Emily Levine, the subject of the quirky 61 minute documentary-of-sorts called Emily @ the Edge of Chaos, was a philosopher, comedian and writer who became fascinated by physics after she was diagnosed with a tumor in her pituitary gland. The tumor had caused a crazy mix of symptoms that led her to question the meaning of reality. She was inspired by her experiences to create TED talks about the interconnectedness of everything and making friends with reality that have been viewed millions of times, and she was recently voted one of the all-time top TED speakers. Knowing that background should make you curious to watch producer/director Wendy Apple’s film starring Levine, which takes viewers on a heady trip through complicated subjects like Chaos Theory, Interactivity, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, but from the practical and often very funny perspective of one woman’s journey.
Levine wants you to understand that there’s a paradigm shift happening in our shared reality here in the US. In Edge of Chaos, she explains it all to you within the context of quantum physics, commenting on politics, the economy, the media, and contemporary culture, and does so in front of an audience. If that sounds dull, it isn’t. Something about Levine’s personal experience has given her insights that strip away much of the confusion or complication around the subject of physics, and how it relates to all of us personally and collectively.
Here is how Emily herself describes the Edge of Chaos in her artistic statement. “The paradigm is shifting: Our social model – secular democracy – is grounded in Newton’s Universe – the physics used by Sir Isaac Newton to describe the universe. But since Newton’s time, major breakthroughs in physics have radically altered our understanding of the universe. For example, Newton’s Universe uses Either/Or logic: of two things only one can be true. Quantum physics introduces And-And logic: of two things both may be true. Understanding these new Big Ideas of physics could help us figure out how to make ourselves and the country in this new universe’s image: From my way to our way. From the Divided States to the United States. From “e pluribus” to “unum”.”
Into this live performance is interwoven animation, and guest pop-ups with noted scientists, and animated characters voiced by some pretty cool people, including John Lithgow as Sir Isaac Newton, Leonard Nimoy as Sigmund Freud, Matt Groening as Ben Franklin, and Lily Tomlin as Ayn Rand.
The history of this film getting to the public has been complicated, because though producer/director Wendy Apple started the project, she died after having a stroke in May of 2017, so Emily Levine, who both starred and wrote the script, continued putting the film together. She too died, in 2019, after discovering she had stage 4 lung cancer. Her daughter Abby helped finish the film, so that Kino Lorber is now bringing it to audiences on May 7th in select theaters and virtual platforms nationwide.
One of the things physicists say is “reality comes into being through interaction”. There is an immediacy in the interaction happening directly between Levine and each viewer in Emily @ the Edge of Chaos that both explains big ideas and gives them context for our own lives. It also affirms, as much as a one-woman-show can do, the connectedness of all people. That makes the movie feel not only real, but important.
4 out of 5 stars.