If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet. - Niels Bohr

How often is it you find a movie focusing on quantum mechanics playing in a movie theater? Better yet, how often is a movie about quantum mechanics played in a theater that targets an age range from teenagers, to those in their twilight years? Well, the recently released independent film What the BLEEP Do We Know!? (it really is “BLEEP”) is just such a film.

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of being. - Carl Jung

As described on the movie’s website, What the BLEEP Do We Know!? is a film released to satisfy the cinematic appetites of the “Cultural Creatives” out there, those who are sick of the mindless violence put forth in the cliché action films, and the impossible, fake romance of “chick flicks,” that have become a mainstay in the American theater going experience. Marketed as “Enlightened Entertainment,” this movie promises to act as a catalyst to new ideas and means of thought, as they pertain to our existence, from a personal perspective, covering emotions as they are controlled by peptides and hormones, to our belief and relationship with God.

To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit. - Stephen Hawking

The movie starts in a way similar to that of a History Channel, or Discovery Channel documentary segment, with experts and professors qualified to speak about the topic of interest providing snippets of information, to hook the viewers on the subject. This format serves as the bulk of the film. However, to make it a little more interesting, there’s a side plot, complete with characters and conflicts that parallel the content being narrated. The story section of the film follows Amanda, a deaf, professional photographer, as she struggles with recent marital problems, stress at work, and anxiety attacks. Like I said before, to get an idea of how this all meshes together, picture a History Channel program, with experts narrating a dramatized situation. Throughout the movie, Amanda experiences situations that help to explain the concepts that were just mentioned by scientists and professors. For example, to visually illustrate the stripped down, and simplified idea of quantum mechanics, Amanda plays basketball with a young kid. The idea of uncertainty is addressed when Amanda has her back turned to the child bouncing the ball, where she can’t be sure of where the ball is being bounced. That is, until she turns around, and is then “sure” of where to ball is, because she can see it. There’s even a bit of humor thrown into the mix, for while Amanda is playing basketball, the kid is reiterating the quantum mechanics of the scenario, posing Matrix-esque questions like “how far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?” More than anything else, though, this movie focuses on the importance of human consciousness, and the acceptance of certain beliefs or ideas for them to become applicable in everyday life.

The visible world is the invisible organization of energy. - Physicist Heinz Pagels

As for the content, at times, it is a little on the dense side, with idea after idea being presented in a way that makes it hard to keep track of it all. Among the subjects covered are: what is real, concerning what our eyes see, and what our brain remembers, quantum mechanics, hormones and peptide generation, addictions (both substance and emotional), positive thinking, specifically concerning the consciousness of water, programmed or conditioned responses to specific social situations, self image and self worth, and the existence and belief in God. To aid in the explanation of these ideas, there are many computer generated animation sequences, ranging from the neural pathways of the brain, to little flubber-like blobs that represent hormone controlled emotional responses. For the most part, the information presented, while intimidating on the surface, is prepared and packaged in a very digestible manner that can be comprehended by most people.

Cast:

Nearly the whole movie takes place at various locales in or around the Portland, Oregon area, from the light rail station in downtown Hillsboro, Oregon, to the tunnel underneath the Oregon Zoo. There are also many shots of the Portland skyline, taken at different times of the day, placed throughout the movie, that are nothing short of breathtaking. There’s even a section of the movie that takes place in Portland’s Bagdad Theater. This fact is especially cool if you happen to watch the movie in the Bagdad Theater (one of the few locations it is being shown). I saw this movie without really knowing what it was about, or what kind of content to expect, but must say that I was pleasantly surprised. There were just so many interesting ideas brought forth, that I hadn’t taken the least bit of time to explore before watching this. I can’t really say much more without ruining the movie. Take it from me though, see this movie; it is well worth your time and money.

