About twenty minutes outside of Geneva, Switzerland, lies perhaps the most interesting and exciting science experiment in the world. The European Organisation for Nuclear Research – or CERN for short – has come to be the largest science laboratory on Earth, centred around an absolutely massive machine called the Large Hadron Collider. The LHC, as it’s known at CERN, is the world’s most powerful particle collider, and with it, scientists from all over Europe can study groundbreaking theories of particle physics and most notably works to prove or disprove the existence of the legendary Higgs-Boson particle.
In his first documentary, former physicist and long time sound supervisor, Mark Levinson, provides incredible insight into the Large Hadron Collider and what it took to get there in the new film Particle Fever.
Levinson masterfully documents the intense drama and suspense surrounding CERN and the LHC with the skill of a seemingly much more experienced documentarian. It’s not your average documentary and that’s exactly what Levinson intended, stating, “I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done, like tell a dramatic narrative story, using my narrative skills, making a character and justify my career.”
The inspiration for the film came from Levinson’s partner and current theoretical physicist, David Kaplan. It was Kaplan who recognised that something significant was about to happen at CERN and sought a way to capture the inevitably historical moment. When Levinson caught wind of Kaplan’s desire, he immediately made contact and began developing the idea for Particle Fever.
One of the initial concerns for Levinson and Kaplan was access. In order for the film to be a true success, it would require unprecedented access into one of the most secure science facilities in the world. But in the end, everything worked out just fine, in fact Levinson says, “I had total access. It was the fact that I had a physics background, (which) gave me a certain trust and the fact that I was making a feature film, I was in it for the long term (unlike camera crews who would only film for a day) and was regularly returning, year after year.” Levinson’s ability to simply “wander about” the facility allowed him to capture his vision in its completely original, unadulterated form.
Given the theoretical nature of the science behind the film, it naturally leaves the audience with some unanswered questions, like whether or not research thus far supports the multi-verse theory or the super-symmetry theory. Levinson realizes the importance of both theories, stating, “What is true is that we dramatise the two and their not mutually exclusive. What we do want, is something that is gonna tell us what direction we should go in (regarding how to proceed with the research and experimentation).”
The open-ended nature of the film, a result of the ongoing scientific experimentation, has led us to wonder what Levinson will do next, and if he will continue to document the significant research being pursued at CERN. On the idea of a follow up, Levinson says, “I don’t think it will have the same impact. It’ll be a lot more diffuse in terms of a reaction. I’m actually working on a script, but finding something on this magnitude, is very hard.” Instead of a film, however, Levinson has turned his attention to the blank page, revealing, “I’m currently adapting a book that deals with that period of time, but that also deals with the overlap between art and science and that is something which really interests me. In this case it’s actually between music and molecular biology.” Whatever he does do next, I assure you it will be worth seeing.
*Reporting by Matt Shaine