Physicists, you’d guess, are a relatively coolheaded bunch, teasing out theorems with a fist pump or two—yet not the ones in Particle Fever. A scientist plotzes over the “catastrophe” facing his field, his grin barely hiding real anxiety. Another one geeks out at all the data she’s receiving, reams upon reams of numbers. Elsewhere, we hear a physicist-penned rap that’s the most gloriously dorky thing ever committed to a documentary. These people are part of the multinational team at Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider, and it’s the virtue of Mark Levinson’s winning project profile that he’s taken the time to afford his subjects their names, personalities and good humor.
They’re also working, in painstaking fashion, year after year, on what might be the most profound experiment of modern times: the pursuit of the elusive Higgs boson, or “God particle.” As to what that exactly means, we’d be robbing you of the film’s unusual lucidity by explaining it. Rather, submit to its thrilling animated sequences and ace sense of momentum (goosed by The Conversation’s legendary editor, Walter Murch), and learn a thing or two. Particle Fever is that rare, exhilarating science doc that’s neither dumbed down nor drabbed up.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf