A riveting search for an elusive father

Mark Oliver Everett is a bona fide rock star and the son of a physicist, Hugh Everett III, who was also father to the theory of multiple worlds. The scientist died when the son was 19; for Mark (who flunked out of ninth-grade algebra), Hugh Everett became even more of a mystery than the formulas he left behind. And when Mark set out to understand his father, and his father’s work, he took a camera crew along with him.

The resulting BBC4 documentary — which makes its American debut on PBS next Tuesday — is a tearjerker that doubles as an excellent primer on quantum theory. The science is fascinating. The structure is simple (Mark retraces his father’s career, meeting friends and colleagues and conducting experiments designed to illustrate his father’s ideas). But the story itself becomes more complex, and more compelling, as we learn more about the Everett clan. (“In her suicide note, she wrote that she was going off to meet her father in a parallel universe,” Mark says, recalling his late sister, Liz; Mark also survived his mother, who died of cancer in 1998, and his cousin Jennifer, who was a stewardess on the 9/11 Flight 77.) Mark’s father never received the recognition he desired, kept the world at arm’s length, and died of a heart attack at the age of 51 (Mark discovered the body). “If he’d had the emotional vocabulary, he’d have been very, very pleased with what you did with your music,” a friend of his tells Mark. But if Hugh Everett was right — that every possibility does, in fact, play out in any number of parallel universes — then somewhere out there, he is.

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