Several months ago, in preparation for my reimagined film history, I decided to watch Dark Matter again. This was a picture that for the most part was shelved due to the proximity of its intended release to the Virginia Tech massacre. As the film depicts a disgruntled , ultimately violent Chinese graduate student, it's understandable that it would be in poor taste to have it playing in theaters after the shootings. It's too bad, as Dark Matter is a fine film, and one which I originally didn't quite understand why Meryl decided to join.
The story surrounds Chinese graduate student Liu Xing (played by Liu Ye) develops a dissertation on the theory of dark matter, a scientific model which in his mind explains how the universe works. Xing works under the tutelage of Professor Jacob Reiser (Aidan Quinn), and is acclimated to the American way of life by wealthy donor and Sinophile, Joanna Silver (Streep).
As Reiser begins to feel that Liu is getting a little too big for his britches, the promising young theorist is told to redo his calculations, is denied his doctorate and begins to lose control. Silver is looked to as a refuge, as she's championed his work, but even she cannot persuade the envious Reiser.
Liu goes on to shoot both Reiser and the other Chinese grad student whom Reiser and his colleagues favored. Again, far too similar to the tragedy at Virginia Tech to release in theaters around the same time.
Streep filmed this movie summer around June 2006, right as both The Devil Wears Prada and A Prairie Home Companion were released in theaters. No one knew how successful Prada was going to be, so Streep had her 2006 shooting schedule peppered with four supporting roles in non-Oscar bait. Although I'm sure she'd say Dark Matter was a good script, my hunch is that she was possibly drawn just as much by the prospect of learing T'ai chi and speaking a bit of Mandarin. When else would she have the opportunity to try an East Asian language?! Knowing her preparation tendencies, I'm guessing she became a master at the martial art and semi-fluent in Standard Chinese.
As a first-time director, Chen Shi-zeng did an ok job. With a budget of about $5, I'm sure it's challenging do everything one wants to onscreen. The acting is fantastic and it's actually a touching, yet tragic story of how a brilliant young man saw no solution but violence to deal with his professional rejection.