The Universal Theory

The Universal Theory (Die Theorie von Allen) poster

It has long been a tool of writers to cloak a difficult truth in fiction, to slip past censors alert to sensitive topics, to avoid litigation, or to draw a reader into the experience of something which would be otherwise impenetrable if presented as a lecture, and so it was when Doctor Johannes Leinert published Die Theorie von Allen (The Universal Theory), presumed to be a science fiction novel but which he claimed was a document of the actual events he had experienced twelve years.

A scientific congress in the Swiss Alps in the spring of 1962 which he attended with his doctoral advisor, Doctor Julius Strathen, on the train to their destination they shared dinner with Professor Heinrich Blumberg, a very different personality actively interested in Leinert’s thesis which Strathen dismissed as “probabilistic drivel” and “esoteric babble,” radical theories whose outlandish proposals were borne out by the inexplicable events which took place at the conference and on the surrounding mountain tracks.

The Universal Theory (Die Theorie von Allen); Johannes Leinert (Jan Bülow) finds encouragement for his ideas from Professor Heinrich Blumberg (Gottfried Breitfuss).

Shot in the snowbound Alps with only a brief prelude of faded VHS colour of the 1974 television show where Leinert (Jan Bülow) perceived the interviewer’s questions as mockery and stormed out, the crisp monochrome of The Universal Theory is from the realm of classical physics, positive or negative, one or zero, a world built upon indivisible opposing constants, yet the strange weather above which spins the clouds into threads and the secrets hidden under the mountain tell a different story.

Directed by Timm Kröger from a screenplay co-written with Roderick Warich, Hanns Zischler is stern Strathen and Gottfried Breitfuss is jovial Blumberg while Olivia Ross is requisite femme fatale Karin Hönig, pianist of the hotel jazz band who entrances Leinert but who has secrets of her own, the intellectual ideas of the conference taking place under the shadow of the war, the holocaust, suspicions of collaboration and of course the work of Oppenheimer which ended it all but opened the door to new possibilities previously inconceivable.

The Universal Theory (Die Theorie von Allen); seeking answers for fundamental scientific questions, Johannes Leinert (Jan Bülow) finds questions everywhere he looks.

A murder mystery of multiple identities with aspects of film noir and expressionism driven by post-war paranoia, academic ambition and rivalry and the search for truth, in the flickering candlelight of the deserted church where Leinert takes shelter from the storm and first meets Hönig The Universal Theory looks like nothing so much as a Universal horror of the thirties, while Diego Ramos Rodríguez’ soundtrack jumps states like an energised electron, classical symphony mutating into fifties pulp science fiction.

Perhaps slightly overlong at almost two hours – a film about a doctoral thesis should not necessarily feel as long as the study and research undertaken – The Universal Theory does not offer answers so much as suggestions which allow a hypothesis to be drawn, thoughts guided by reports of cosmic rays impacting uranium ore in the mines causing strange reactions, a superposition of ideas which Leinert struggles to reconcile, a man lost in the darkened tunnels of his mind seeking the light doomed by his inability to escape the past.

The Glasgow Film Festival continues until Sunday 10th March

The Universal Theory (Die Theorie von Allen); the storms over the Alps are triggered by the same strange atmospheric disturbances which awaken the dark mines below.



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