Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Is Particle Fever What It Claims It Is?

Particle Fever was a pretty quality documentary that came out in 2014. But the Higgs Boson is still only creating more questions than it's answering.
If you sit down to watch Particle Fever, Mark Levinson's documentary about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, you likely already have some idea about the achievement this group of physicists managed to accomplish after 20 years of conceptualization, construction, and preparation. And if you're interested, that is exactly what the film gives you... several years of watching the team working and waiting until the moment finally comes, contemplating wether the moment will be what they want it to be or wether it will completely disprove all of their current theories. And even though I already knew the outcome, I still felt their pain as they waited and watched and hoped and mawed at their huge fancy super collider.
But Particle Fever still manages to miss at one of the more basic levels. While it attempts to give the audience background on what the Higgs is and why it is important, I feel like it coasts over the most crucial information in an attempt not to bore us. In fact, towards the end, when one scientist is standing on stage explaining her data before the big announcement, the music kicks in and mutes out the explanation as there's this bizarre operatic moment with the other scientists that we've been following. I think they should've been shown but the music hurt the integrity of the scene as the, perhaps difficult to understand, science jargon was left in the wake without a more fulfilling explanation.
Regardless, this path of thought likely doesn't matter. What feels absurd to me is that the Higgs itself remains completely undefined by the end... and every article I've ever read about the particle states that it really hasn't taught us anything... which is the assertion that the physicists come to at the very end anyway. This movie is about the journey, so that's not really a spoiler. But it's concerning to me that we continue to claim this as a monumental achievement when it hasn't proved or disproved anything... everything is just left up in the air.
So Particle Fever may be a fun watch, but I understand why the Academy wasn't interested in including it with their list of eligible docs. Yet the PGA still seems to have found enough reason to include it.

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