Liu Xing arrives at a big Western university to study the origins of the universe. He finds other Chinese students to share a cheap apartment with him, and flirts with an attractive American girl who works in a local tea shop. When the head of the department, Jacob Reiser, welcomes Liu Xing into his select cosmology group, it seems that he has a bright future in American science. At an orientation for foreigners sponsored by a local church, Joanna Silver, a wealthy patron of the university, notices the earnest student. An unspoken bond forms between them. Liu Xing becomes Reiser's protégé, accompanying him to a prestigious conference where he makes an impressive debut. He is drawn to the study of dark matter, an unseen substance that shapes the universe, but it soon becomes clear that his developing theories threaten Reiser's conflicting theories and well-established studies. Excited by the possibility of a breakthrough, Liu Xing is deaf to warnings that he must pay his dues. When he is eclipsed by Laurence, a more dutiful Chinese student, Liu Xing goes behind Reiser's back to publish his discoveries. When the article draws ire instead of accolades, he turns to Joanna, who naively encourages him on his collision course. But in the end, his dissertation is rejected, and the girl in the tea shop brushes him off. Left alone with his shattered dreams, he explodes in a final act of violence.
Meryl Streep, Liu Ye, Aidan Quinn, Blair Brown, Sina Amedson, Erick Avari, Boris McGiver, Jodi Russell, Joe Grifasi, Bill Irwin, Taylor Schilling, Lloyd Suh, He Yu, Chi Peng, Wang Yonggui, Tsao Lei, Shan Jing, Li Bo, Zhang Hui, Rob Campbell, Qian Yi, John Rothman, Hong Ying, Zeng Hui