Friday, February 10, 2017

Jason goes to Indiefest--Day 5

Monday kicked off a full week of 2-a-days at Indiefest, and I started with my first visit this year to the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission for THE MIRACLE OF TEKIR. A friend of mine has noted that Indiefest so far this year has had a notable number of "beautiful lullabies"--films that are beautifully shot, gorgeous to look at, but slow, contemplative, and tend to put you to sleep. THE MIRACLE OF TEKIR could almost have been one of those, but I stayed awake the whole way through. It starts by recalling an old legend about the mud on the Danube delta and it's magical healing powers. In modern days, Mara lives in a small fishing village on the delta, and collects mud from a special spot. She's also pregnant although she's not married. And she claims she has not slept with any man. But the village doesn't believe her, so they banish her, and she goes to work for a spa hotel called Tekir. There she meets a rich, eccentric woman named Lili who is at the spa specifically trying to cure her infertility. Their relationship is the main driver of the movie, filled with humor, wonder, and feminine energy (this passes the Bechdel test by miles) and makes the whole movie very enjoyable. And there's a side story of the local priest who starts to believe Mara--in a different movie that would be the main story, but I enjoyed that the story stayed with the women and mostly left the men out of it.

And then I ended the night with GRAND UNIFIED THEORY. Okay, this is my personal hang-up, but I find movies that try to use physics principles as metaphors for life really...problematic. I could trace this back to my college days, where one night I found a TV program that was a collaboration between the Physics and English departments at some college (I've never found this program since.) They were trying to simultaneously explain quantum physics and Shakespeare, using the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle as an analogy to Hamlet's indecisiveness and vice-versa. It did not work. At best it was just silly and forced. But this has influenced my view of physics metaphors ever since.

Okay, so to the actual movie at hand. Dr. Albert James (Scott Bellis) is a famous astrophysicist and popular lecturer. He has an offer at a prestigious University, it just means moving his family from the Pacific Northwest (I forget if the exact city was established in the movie, but it was made Vancouver locals) to New York. But his family is in the middle of a little meltdown. Make that, big meltdown. Involving infidelity, jealousy, vandalism, drugs, and more. The acting is great, and the situations get pretty darn hilarious.

The story is intercut with scenes from his farewell lecture, expounding on physics principles and tying them to the human condition. And I really wanted to like that more. The idea seems good on paper, and I really wanted to like it more. But there were parts that just bugged me. Starting with the fact that he has more charisma than any physics lecture I've ever seen. It's more like a TED talk than a physics lecture. But that's beside the point, I understand that for a film it needs to be interesting. But when you make a physics metaphor, I can't help but use my own knowledge to question whether that metaphor makes sense. And I'll give you an example of a part where that broke down for me. In one part he's talking about how quantum particles stay connected over long distances. I don't think he used the term "quantum entanglement" but I took it that's what he was talking about. And as a metaphor for how we're all connected to each other and the universe, it's not bad. But he's talking about particles called quarks. And this isn't in the movie (unless I missed it) but quarks are sub-sub-atomic particles that make up the protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus. And they have some very weird properties. Most forces (e.g., electro-magnetism or gravity,) the further away two particles are the weaker the force becomes. That's why we aren't much affected by the gravity of distant galaxies, or why medium sized magnets don't push or pull on each other from across the room. But quarks are different--the force that binds them together in a proton (for example) gets stronger the further apart you pull them. And it gets stronger pretty quickly, to the point that it's really impossible to separate quarks. So rather than a metaphor for how we're all connected, even across great distances, quarks make a better metaphor for how you're inseparable from those closest to you--which might make a good metaphor for love? Except...if you do try to separate quarks, the force between them gets so strong that it rips quark/anti-quark pairs out of the quantum vacuum and the original quarks end up bonding with them. So it's becomes a metaphor for...something like serial relationship addiction and the fear of being alone. And while that's part of some human conditions, it's not a very positive part, and not one worth celebrating in a movie.

But here's the important thing--none of that stuff about quarks is in the movie. It's just in my head, and invades the movie that I'm trying to watch. Which is why these efforts to make sense of the human condition through fundamental physics principles just don't work for me, no matter how much I want them to.

Total Running Time: 193 minutes
My Total Minutes: 417,259

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