all superior. The atmosphere and environment of the college campus and research power-group, and the portrayal of how the foreign, Chinese students encounter this different culture are especially vivid and richly conveyed.

But I have a problem... a big problem with the film.


If you have a chance to see the film, I strongly suggest seeing it knowing as little about it as possible. So if you have any chance to see the film, don't read the rest of this post! (Till after...)


The film is based, (or perhaps inspired, rather than actually based) on one (or more) cases where a brilliant student went "berserk" and started killing people on a college campus.

The problem I have with this film is that for all the brilliance with which the main character is presented (by the writing, direction, and acting); and all the brilliance with which the other characters and the dis-orienting, dis-spiriting, cultural dislocation and scientific disillusionment is presented (by the writing, direction, and acting); and all the charms and brilliance of the film-making; what is left out, I believe, is the heart of what really happens in this kind of tragedy.

I simply do not believe that a brilliant, competitive student turns to indiscriminate murder and suicide without significant warning.

Now, the people who appear in this movie may not have had warning. Madness is not visible to everyone. But when a person is seriously, seriously disturbed, there are very clear signs when you look in the right place.

So the problem with the film, for me, is that it does not actually explore or reveal the essense of the student's problem. It shows only the superficial, visible signs of the small problems, the irritations, the prods to his psyche, which do not add up to enough to explain the student's actions -- and it does not show the really determinative causes and signs of the student's really big problems.

It's misleading. It suggests the wrong information about the student's madness and violence.

It's a fine outsider's view. It explains nothing.

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