Movie Review
What the Bleep Do We Know?


Director: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente
Cast: Marlee Matlin, Elaine Hendrix

hat the Bleep Do We Know? is a movie about quantum physics. Finally, you’re thinking, a movie about quantum physics! Well, it’s sort of a movie, in the sense that sequential images are projected on what may or not be a screen, depending on your faith in the ability of your senses to adequately represent what is and is not “real.”

Quantum physics, otherwise known as the science of getting your freakin’ mind blown, parallels things many of us discussed passionately during college, usually between humongous bong hits. Stoner: “Dude, so you’re saying that all of reality is, like, an illusion? And that the unconditional acceptance of our surroundings is, like, a dismissal of the inherent subjectivity of perception?” Other stoner: “Dude, keep it down. I’m trying to enjoy this drum circle.”

Even a deaf woman can't handle the horrors of a Creed concert.

It should go without saying that What the Bleep — a New Age-y trip-fest that has become something of a word-of-mouth hit in the last few months — would be better experienced after enjoying a bit of, uh, recreational chemistry, as it’s chock-full of mumbo-jumbo Philosophy 101 questions about trees falling in forests and the sounds they may or may not make. The answer, according to What the Bleep, is that the trees make no sound, unless they happen to fall within earshot of your hippie commune.

What the Bleep begins as an intriguing meditation on the nature of reality. It loosely narrates the spiritual odyssey of Amanda, a deaf photographer, played by Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, known for her role in Children of a Lesser God, and also for playing Jerry’s lip-reading girlfriend in a classic “Seinfeld” episode. Her story mingles with corny special effects and commentary on matters of presumably great philosophical import, by an assortment of talking heads whose credentials aren’t revealed till the end. Most of them have Ph.D.s in ridiculously complicated subjects. One of them, it turns out, is channeling a 35,000-year-old mystic named Ramtha. The soundtrack could’ve used more Enya.

The film spends its first 30 or 40 minutes plunging energetically the rabbit hole we call consciousness, raising questions, highlighting concepts and generally doing wonderful things to your brain. But as quickly as it endears itself, What the Bleep becomes a bore. That’s probably because the subject is ill-suited to a narrative film. The Matrix touched on many of these issues as well, but that was during interruptions in all the kicking, the shooting and the wearing of awesome leather. After What the Bleep’s filmmakers — Mark Vicente, Betsy Chasse and William Arntz — establish their thesis (reality is an illusion; you can change it if you want), there’s really nowhere to go.


So the last two-thirds of What the Bleep bounces around from subject to subject — molecular biology, addiction, sexual arousal, emotion and, eventually, religion — addressing many things peripherally but few things substantially. It would be mean to just assume that everyone involved with this movie is on drugs, but, according to pamphlets I’ve read, all the warning signs are here: lack of focus, conflicting messages, visual overindulgence, reliance in 35,000-year-old mystics, etc. Ultimately, it comes across as a less-entertaining version of I (Heart) Huckabees, part educational science video, part feel-good self-help special. It tries to say everything, ends up breezing through some interesting topics and consequently leaves the viewer more confused than enlightened.

Getting back to the drugs, most people who smoke pot as teenagers tend to quit by their early to mid twenties. This is because the nightly routine of doping yourself into comfortable oblivion and spending hours staring blankly at your hands, “Adult Swim” cartoons and the Papa John’s delivery menu does little to fill the void. Trains of thought common to the drug culture are alternately fascinating and terrifying, and accepting them, whether individually or collectively, does little to change the human experience.

I felt the same way about the ideas presented in What the Bleep. It tangentially explores the mind’s potential power to alter reality. By accepting the permeability of sensory perception and doing other various hippie bullshit, I should, according to the film theoretically be able to change reality to my liking. The filmmakers fail to give specifics, but nevertheless I went home and concentrated really, really hard before falling asleep. I’m sad to report I didn’t gain the ability to shoot lasers out of my eyes, and I failed to wake up next to Eliza Dushku.

Now, where did I put my blue pills?

By: Troy Reimink

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Posted 12/04/2004 - 12:32:37 PM by MacGee:
 Good piece of criticism, Troy: yet another film that pretends to examine reality and empower the viewer - but instead serves up a crappy coctail of cod-eastern philosophy and saturday morning infomercial. Interested parties are directed to the review over on The Skeptics Society webpage for another view on the film: MacGee
Posted 12/05/2004 - 08:10:51 PM by Tachikoma:
 But don't diss drum circles! I am from Vancouver and shit!
Posted 12/06/2004 - 03:54:22 PM by dleone:
 This was not a very good movie, for most of the reasons in this review. However, what I hope doesn't happen is that it causes massive eye-rolling directed at anyone who starts talking about the implications of quantum mechanics - which the film does actually address pretty well. The main problem w/What the Bleep is that short of downloading about 100 years of math and physics into the brains of people watching (a la The Matrix!), it would be hard to impart the whole "mind over matter" thing without coming across as a drum circle pixie. The other thing about this movie is that I don't recall it mentioning the fact that not all physicists actually agree with the parallel minds and parallel worlds stuff, or the notion that what you believe affects what "is". But no one can really prove one way or the other yet, so enjoy!
Posted 12/26/2004 - 10:55:46 AM by Neurofluoro:
 The reason you cannot shoot lasers out of your eyes or woke up next to Eliza Dushku is that changing reality is neither instantaneous nor effortless, and it is far from being anything like magic. I have not seen the film, but my impression of both fans of the film and it's opponents (is that an appropriate term?) are a bit simplistic in their argumentation. You change reality by working hard for it. To gather the energy to work hard for a thing, an internal change needs to preceed the physical manifestation of the work. Be it a new car, waking up next to a supermodel or shooting lasers. For the first you need to get a good-paying job, for the second you need to befriend the model, for the third you need to do serious amounts of research in physics, medicine, biology, technology etc. Maybe you are right, and everyone involved in the film are on drugs, but don't let a few (or actually, far too many) fluff-heads ruin it for you. There are techniques to change the way you percieve the world, and they work within physical limits. More accurately, within neurological/neurochemical and psychological limits. Maybe you cannot summon a bar of gold out of thin air, but you might be able to work yourself out of a depression, quit overeating, become successful at whatever you would like to do (beginning to sound like a motivational speaker here). I hope this makes sense. Both sides of this matter aggravate me. Long live the golden middle-way!
Posted 01/09/2005 - 12:07:03 AM by grazer:
 This film is ludicrous if for no other reason than that it attempts to apply theories of micro phenomena, quantum mechanics, to macro phenomena. The fact that a sub-atomic particle may appear to be going in and out of existence does not mean that a human body or a planet is doing the same thing. Even more annoying is the conflation of mysticism with the quantum field. The effort to validate mystical experiences with scientific theory is the best evidence of the film's own critique of the attachment to materialism. All of the producers and writers, along with some of the scientists, involved in this film are students of Ramtha, a "channeled" entity featured in the film but not identified until the end. Talk about your observer effect!
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