2 ½ stars (out of 4)
At long last, the self-help movie.
Actually, there's a great deal worth recommending about "What the Bleep Do We Know?" It's just that the film's promoters are claiming a little too loudly that the movie "will change your life," just as its creators fell victim to the questionable appeal of an ultra-gimmicky title.
In fact, this is a serious documentary-drama that seeks to do something very admirable: Explain the ways of quantum physics to us mortals. The history of the 20th Century is one in which this profound, impenetrable science changed our worldview and our world, making possible everything from trips to the moon to cell phones.
Complex and subtle, the ramifications of quantum physics are still known only to those with some knowledge of modern science. "Bleep" seeks to explore those ramifications, toss in a few more about cellular life and then draw conclusions about what all this means to personal behavior and--get ready--our notions of God.
That's a phenomenally tall order. But, while not perfect, while over-charged with hyperkinetic animation, a somewhat underdeveloped fictional drama and an overly loud volume, this is a pretty impressive stab at bringing everyday thought in line with the revolutionary implications of scientific discovery.
It plays a little like a PBS "Nova" installment on crystal meth. More than a dozen experts, most of them academics from top U.S. universities, are interviewed throughout and provide an introductory primer on quantum physics and cellular biology. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is a key component, although one minor flaw of the movie, charged with cramming in a lot of info, is that it never explains what that principle is.
German physicist Werner Heisenberg asserted in the 1920s that the very act of watching an interaction in the realm of subatomic particles alters that interaction. Our notions of observation and of an objective reality, in other words, are hideously oversimplified. "The path (of a subatomic particle) comes into existence only when we observe it," Heisenberg wrote.
From this conundrum at the heart of all matter, the movie offers a fascinating exploration of the puzzling, unknowable aspects of physics, not to mention metaphysics, and manages to tie it all to everything from a theory of unity right out of Eastern spiritualism to New Age advice about the hormonal role in bouts of everyday anxiety. Interspersed with the interviews is a sketchy story of a woman (Marlee Matlin) and the way her inner molecular world affects how she copes with an estranged husband and job pressures as a photographer.
While many will be scratching their heads throughout, the achievement of filmmakers William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente is that almost everybody is likely to find both new information and something to think about. The spiritual conclusions are debatable, and the moviemakers offer pop psychology that's both sketchy and too pat.
But "What the Bleep Do We Know?" is both modern science for dummies and a feisty extension of our ongoing religious debate.
"What the Bleep Do We Know?"
Directed by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente; screenplay by Arntz, Chasse and Matthew Hoffman; photographed by Vicente and David Bridges; edited by Jonathan Shaw; music by Christopher Franke; production design by Nava; produced by Arntz and Chasse. A Samuel Goldwyn Films release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:48. No MPAA rating .
Amanda - Marlee Matlin
Jennifer - Elaine Hendrix
Elliot - John Ross Bowie
Frank - Barrie Newman