Elementary particle physics and the large-scale CERN research facility have repeatedly inspired artists to engage with modern scientific research. The latest example is the movie 'Les Particules' by French-Swiss filmmaker Blaise Harrison (39). In this art piece scientific research serves as an escape and dream world for an adolescent.
How things appear depends on the context in which they are perceived. This also applies to the scientific research of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva. For the scientists working at CERN, the large underground particle accelerator is a precision instrument that can be used to imitate and study the state of matter shortly after the Big Bang. The circular accelerator and the associated experiments have been meticulously planned and calculated. Nothing is left to chance, uncertainties must be avoided. This is the only way to gain knowledge that satisfies scientific requirements: Findings that are indisputably valid.
Pictures from CERN
This world of calculated rationality appears in a different light in Blaise Harrison's film 'Les Particules'. In the eyes of the protagonist Pierre-André (Thomas Daloz) - his friends call him P.A. - research is a dream world, a hallucination, even the imagination in a state of intoxication. In one scene of the film, P.A., who attends the graduating class of a scientific high school, visits CERN with his class. A guide shows the students the huge experiments and the tunnel of the particle accelerator. P.A., however, is not interested in protons, electronvolts and decay products; he is rather fascinated by the images of this foreign world with which the scientists make the elementary particles visible. For P.A., CERN is not a laboratory of modern physics. For him, CERN is a dream world into which he flees from reality.
CERN is a place that radically differs from P.A.'s everyday life with its fast traces of light and flashing computer racks. The young adult with the fine moustache spends the days with his buddies Mérou, Cole and J.B. Together they fool around and party, together they operate a garage band and - in the middle of winter - go camping in a forest. This is where one of the few events in this otherwise poor of action one-and-a-half-hour film happens: After the friends have put themselves in a state of intoxication at the campfire with psychoactive mushrooms, one of the friends, Mérou, disappears overnight. Later, they search the forest for the disappeared, but the film leaves open what happened to Mérou. The film has no interest in a criminal plot. Mérou's disappearance rather shows how the main character P.A. gets lost in the world. The film is a psychological portrait of P.A.: the adolescent suffers from an illness that makes it difficult for him to take in the world around him, to enter into a dialogue with it, to grasp reality in the same way as the researchers at CERN do. "I see strange things," says P.A. once in the film.
Encounter with the Anti-I
‘Les Particules’ is a slow, even a dark film. He takes time for long, silent shots, which let the pictures speak. There is often anxiety because P.A.'s life seems to stand still. And then there is movement in his everyday life: Through Roshine (Néa Lüders), a girl who also lives in the French Jura with her father and her brother and establishes a timid relationship with P.A. In a key scene of the film, P.A. watches a video about CERN research. It mentions the questions that CERN scientists are working on answering: “What is the origin of the universe?” “What is Dark Matter?” “Why is there more matter in the universe than antimatter?”
And then there is a further question in the video, which CERN physicists would never ask, but which is logical for P.A.: "Why is there no 'anti-I' made of antimatter that destroys me?” This sentence reveals the self-doubt of the adolescent, even a death longing. At the end of the film, this Anti-I in human form actually appears near a forest in a mythical scenery, and a little later P.A. and the Anti-I dissolve into nothing.
The inner world of the adolescent
"These possible virtual probabilities, which do not occur, are produced in the infinitely small world of elementary particles," says the film, which emerged from a Franco-Swiss collaboration. Such statements may seem speculative to physicists. But Blaise Harrison takes the liberty of furnishing the inner world of his adolescent main character with images from modern particle physics. ‘Les Particules' is the first feature film produced by the graduate of L'École cantonale d'art de Lausanne (ECAL) after five documentary films.
Author: Benedikt Vogel
Film release in French-speaking Switzerland: September 2019
Film release in German-speaking Switzerland: January 2020