DAU. String Theory

I first wrote here in 2015 about DAU, the unusual film project based to some extent on the life of Landau. Parts of the film first were shown in Paris early in 2019, and this past year started appearing on the DAU website. I’d been looking forward to seeing Gross, Yau, Rovelli and others in the film, so paid to watch one of the first parts, DAU. Degeneration, when it became available last year. It’s over six hours long, for a review, see here. I ended up doing a certain amount of fast-forwarding, was disappointed to only see Nikita Nekrasov and Dmitri Kaledin, none of the other math/physics world figures I had heard had participated.

DAU largely was funded by Russian oligarch Sergei Adoniev. For an excellent article discussing the project and its context in current Russian culture, see Sophie Pinkham’s article Nihilism for Oligarchs.

There wasn’t much physics in DAU. Degneration, but evidently it plays a significant role in other parts of the film. According to the DAU website,

Real-life scientists, who were able to continue with their research in the Institute, included: physicist Andrei Losev; mathematicians Dmitri Kaledin and Shing-Tung Yau; string theorist Nikita Nekrasov; Nobel-Prize winning physicist David Gross; neuroscientist James Fallon; and biochemist Luc Bigé. “One group was researching string theory and another researching quantum gravity. These groups hated each other. One stated there were 12 dimensions, the other claimed there were 24. The string theory group believed there couldn’t be 24 dimensions. The quantum gravity group believed that the other scientists were narrow-minded,” explained Khrzhanovskiy.

Now available is a part which seems to more centrally involve physics, DAU. String Theory, which is described as follows:

Nikita Nekrasov is a scientist, a theoretical physicist who studies our world and other possible worlds. He refuses to make a choice between mathematics and physics, between one woman and another, as he ponders the existence of the multi-universe. At scientific conferences, attended by eminent foreign scientists and a rising younger generation of physicists alike, Nekrasov gets carried away debating the beauty of string theory. He attempts to explain to all of his women – Katya, the librarian, Zoya, the scientific secretary, Svetalana, the head of department – about the theory of his own polygamy, and the possibility of having enough feelings to satisfy everyone.

Multiple universes have always been advertised with “in some other universe you’re dating Scarlett Johansson”, relating the idea to multiple partners in this universe is an innovation.

I haven’t yet watched DAU. String Theory, will likely find time for that soon. I’m worried that I’ll still not get to see Gross, Yau, Rovelli and others though, and lack the time and energy to look through all the other parts of the film. I’d like to crowd-source a solution to this problem: if anyone watching these things can let the rest of us know in which parts (at what times) well-known math/physics personalities appear, that would be greatly appreciated.

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9 Responses to DAU. String Theory

  1. Alessandro Strumia says:

    In case you watch the film, please let me know if somebody impersonated the academic mob that in 1937 attacked in this way their colleagues in the Landau UPTI institute who got accidentally involved in Stalinist purges:

    “Vile agents of fascism, Trotskyist-Bukharinist spies and saboteurs … Enemies penetrated among physicists, carrying out espionage and sabotage assignments in our research institutes … Soviet physicists more closely unite around the Communist party and Soviet government, around our great leader Comrade Stalin”. (Source: https://arxiv.org/abs/1508.03578, page 22)

  2. Julie says:

    Gross and Verlinde appear at ~56 min.

    You can watch free at

    Although its in Russian, the relevant parts are in English.

    The protagonist mostly speaks to his women. I can’t even start to explain all the things that are wrong with it. Haven’t expected anything else from a production by a Russian oligarch though.

  3. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks! For me though the site you link to gives an error
    “Video blocked at the request of the copyright holder”
    At some point I’ll invest the \$3 to pay to watch this.

  4. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    I’m a little leary, in spite the modest investment. The Degeneration review makes the project sound like a mashup of David Cronenberg and Seymore Butts on PCP. That said, I’m not altogether unsympathetic to the notion of slogging through to see what such luminaries could possibly be doing as characters in such a production. Julie, is it anything interesting, at least?

  5. Nikolas Claussen says:

    I went to visit the DAU exhibition when it was on show in Paris almost two years ago; it is my impression that the whole thing is basically a fraud, or at least, behind all the hype, pretty hollow. When I arrived at the exhibition, a friend and I were refused entry on account of an invalid reservation number although we had bought the tickets from an authorized seller – never saw my money again. Two other friends who had bought tickets elsewhere did manage to see the exhibition which was rather underwhelming, resembling a collection of pop-up bars (you could get drunk, at least) with a few shock elements (e.g. pornographic films). In different rooms, various, mostly unrelated film snippets were shown and there were a few actors wandering through the corridors. Although booked out according to the website, most rooms where conspicuously empty. No comparison to the kind of immersive, concept-art exhibitions you can see at the Palais de Tokyo, for example.

  6. Peter Woit says:

    DAU. String Theory sounds a bit more promising than DAU. Degeneration, the one I saw and that most of the reviews are about. For one thing, DAU. String Theory is less than half as long, for another, Julie reports that string theory celebrities are in it, unlike DAU. Degeneration, where all you get is Nekrasov.

    The reviews of DAU. Degeneration are also somewhat misleading in promising pornography, violence and other outrageous conduct. From what I remember it was mostly long sequences of murkily lit scenes of people talking and not much happening. Long scenes of people drinking and behaving badly. If you’re hoping for David Cronenberg you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of Dogme film-making, you might be interested. A lot of the scandal revolves around reports that the non-professional actors were coerced into participating in some of the sexual behavior and drunken violence that one sees on-screen. As a spectator though one can’t tell what the truth of that might be.

  7. Julie says:

    To be honest, I didn’t had the patience to watch it all. The twitching of a male ego.

    There are pictures of physicists in dark suits before black boards, wearing hats, walking the streets, Gross smoking a cigar, sitting together in their trousers with braces, drinking alkohol – Yau and Rovelli sit at the table, where young women serve food and drinks. Later some slow dancing.
    Nekrassov calles himself a polygamist – multiple disciplines (physics and math), multiple countries, cities, and – of course – multiple wives. The main message: why should I choose anything (anyone), if I can have it (them) all. Which is a rather typical stringy message which has brought much damage to the perception of this community (see e.g. B. Greene, the main prophet).

    Low Math, Meekly Interacting, no, not really. But that depends of course on your general degree of enthusiasm for a nerdy guy who is uncovering the very hard and important secrets of the universe and his twitching ego. And since it’s ought to be a piece of art, the interest is to be found in the eye of the beholder, right?

  8. Alex says:

    DAU is a bad project. It was funded by money stolen from russian people.
    Its screenplay is made to denigrade human dignity.
    And “DAU. Degeneration” specially features russian neo-nazi Maxim Martsinkevich (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxim_Martsinkevich ).

  9. D. K. says:

    it’s a macho project that unwillingly uncovers the backwarded macho mentality within math and physics and it is not even in any sense irony. Painful.

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