Beginning with the launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2008, Particle Fever chronicles the search for, and eventual confirmation of, the existence of the Higgs boson. The discovery of this once-theorized “God particle” could, to put it broadly, reveal the root of all matter that created the known universe. From the onset, director Mark Levinson, himself a physicist, presents his material in an accessible enough manner to reach general audiences, even including descriptive graphics, but gradually relaxes his contextual hand to allow the various scientists and physicists he interviews to speak in the dense jargon that seemingly defines their work.
The film may not put itself above the uninitiated, but Levinson oftentimes appears almost too eager to present his material with affectation, which results in sequences that ultimately trivialize the seriousness of the work being done by his subjects. When the LHC does prove successful, the subsequent celebration set to a cloying use of “Ode to Joy” overshadows the ramifications of the discovery. These scenes have a somewhat dulling effect on the attentive, personal conversations between physicists David Kaplan and Nima Arkani-Hamed, whose debates, in the face of a new discovery, are enthusiastic but tinged with a pensiveness. Those feelings are echoed later on when one scientist ruminates that the finding of the Higgs boson could potentially turn his 40 years of work obsolete.
Levinson reveals a more elegant, less distracting stylistic hand in equating art and science. Physicist Fabiola Gianotti, whose also an adept pianist, opens a conversation that convincingly describes the production of art and science as deriving from the same human curiosity about the universe. Levinson, along with editor Walter Murch, subtly rhymes the playing of the piano with the formulation of a robust algorithm without forcefully outlining the film’s themes, lifting these passages into something almost philosophical.