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A review of What the Bleep Do We Know

click to enlarge Marlee Maitlin in What the Bleep Do We Know .
  • Marlee Maitlin in What the Bleep Do We Know .

What the Bleep Do We Know (Not Rated)
Lord of the Wind Films

What the Bleep Do We Know defies genre categorization as it uses documentary, narrative and experimental film technique to bring quantum physics to the people. Yes, that's right: Get ready for Star Wars-styled ticket lines 'cause they've finally (finally!) made a movie about quantum physics.

It's not fun for the whole family, but at its best it flirts with the sort of intellectual calisthenics that almost cause your brain to spasm. There are many aspects to What the Bleep Do We Know that deserve slamming, but a lack of ambition is certainly not one of them. Co-directed by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente, it is a film about ideas, big ideas.

It's so big that a panel of 14 physicists and professional mystics are deployed to pontificate about the limits of human consciousness, the nature of God, and our infinite potential to create our realty. The questions are posed repeatedly and it's arguably because they're so heavy that one serving won't cut it. For instance, does our mental conditioning prevent us from seeing into another reality? Does this conditioning render us with feelings of helplessness to change our predicaments? What effects does our individual consciousness have on reality both past and present? (Never asked is why filmic representations of all things extrasensory still look like outtakes from the movie Tron!)

Oddly enough, none of these talking experts are identified until the end of the film, so one is never sure how to assess the merits of their vague pronouncements. Do they have a Ph.D.s from the University of Oregon, or are they operatives of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a billionaire guru who believes that only a vanguard of elite meditators can bring world peace?

You may wind up asking, Who are these people and why should I listen to them? This is a diversion the filmmakers could have largely avoided with a few superimposed titles.

The film's scant storyline is used to illustrate the ideas proffered by the physicists/mystics. It concerns Amanda (Marlee Maitlin of Children of a Lesser God fame) a photographer whose life is in a state of spiritual crisis. la Alice in Wonderland, Amanda's day-to-day doings offer a buffet of planes of consciousness, including everything from a lecture on wave theory by a basketball playing preteen to a touchy-feely bout of self-love and scrub in the bathtub.

When a plot is used solely as a vehicle for ideas, it often winds up feeling exactly like what it is: a pedagogical artifice. When Amanda is photographing a wedding and animated Shrek-ish critters start singing Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" to illustrate the mental addiction that is our sexuality, we yearn for a speedy return to the arsenal of talking heads. Many of the dramatic "scenes" in What the Bleep feel like those unwatchable historic re-enactments known to the History Channel and far too many "educational" films.

Even though its spiritual message is not sponsored by any particular organization, as it progresses the film's tone becomes increasingly preachy. What starts out as an earnest explication of difficult ideas, like whether matter is solid or how our brains conflate between memories and reality, devolves into New Age-like sermonizing about how "God is within us" and that there is no fixed right and wrong.

What The Bleep Do We Know is easier to dismiss than it is to even remotely understand. But no amount of genre fusion or originality of subject matter makes this movie good. At times it's rendered nearly unwatchable as Maitlin slowly, ponderously walks the streets of Portland pondering her infinite realities.

With so many realities, I'm delighted to imagine my potential to watch another movie ...

-- John Dicker

Kimball's Twin Peak

  • A review of What the Bleep Do We Know

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