(Note: This is not a new piece of writing. I went back and dug it up after reading Lainey's thoughtful post on "The Secret" and reading a comment in which this film was mentioned. I repost because if I can spare even one person the excruciating experience of viewing this pretentious, ludicrous, incoherent P.O.S., my life will not have been in vain.)
Ok. I think I've got it. Happy people are healthy people. Quantum physics and metaphysics have something to do with each other, at least according to neohippie types who work for Maharishi University. or channel a spirit being named Ramtha. And Marlee Matlin is desperate for work.
"What The *%&$^ Do We Know?" wants to be a profound, life-changing film. But then it goes and does things like cast a videogame-ish red blob (let's call him Mister Hormone) in a Robert Palmer-esque "Addicted to Love" video.
It wants to be an intellectual and scientific exploration of Big Questions, like "Is There A God?" But then it smacks you in the face with inexplicable scenes like Marlee squeezing toothpaste on her bathroom mirror screaming "I hate you." (What the &%^#@ was that?)
It wants to dabble in phenomenology, ontology, epistemology, and be taken seriously. But then it implies that if we could all just change how we think and live in an emotional isolation tank, we'd never ever get old, and we'd never ever die. (Because aging is, like, you know, a cellular thing, and cellular things are small, and small things have particles, and particles don't really exist, at least not in one place at one time, so time is an illusion, and age is a function of time, which doesn't exist. )
My Puny Human Brain Cannot Conceive Of The Truth...
"What The Bleep Do We Know? is part advocacy (although what exactly it's advocating remains a mystery to me), part sophomore health class filmstrip (with better special effects), part interview compilation (with a few folks who seem to have recently escaped earth's orbit), and part Leonard Nimoy's classically kitschy 70s series "In Search Of..."
This, er, documentary (a term I shall apply loosely, because hey, all matter is mostly empty space anyway, so it's gotta be loose, right?) tries hard. What Marlee Matlin has to do with it all? Less than clear. But sure as I'm sitting here (wait, am I really sitting here? Aren't my electrons zinging in and out of existence into another universe?) there she is, the Oscar Winner, gamely delivering her lines, shooting baskets with an other-dimensional inner city kid and photos at a wedding full of lecherous men. Meanwhile, her life crises are explained (sort of) by a series of talking heads with one thing in common; a penchant for using multisyllabic terms to avoid actually saying anything sensible.
Chemical clouds, cellular memory, tendencies/probabilities, neurons...frustrated viewers who want a more coherent, cogent exploration of the same themes would do well to find a copy of the 1990 film Mindwalk, which transforms many of the same principles into a three-way dialectical conversation based on the philosophical work of Fritjof Capra (sort of "My Dinner With Fritjof").
Who Are You, And Why Should I Listen To A Word You Say?
Now, call me picky, but back where I come from, when heads start talking in a documentary, they are promptly and properly identified. After all, audiences generally like to know the credentials of the "experts" they're being asked to trust for two hours, and I've never seen a film that flouted this convention--until "What the Bleep."
If you stay (awake) through the end credits, you'll figure out why. The most quoted "scientist" in this film turns out to be...wait for it...a chiropractor. Sitting in front of a fire. Not that there's anything wrong with chiropractors. Or fires. Heck, I like a good neck cracking as much as the next girl. But. Still.
Yet another head sits in front of books; it teaches (?) at Maharishi International University, an institution founded by the Beatles' guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for the purpose of advancing the cause of Transcendental Meditation (and, one might speculate, the accumulation of cash in the Maharishi's coffers).
Yet another head sits in front of cacti; I don't recall where he teaches, or claims to.
But the most impressive head of all (really!) is "Ramtha" (credited as "Himself" at the end of the film). Who, exactly, is Ramtha? "Ramtha the Enlightened One, Lord of the Wind, lived once as a human being 35,000 years ago in the long-gone continent of Lemuria...in that lifetime he addressed the great questions about human existence and the meaning of life...When he decided to finally leave this world he ascended in front of his people, which numbered two million, promising them he would return. Remnants of his life and teachings exist in various archaeological artifacts from India and Egypt, as well as ancient Hindu literature." (For all this and the opportunity to buy his Autobiography, Google up Ramtha and JZ.)
For this film, Ramtha seems to have borrowed a head to do his talking from JZ Knight, a psychic who channels him. (Note to self: Check to see if JZ Knight and Tammy Faye Bakker have ever been sighted in the same room; possible they are same person...)
One of my grad school professors--I apologize, I don't remember which one--once insisted that quantum physics should never, EVER be invoked outside of a particle physics classroom. In retrospect, s/he was right.
It's hard to fault some of the general feelgood new-agey conclusions of the film.
- Don't live your life a pissed-off emotional mess; it'll hurt you.
- Eat right, exercise, and don't get addicted to anything. (The entire lexicon of "Addiction," as used in this film, is a bit shaky, but that's another topic entirely.)
- The mind can hurt the body; it can also help to heal the body.
But these are things that most people, no matter what long-dead ascended master they revere, already believe. Where's the life transformation in that?
Final verdict: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and a little knowledge plus a 35,000-year-old lemurian ascended master is a recipe for bad late-night television. Which is precisely where this film will doubtless one day find a permanent home.