Parents' Guide to

Dark Matter

By James Rocchi, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Indie drama offers mature teens food for thought.

Movie R 2008 90 minutes
Dark Matter Poster Image

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The feature-film debut of opera director Chen Shi-Zeng, Dark Matter only looks like a ticking-clock thriller; it's far subtler than that, as cultures clash yet human nature proves to be universal. As Xing's letters home go from optimistic hopes to out-and-out lies, viewers feel a rich, real sense of worry for him; Shi-Zeng captures both bold, beautiful images and intimate character moments. The performers are all superb, especially Liu's work as a bright, confident young man investigating the mysteries of the unseen mass -- dark matter -- that must be somewhere in the universe. And yet he's still battling a language barrier, finding his way in a new culture, and trying to negotiate his relationship with his superior, Dr. Reiser. When Xing notes how "no one pays attention to (dark matter), because they don't see it," he could be talking about himself.

Shi-Zeng isn't just a talented visual director and dramatist; Billy Shebar's carefully-crafted script has playful moments as well, like when the Chinese students, on a field trip to a "pioneer village," act out a Western-themed scenario that's shot like a scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And Xing's attempts to connect with a young woman at a local tea shop -- who confuses cosmology with cosmetology -- are warm and human. When Xing's frustration and despair boil over, the time we've spent with him makes his final, fateful act not merely shocking but also tragic.

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