You walk out of “The Most Unknown” knowing a little more than you did, and with the sense there’s so much more you don’t. It’s a mystifying feeling, and a good reason to see this documentary that extols the wonders of science and of all that’s yet to discover.
The film begins deep underground as Jennifer Macalady, an American geomicrobiologist, explores simple life-forms found in the Frasassi Caves in Italy. As part of the documentary’s plan, she travels to visit a scientist she has never met, who studies a discipline she is unfamiliar with — Davide D’Angelo, an Italian physicist researching dark matter — to discuss some of his work and how their fields may overlap.
Mr. D’Angelo then goes to call on Axel Cleeremans, a Belgian professor of cognitive psychology, who later travels to see yet another researcher. The meetings continue, like a “La Ronde” of intellectuals, until we hear from nine scientists in fields including astronomy and neuroscience.
It’s a clever idea, and the director, Ian Cheney, captures several nice moments, particularly when the scientists show us their less serious sides. Yet there are drawbacks — it’s tough to get a simple grasp of, say, brain physiology or microbial evolution when each segment lasts 10 or so minutes. And the scientists, while brilliant in their fields, are often less skilled as interviewers.
“The Most Unknown” works best as inspiration to delve deeper into these disciplines, and as a celebration of science. And when the film comes up short, it still functions like an intriguing experiment: It doesn’t have to be entirely successful for you to learn something.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes.