Laura CliffordLiu Xing (Ye Liu) is a talented young Chinese cosmologist privileged to secure a student visa to come to America and work for Professor Jake Reiser (Aidan Quinn) at a prestigious university. But, the headstrong academic challenges his mentor and his fall from grace will soon lead to a very “Dark Matter.”
Frosh helmer Shi-Zheng Chen’s first feature film, completed just before the terrible Virginia Tech killings a year ago, was pulled from release because of similarities to that awful incident. Having seen Dark Matter,” it is a case of political incorrectness that held up distribution. Sure, the violent finale has a connection to real life – it is based on another true story of a student gone over the edge at the University of Iowa – but the scope of the tragedy depicted is really a microcosm of the things that went bad in Virginia.
Liu Xing is a true genius, taking Reiser’s work and expanding upon it to prove his theory of the existence of Dark Matter which, according to Liu, fills 99% of the Universe. Jake reads his findings but immediately disregards them, saying that Xing is not experienced enough to propose such an advanced theorem. He advises his ward to take a simpler view of the Universe and back down on his challenge to Reiser’s own work. The stubborn young genius ignores his mentor’s advice and is supplanted by another, less willful student, Laurence Feng (Lloyd Suh), who gains Reiser’s praise because of his willingness to conform to his academic master. For Xing, to quote Frank Sinatra, he was riding high in April, shot down in May.” Liu’s life takes on the dark matter of the title.
Dark Matter” intrigued me in its first hour or so as we follow Xing as he acclimates to his new home and is given the opportunity, not possible in China, to challenge his superior’s cosmos model. But, politics are politics and they supersede academic innovation and imagination. The reality, voiced by Reiser, is that you can challenge your boss as long as you realize that he is always right. Liu doesn’t get this American subtlety and it proves his downfall. The problem with “Dark Matter” is that, when Liu breaks down, I simply didn’t care.
First timer Chen creates a mostly intriguing story that keeps you interested until the Big Change that impacts Xing and those close to him. China movie idol Ye Liu is focused as young cosmology genius who declares that he will, one day, win the Nobel Prize. His unwillingness to compromise will undermine his plans and he doesn’t understand that, to succeed, you have to play the game. Aidan Quinn gives a solid performance as Professor Reiser, a man who professes enlightened thinking but is of the same mold as his mentor, who refused to let his ward challenge his theories, too. Marvelous Meryl Streep only does yeoman work here as a wealthy do-gooder, Joanna Silver, who wants to help her Chinese beneficiaries enjoy the privileges of the west.
I wish that “Dark Matter” had carried its intriguing premise to the end but the film runs out of steam and the should-be-shocking finale is merely an ending that represents wrapping things up. It is, mostly, a good calling card for its newbie director. I give it a positive C+.
Laura gives "Dark Matter" a C+ for an interesting study of Chinese students trying to assimilate into the American educational system that fails to lay the groundwork for its violent ending.
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