The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced. - Aart Van Der Leeuw

Sources: http://www.whatthebleep.biz Watching the Movie

"The question is, is this movie promoting a cult? The only thing we're interested in from a marketing perspective is creating a cult status for the film."
- Meyer Gottlieb, Samuel Goldwyn Films 1

Major Release: September 8, 2004 (US)
Directed by: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente
Distributed by: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Running length: 111 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

A quick review, for the impatient:

What the #$*! Do We Know?! is a two-hour New Age cult infomercial disguised as an instructive documentary on physics. 0 stars. AVOID IT LIKE AMWAY.

A longer review, for the curious:

THIS JUST IN: Reality and Perception involved in horrible collision. Film at 11... I caught a late night showing of this film on Friday, after hearing a fairly glowing review on a local NPR program called Stateside with Charity Nebbe. The guest critic described the movie as "a Quantum Parable", an indie documentary attempting to explain Quantum Physics in a way that relates to everyday life, apparently by interweaving a traditional "talking heads" documentary with a narrative illustrating the phenomena being described. It even had good actors, special effects, the whole bit.

Sounds neat, eh? I thought so too. But trust me, when I've said in the past that I'm a fan of cult cinema, this is not what I had in mind. What I was expecting was The Matrix meets Michael Moore. What I got was an episode of Bill Nye The Science Guy tacked on to a framework of wacked-out utter lunacy.

The trouble with the film is that it's very slickly presented. Marlee Matlin is an Oscar-winning actress. The quirky visual effects and animation are first-rate and engaging. The commentators are charismatic and at some points even genuinely funny. So at first blush it might not occur to you that anything fishy is going on.

If you've seen a lot of documentaries, though, one thing you might notice right off is that none of these expert speakers are being properly identified, leaving you to wonder: Who the hell are these people? What are their credentials? In most documentaries, these basic questions are set aside within seconds of a person appearing on the screen. In What the Bleep, we are left hanging until the very end, where everyone is introduced all at once in an overwhelming jumble of names, degrees and universities.

Suspicious? Yes, you should be. The worst part about films like this, and strange cults in general, is that they're specifically designed to repulse any attempt at criticism. When the message is "Create your own reality and improve your life through positive thinking!", calling them out is bound to make you look like a jerk. But still, somebody has to say something.

So here it is straight: The movie starts off with a few so-so explanations of quantum theory. Then, somewhere around the halfway point, it slowly abandons all pretext of being about physics at all and wanders off into the high grass of pure mysticism, assuming (perhaps rightly) that most in the audience can't tell the difference. And since the filmmakers make no attempt to differentiate the serious scientists from the loonies, allow me to provide this handy reference guide.

None of this is disclosed anywhere in the movie.

The sad thing is that some of the people interviewed for the film are actually reputable scientists, and you get the feeling that most of them had no idea what they were really signing on for. At least one of them, Dr. David Albert of Columbia University, has spoken out publicly against the film and the way his footage had been edited, saying "Had I known that I would have been so radically misrepresented in the movie, I would certainly not have agreed to be filmed... I certainly do not subscribe to the 'Ramtha School on Enlightenment,' whatever that is!"

What the Bleep was originally released in a few select cities, all of them world-renowned lefty hotspots like Portland, Oregon (where the movie was filmed) and Berkeley, California, where the film was met with high praise and sold-out showings. Interest in the film rapidly spread nationwide, fueled in no small part by the astroturfing efforts of "Bleep Teams", street teams organized by Captured Light Industries (the film's producers) to host events and spread the word. In September 2004, the film gained a wider distribution deal, and was released in 60 art house theaters all over the USA.

Word of mouth seems to be travelling faster on this one than any kind of critical skepticism or reason. So, at the very least, let me be the first to heartily advise you not to see What the #$*! Do We Know?. Otherwise you may end up like I did, two hours and seven dollars later, asking yourself "What the #$*! was I thinking?"




1 - source: "'Bleep' of faith", an article by John Gorenfeld for Salon.com (http://www.salon.com/ent/feature/2004/09/16/bleep/)

See also the 1999 article in Wired Magazine that Gorenfeld references in his story:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.09/lenz.html

Additional sources: whatthebleep.com (the official website) and imdb

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