Remember learning about the dual nature of light back in high school physics class? We had it drummed into us that light is, strangely, both a wave and an infinitesmally tiny particle known as a photon. By definition then, a photon should be illuminating, even if it’s too small to register on the human eye.
Norman Leto’s Photon, however, rarely illuminates. In fact, you could go so far as to say it baffles nearly completely.
Perhaps it was hubris in the selection of Leto’s subject matter: the entire history of the universe . . . and absolutely everything in it.
Or perhaps it was in the execution of Leto’s doc. What begins as a relatively linear (although phantasmagorical) march from the Big Bang to the development of human life on Earth devolves over the course of the film’s 107-minute running time into a conceited mess.
The second-time director throws everything he’s got into it — autobiography, bizarre tangents, perverse (even pornographic) imagery — and concludes it with pessimistic prognostications of our world hundreds of years from now. (My screening companion was so bummed by the film’s final frames that he said razor blades should have been standard issue with every ticket.)
I wouldn’t go that far myself. I found the first reel and a half absorbing, even if I didn’t understand it completely. Using a barrage of jargon (hands up if you know or remember what gluons, leptons and bosons are) Leto’s deadpan, wry narrator spews particle physics at us at a breathless rate, then gallops through the creation of the first atoms right through to the birth of the first molecules. His explanation of how such molecules may have clumped together to form the first membrane (creating for the first time an “outside” separate from an “inside” — thereby leading to the development of the first proto-cell) was particularly effective.
But some time after those sequences, Leto loses the plot, such as it was, as he takes a swing through his father’s Parkinson’s disease, his mother’s knitting hobby and his son Bruno’s diaper change. Um, where were we again?
Then there is Leto’s conception of our planet’s future. Photon presents environmentalists with a ray of hope — Earth is not underwater due to global warming. But his version of Futurama is still dismal. Not a place you’d want your children’s grandchildren or their grandchildren to ever have to see.