Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 12

Four more movies on Monday, here we go:

I started the day with LEAVE ME LIKE YOU FOUND ME, which would make an interesting pseudo-sequel to THE LONELIEST PLANET, at least in as much as they're both about couples walking in the wilderness. But while THE LONELIEST PLANET featured a recently engaged couple with a love that gets tested, LEAVE ME LIKE YOU FOUND ME features a couple that has broken up before and is (for some reason) trying to get back together. What it illustrates better than anything is why they broke up--they had gotten to the point where they knew how to push all of each other's buttons, but didn't have the willpower to refrain from doing so. Well, they still don't, but they're still attracted to each other. So they go on a camping trip in Sequoia National Park, where they alternately fuck and fight in the woods--sometimes within minutes of each. It's very well made, the two leads (Megan Boone and David Nordstrom) do a fine job, and it's a believable portrait of a possible resurrection of a relationship that maybe should stay dead. But pretty quickly into it I kind of stopped caring about them and whether these two kind of annoying and selfish people would find happiness together. At one point, they get lost in the woods as night falls. I confess I was hoping they would stay lost and the movie would end with them dying in the woods, dehydrated and not talking to each other. I'm not sure if that's because I disliked them, just didn't care about them, or just desperately hoped for some drama. Spoiler alert: No such luck.

Next up, a story of kids and adults behaving badly in SUMMER GAMES. 12 year old Nic and his little brother Agostino are on holiday on the Tuscan coast with their abusive father and their mother who has returned after some absence (she insists for the kids, not for the father, but there's still a little something there.) Meanwhile, Marie and her little sister Patty are also on holiday there, with their mother and no father in the picture at all. Nic finds a shed in a cornfield , and brings the whole gang there (including a fifth kid who really isn't as interesting as the main four. In fact, the interesting ones are Nic and Marie) at first to see a dead body (that turns out to be a scarecrow) and then to invent some rather perverse games about killers, policemen, and punishments. Nic brags about how he can't feel pain (easier than admitting he feels anything for Marie) and Marie for her part totally shuns Nic. Or at least tries to. It's an interesting and often unsettling (particularly the dog scene) coming-of-age story that in its own way is about the importance of good parenting, but more about we manage to muddle through in the absence of it.

SUMMER GAMES plays again on closing night, May 3 at 7:30 at the Kabuki

Then I enjoyed an absolutely beautiful and delightful bit of magic realism from the director of PERSEPOLIS in CHICKEN WITH PLUMS. It's the story of Nasser Ali, a violin virtuoso living in Tehran of 1958. He is unhappily married with two children (the scenes of them as grown-ups are excellent wild comic relief--particularly the son going to America is a hilarious parody of America and foreign views of America.) His only love is his violin, and when it gets broken he cannot find one with the same sound he loved (even a Stradivarius is not good enough, although it might well have been a fake) he decides to lie down and die. Eight days later he is dead, and the movie takes us through his thoughts, memories, and fantasies on those final eight days. Mostly the melancholy story of his first true love, Iran (that's a girl's name, not the country, but the allusion is unmistakable) and how her father forbid them to marry. But also memories of grade school, a chat with Azrael the Angel of Death (including a pretty funny animation sequence,) and the story of how he ended up with his current wife. It employs a wide range of styles and if it leaves realism behind in the quest to make the most beautiful movie possible, I wholeheartedly approve. Frankly, it can get tiring at a film festival watching dozens of movies with a hand-held camera and natural lighting trying to capture reality at it's most real. This was good, powerful escapism with a beautiful heart.

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS plays again May 2, 12:30 at the Kabuki, and opens nationwide August 22.

And finally, I ended the day with THE EXCHANGE. I loved that this movie opens with a brief reference to E.P.R. and that non-scientists have read way too much into it regarding objective reality. There's never any explanation of what E.P.R. is, so it's a reference only physicists will get. And how many physicists would watch a movie like this? It might only be...me! Has he (director Eran Kolirin) really made a movie for me and me alone?

So let me begin by explaining, to the best of my memory from college, what the EPR experiment (and I'll try to do so without math.) First, you have to understand the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Uncertainty Principle is a relationship that sets a limit on how well defined a particle's position and momentum can be. If you know a particle's position very well, it's momentum is less well defined and vice-versa. Often this is described using a fan as a metaphor. When you turn a fan on, the blades spin so fast you don't know exactly where they are. If you stick your finger in there to discover their position, you stop (or at least disrupt) the fan, changing its momentum at least briefly. So you cannot measure the position without disrupting the momentum. And if you let it run and measure the momentum somehow (say you can deduce it from the pitch of the motor's whine) you don't know its exact position.

Well, this is okay for a metaphor, but misses an important bit. Really, it's a better description of the Observer's Paradox--you can't measure (or observe) a system without being a part of the system, and your presence (or the presence of your measuring apparatus) will change the system, however slightly. As it's often related, the Uncertainty Principle is interpreted (by novices) as setting an absolute mathematical limit on the Observer's Paradox. That's because it's often described as the limit of how well known a particle's position and momentum can be. But there's more than that. It's not just a matter of how well known these are, it's really a matter of how these properties really exist.

