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Aug 13, 2009

Dark Matter

If you are a grad student in a US university or any university for that matter, this is a must-watch. Dark Matter is an adaptation of a real life incident that took place at the University of Iowa in the early nineties. It deviates from the real incident in some aspects, but the crux of the story, the message it conveys is the same.(In 1991, Gang Lu, a Chinese physics student, disappointed by failure to win a prestigious prize, shot and killed his guide, the award winning student and some other members of the faculty and then shot himself.)

A powerful debut from Chinese opera director Chen Shi-Zheng and written by Billy Shebar, the movie tells the story a brilliant grad student from China whose intellectual flame was quashed by an egotistic academic set-up. Winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, an award given to films featuring scientific themes, Dark Matter follows Liu Xing (Liu Ye) as he gets the opportunity to do research at an American university under the patronage of his scientific idol, Prof Reiser(a convincing Aidan Quinn.) Meryl Streep has a superfluous part. It does give her decent screen time. But it'd not have made much difference to the film if her character was deleted out of the film except that, it adds a big name screen persona on the film's posters.

I have always held the opinion(opinions don't cost a thing) that those who can't do, teach. Like in any case there are exceptions. We are not dealing with those here. Professors in universities reminds me of exiled kings singing their past glories and sitting on an imaginary throne in their own virtual worlds where they still remain kings. The rarefied realm of academics provide endless fodder of willing subjects in the form of grad students that these kings torture to no end to nurture their fragile egos which in the world outside their academia wouldn't stand the test of reality. As the film has correctly depicted Asian students make the best 'subjects' for these 'kings' of academic world. They are servile, dutiful and will go on working hard without raising unnecessary questions.

As a member of an Asian community which supplies the largest number of students to US universities I think the portrayal of university life, esp. of a student aiming for a PhD in science, this film has hit the spot. When it came out there were some accusations of the film being racial. Come on, take off your yellow glasses, you are missing the real color.