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Film review: The Matter of Everything

matterofeverything.jpg
Olga Antzoulatos in The Matter of Everything. Credit: Enrico Lappano

By Margaret Harris

This is the last in our current series of film reviews. Send us more films!

The narrator of The Matter of Everything spends most of the film looking puzzled. After all, it’s a puzzling world out there — full of particles that act like waves, matter turning into energy, and all sorts of strange things. Even empty space, it seems, is a lot more complicated than it looks. Such topics can easily ensnare experts in their conceptual knots, so any amateur willing to tackle them deserves a great deal of credit. Here, the brave newcomer is Olga Antzoulatos, a high school teacher who decides to spend some time interviewing particle physicists about their research. To this end, she travels to Fermilab and Toronto’s York University and starts asking questions.

With such a broad subject, and only 100 minutes of film to play with, it’s inevitable that some answers get short shrift. However, that’s not really the point; both Antzoulatos and filmmaker Enrico Lappano are far more interested in the sense of wonder that arises from contemplating nature on such a deep level. Sometimes their efforts pay off — like when Lappano’s camera seeks out a clutch of bird eggs amid concrete slabs at Fermilab, and one of Antzoulatos’ interviewees likens Ernest Rutherford’s experimental knack to “having a red phone to God”.

Still, there’s something missing from this film, and it isn’t a better description of quarks and gluons — it’s a better sense of why Antzoulatos chose to embark on her quest in the first place. What drew her to introduce students in her “Society: Challenge and Change” class to particle physics? How can we encourage more non-scientists to follow in her footsteps? As its title implies, The Matter of Everything is not short of ambition. It’s just a pity it didn’t ask a few more questions.

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One comment to Film review: The Matter of Everything

  1. Martin

    Hi
    The reason that people don’t enquire might be that their daily life has become too complicated and this sort of thing isn’t seen as relevant to them. However I am well past retirement and still find this sort of research and other areas totally fascinating even though I don’t pretend to understand much of it. I suspect she wanted to ask the questions as she still has her ‘Awe Factor’ intact.
    If scientists can engage ordinary people and present their work in such a way that the audience can relate then there is a chance that their ‘Awe Factor’ can be switched on. It is similar to a child’s first experience to something breath taking when they either stand there in total silence or let out that long quiet ‘Wow’.
    I defy anybody to look at some of the pictures from Hubble and not be in awe of what they are seeing either from just the beauty or the sheer scale of things.
    Good luck
    Martin

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