Heisenberg was describing a mathematical relationship between the Quantum Wave Function and its Fourier Transform. The Fourier transform is simply a mathematical operation that translates any function between spatial and frequency domains--in the case of the Wave Function spatial and frequency domains translates to the physical properties of position and momentum. The Wave Function is...well, that's kind of tricky. But when you take the square of its magnitude, you get a probability distribution function. I.e., if you're operating in the spatial domain you get a cloud of probability of where the particle is, and if you transform it to the frequency (momentum) domain, you get a cloud of probability for what its momentum is.

Now the really interesting part. Does that cloud of probability describe a limit on our ability to know more about a particle, or does it really describe all there is to a particle? Well, Heisenberg said the latter--there is nothing more than the Wave Function. Moreover, when you measure a particle's position (or momentum) you change or "collapse" the Wave Function into one with well-defined position (or momentum) and undefined momentum (or position.) But the important thing is the Wave Function is all there is. If that bugs you, you're in good company, it bugged Einstein, too (finally, we get to the E of EPR) who famously said "God does not play dice."

Einstein was a proponent of so-called "hidden variables"--the idea that a particle does have a well-defined position and momentum but that the rules of Quantum Mechanics keep it hidden from an observer. At least, hidden from direct measurement, but he, along with colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen (the P and R of EPR) proposed an experiment. First you take two particles and have them interact in such a way that they end up flying apart in exact opposite directions. Then you measure the position of particle A, and you can infer from that what the position of particle B is. Simultaneously, measure the momentum of particle B, and you can infer what the momentum of particle A is. And you can do these measurements far enough apart that they are outside of each other's "light cones" to insure that there is no interference between the measurements (i.e., far enough apart that light cannot travel between them in time to affect the other measurement. And since nothing can travel faster than light, there's no way for them to interact at all.)

Well, Heisenberg countered that when particle A and B interact in the beginning, they become "Quantum Entangled"--one Wave Function that describes both particles. When the Wave Function collapses (from measuring one particle only) it collapses the entire function...everywhere...instantaneously. This is, if you pardon the expression, fucking weird as hell.

And well, the argument rested there for quite a while, because that experiment is really hard to do (first getting the particles to interact right, and then actually measuring position and momentum so precisely.) But some 30 years later a physicist named John Bell formulated an alternate experiment using pairs of polarized photons (particles of light.) These are really easy to create, you just need a positron emitter (like Na-22, which I used to work with back when I was employed.) Positrons (anti-electrons) immediately interact with electrons, pair-annihilate creating two photons of the same energy and polarization, travelling in opposite directions. So have two detectors with rotatable polarizing filters on opposite sides of the source, and then simply count photons on each side. Then rotate one filter a bit, count photons again, etc. And...I promised no math, so I'll cut to the chase. The results of these experiments match the predictions of Quantum Mechanics and violate the predictions of hidden variable theories (okay, local hidden variables if you want to split hairs.) In short, the Quantum Wave Function really is all there is (or the world is even weirder, like probability doesn't work the way we think it does,) Quantum Entanglement happens, and we are all just wandering around collapsing Wave Functions all the time. Now, the collapse of the Wave Function is such a mysterious and philosophical thing that it's way too long for me to expound on here. It's the subject of papers, books, and maybe even a 2 hour movie.

Oh yeah, back to the movie, how does all this EPR rambling tie in to the movie? Well, I really wish I had seen it when Eran Kolirin was still here, because I would've loved to quiz him about it. But I can say that festival programmer Rod Armstrong introduced the movie by saying in previous Q&A's some audience members wanted to ascribe mental health issues (anything from depression to schizophrenia) to the protagonist, and Eran was adamant that he's not crazy in any way. Well, that's easy for me--he's not crazy, he's just a physicist. And his class ends one day when he's right in the middle of discussing EPR. So he goes home with all this at the front of his mind, keenly aware he's collapsing Wave Functions all around him. Well, as a guy, what's the one thing that is most profound to collapse by observing. That's right, his own penis. So he takes a second, whips it out, and looks at it in the mirror. Then he notices another guy watching him. And wacky hijinx ensue.

So the movie is an examination of how by observing the world around you, you create it (or at least change it.) But that's not to say the world is subjective. There is an objective reality to it, and it is described by the Wave Function. Sure, you can collapse the Wave Function, but that collapse is the same for everyone. You can't collapse it one way at the same time as someone else collapses it another way (i.e., you can't get around the Uncertainty Principle by measuring a particle's position at the same time as someone else measures its momentum. The collapse of the Wave Function happens the same for everyone.) It's a subtle distinction between subjective reality and objective reality that you are a part of and influence.

At least that's what I got out of it. I don't know what the heck other people could get from it.

Total Running Time: 384 minutes
My Total Minutes: 282,271
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