Published Apr 22, 2013Bram Conjaerts takes a novel approach to the existentialist walkabout and is rewarded with some unique examples of the unfixed nature of human perception: how, and why, we choose to construct our view of existence.
Leading with the famous Einstein quote, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world", the Belgian documentarian announces his intention to focus on the big picture, leaving the details for those with a specialized interest in organizing minutiae.
The circumference of the Large Hadron Collider is the circle referred to in the film's title. To provide his musings with arbitrary signposts, Conjaerts journeys through the towns positioned above the twenty-seven-kilometre circle following the path of the massive particle accelerator, interviewing random inhabitants of this region near the Franco-Swiss border. He asks these regular townsfolk what they think of the experiment to find the "God particle" going on beneath their feet and if living above a massive scientific experiment has had any impact on their lives.
More often than not, the answers are quite interesting, with responses ranging from defensive indignation towards the prestige and funding of theoretical work when compared to the less lucrative returns of practical, measurable labour that keeps the wheels of society moving, like farming, to a former CERN employee (CERN is the laboratory that runs the LHC) who finds immeasurable pleasure in the simple wonders of existence—the joyous old man spends his twilight years mesmerised by the way light reflects off of the bottoms of compact discs.
Scattered amidst these interview portions, Conjaerts relates his own thoughts and dreams—often accompanied by rudimentary animation—and gives a few brief history lessons on CERN and particle physics in general. These personal asides largely vocalize the most basic of existential questions, which anyone drawn to this material will likely be fairly well acquainted with, leaving it feeling redundant even without being repetitious.
It's moments like a barber realizing that he's slowly beginning to become interested in questioning existence as his mortality looms closer, a Raelian couple contentedly espousing their very specific E.T.-friendly religious beliefs and a guy at a café simply asking if any of these questions even matter in the long run that gives this documentary weight.
With a plethora of fascinating perspectives on human curiosity expressed in its brief forty-seven minute runtime, The Circle is worth a look, despite some unnecessary diversions. (Flanders)