August 28, 2004


Halfway through watching What the #$*! Do We Know?!, I realized I was seeing a spritual recruitment film.

The movie promulgates a worldview based on eastern mysticism and quantum mechanics through a combination of talking head interviews, a loose narrative starring Marlee Matlin and CGI.

It was a really uncomfortable movie going experience. I'd been very petulant about going to see it in the first place and I realized that leaving in the middle would definitely cross the melodrama threshold. But still - I was squirmy, largely because I agreed with what was being said, but was dying at the way in which it was said.

Part educational filmstrip and part instructional video, the movie posits answers to the mysteries of life by invoking precepts such as be here now, visualize peace, see the divinity within and so on. These ideas are presented in short soundbytes from talking heads and go largely uncontextualized. (Well, the narrative part of the movie tries to shoulder some of the load here. But it's like the story in a health class video - it is slave to the message. Also, this whole part really sucks eggs from an execution standpoint.) As a result, these ideas come off as slogans or tips for happy living rather than what I feel they're meant to be - pointers to a transcendent truth.

The filmmakers make matters worse by poorly contextualizing these spiritual ideas in the study of modern physics. Throughout the movie, quantum mechanics is invoked as a talisman to bridge the gap between mysticism and reality. On the whole, this is, again, a line of thought to which I'm very sympathethic having really dug on Fritjof Capra's whole deal. But the Tao of Physics puts a lot of effort establishing the traditions of both eastern spirituality and western physics - as such the associations are rich and meaningful. In What the Bleep, they are completely superficial.

Of course, Fritjof had a whole book - maybe this stuff just can't be done in a movie. I don't think that's actually the case. Instead, I feel the film fails because it ends up flying over the propaganda line.

But, then again, Fahrenheit 9/11 was a propaganda film and I enjoyed it as such. What the Bleep is, similarly, an activist movie but the whole thing ends up eating itself precisely because of the spiritual truths it attemps to convey. The movie hammers away with soundbytes and hand wave-y science until the tone is one of pure dogma - which is just an awful thing to do to a philosophy that is completely un-dogmatic.

This post has been cross-posted to Flicknut


Lane Collins said...

Sutter and I had a similar conversation immediately after walking in the door.

That movie made me extremely anxious, all because it just. wouldn't. stop. Every time I thought it was at the low point, it continued on unapologetically (for example, that horrible wedding scene with the painfully cheesy cell animations), and I too was squirming in agony. There were parts that I had to simply hide my face in my hand and try not to become any more frustrated than I already was.

And perhaps the most painful of all was the extension of the movie during the credits. Kicking me when I'm down.

Laurellyn said...

I really enjoyed your review of the film the critic at Entertainment Weekly described as "the world's first New Age quantum-physics feel-good infomercial" (wonderful description). I can't help feeling that the critic's response to the film said more about him than it did about the film, though -- I think the talking heads, and the admittedly often ludicrous dramatic parts and CGI, pushed some of his buttons BIG TIME. So what's wrong with having your buttons pushed, particularly if it's an educational experience? That's what's sometimes called the process of ENLIGHTENMENT, folks!

Anyway, my hat's off to Lemon.Nut, or it would be if I wore a hat. I just saw "Bleep" for the FIRST time this afternoon, and although it made me a little uncomfortable, not to say confused, for about the first half hour or so, by the time we got to the last half hour, I was ready to forgive its inconsistencies and awkwardness. Lemon.Nut is right, of course, that the movie, although its message is cool, is not that cool in its presentation. I just chalked that up to the inexperience of the filmmakers and the fact that professionals would never have risked their money and reputations making this kind of movie.

In spite of all that, I have to say that I wouldn't have missed it for the world, and I also should mention that it's very seldom you leave a theater in the middle of the afternoon to find small groups of people in the hall holding animated discussions because they're having too much fun dissecting the film to head for their cars! I agree the film could have done a better job of explaining the quantum physics underpinnings, but I think it was more important to cut to the chase -- i.e. "What does all this actually MEAN in terms of my life and how I live it?" I just hope some of us who've gotten our minds blown over the past couple of months by this movie can move on to actually put the theory into practice. If enough of us do that, maybe we could start cleaning up the MESS we're all in on this planet!

Willie said...

From my point of view I think it is about time something like this has a major release! I say it's better to have a hokey movie sending out-of-the-box information than nothing at all! In this day where the ruling majority of non-progressives tremble behind old ways of thinking, it brings an "uncomfortable" plausibility of the blending of science and (dare I say) spirituality. I agree it could have been done a whole lot better but I just don't think it serves any purpose to blast the only thing out there at this level! It wasn't a true condemnation I just read but I think more people need to be nudged to see it, perhaps with the "beware of cheesiness" warning.

I don't see how this quantum physics lesson could have been presented without a nod to the spiritual. These are basically inseparable notions. I didn't see it as recruitment but since eastern mysticism, and the like, have the closest ties to quantum physics of all the world religions it makes perfect sense.

Even with its silliness, which was a good attempt to make difficult subject matter easier on the masses, I am ecstatic that this film was released. It has us talking, and more importantly...thinking!