In the movie “Dark Matter” directed by Shi-Zheng Chen, Liu Xing travels from Beijing to America as a graduate student to study under Professor Reiser (Aidan Quinn). He hopes to win the Nobel Prize with his knowledgeable insight on the issues of dark matter, a form of matter in the universe whose presence can be solely inferred from gravitational effects.
Working under Reiser, Xing passionately pursues his theories regarding this matter to achieve his Ph.D. Along with trying to assimilate to America, he befriends Joanna (Meryl Streep) and even flirts with a girl who works at a nearby tea shop. The future brings high hopes for Xing until he finds himself at a dead end, receiving constant rejections of his dissertation proposals. As a result, Xing falls behind his peers and cannot receive his Ph.D. Unable to cope with the overwhelming feelings of rejection and solitude, he uses violence to fix his problems.
This dark drama reflects the weakness of the university system by reconstructing barriers and misunderstandings due to cultural stereotypes that lack a full representation in the present university hierarchy.
Streep’s performance as the caring patron of the university is mediocre. Although her role is more discreet, Streep fails to command her character as she naively encourages Liu to challenge Quinn. Her presence is not as powerful as roles past. Although not armed with harsh words and a gun, Quinn’s portrayal of the stereotypical “white man” is accurate. With his close-mindedness and ignorance of Chinese culture, he leads the audience to perceive him as powerful, yet pompously uninformed.
The addressed academic issues include, but are not limited to, miscommunication in student-teacher relationships, intellectual rape and the hierarchical power struggle in the present university system. His character is an exaggeration of the white male professor but is neither overacted nor underrepresented in the film. Although secondary to the protagonist, Quinn continues to hold a strong grip on the hearts and minds invested in the film.
Ye Liu’s performance, as the struggling Chinese student, is captivating. The impact Liu makes on his audience is shown through the discussion that immediately followed the film; an Asian female pointed out the injustices committed by the white man who subjects Xing to intellectual rape. “Dark Matter” is quickly set with a dark tone by director Chene, in which he effectively uses different camera angles and lack of color to portray the darkness of the movie. The film develops with quick, foreshadowing scenes that are characterized by camera zooms and stark color contrasts. The frame and details are exquisite, as the audience is able to hear slight sounds such as the rustling of paper that Streep holds in her hand on a car ride with Liu.
“Dark Matter” is a genre of film that has yet to be fully embraced due to its dark and brooding nature as the protagonist is as sympathetic as he is a catalyst to future dialogues of cross-cultural issues. Ultimately, “Dark Matter,” albeit not a Hollywood-hitting smash, gets its message across and fulfills its ultimate purpose of setting the wheels of acculturation and acceptance into motion.