'MindWalk' plods awkwardly through philosophies of physics and the universe


November 13, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Finally, a movie that has the guts to rip the veil of evil off the magotty, flaccid, putrid underbelly of . . . Cartesian mechanics!

I like a movie that takes a tough stand on 16th century French philosophy and isn't afraid to call Rene Descartes a quark! Derived from a New Age bible, "The Turning Point" by Fritjof Capra, "MindWalk," opening today at the Senator, makes a lame stab at "dramatizing" some recondite perceptual conflicts. But it's not a movie, it's a session of hectoring: It ends up, predictably, like a guru with bad breath who also spits when he talks and will not get out of your face.

Now with, say, Cher, Pee-wee Herman and Wings Hauser, such an enterprise might survive for a bit on the simple thrust of its outlandish folly, but with three hand-wringingly earnest types such as Sam Waterston, John Heard and Liv Ullmann, who looks these days as if she's just stepped out of the Black Forest after a tangy repast of Hansel-und-Gretl stew, the thing knocks you comatose before the second reel.

The crackpot plot has Waterston as a Democratic senator who has just failed in his bid for the White House, possibly because he looks too much like Abe Lincoln; depressed, he journeys to France to visit an old college friend, writer Heard. The two of them swiftly depart for the fabled gables of Mont St. Michel, where they encounter smug know-it-all Ullmann who proceeds to crush them into curdled acquiescence with a verbal blitzkrieg derived, in great glistening undigestible gobbits, from the "Turning Point" ur-text.

To call the film "dramatic" is to lie: Drama implies conflict and there's no conflict at all in "MindWalk." The fatuous Waterston throws a few sissy jabs at the body-punching Ullmann before, by minute 13 of the film's 120 minutes, he yields entirely. It's not a mindwalk, it's a cakewalk.

The crux of the argument -- the crux of the "position," that is, since the opposing ideas are never given any except the most sophistic expression -- is that in choosing the machine as the metaphor for the universe, that mad fool Descartes committed Perceptual Error No. 1, and doomed us to our current mess. If we see the universe as a machine, we will believe that parts may be replaced or repaired, but that the whole thing will keep chugging away.

The movie instead insists on a holistic approach to the phenomenon of the universe, a metaphor derived from subatomic particle physics, where the tiny flecks of matter are known to act in a somewhat quizzical manner. Yes, it's another subatomic particle physics movie!

From this, the argument leaps to an endorsement of systems theory, by which all things under the sun are united in a skein of matter and logic: A rat is a pig is dog is a boy is a new age physicist. The next jump, to a conspiracy theory of reality that links red meat, rain-forest depletion, health costs, ozone catastrophe, military spending in a single dark network, is obvious and easy.

But of course its exponent Ullmann lapses into ingenuoudisengagement when she's gently queried as to how to engineer a comprehensive corrective, short of declaring world dictatorship and handing the reins of power over to Jerry Brown, with authority to execute any recalcitrant non-recyclers. Fleeing from the political ramifications of her position, she says that her job isn't to make policy -- it's to hide in France in a medieval theme park and pick on strange Americans.

If you ask me, the whole movie is a case of putting Descartebefore the horses asses.


Starring Sam Waterston, John Heard and Liv Ullmann.

Directed by Bernt Capra.

Released by Triton.

Rated PG.


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C91 "Curly Sue" Warner Bros. $5.0 million $17.2 million 3

2 "People Under the Stairs" Universal $4.4 million $11.4 million 2

3 "Billy Bathgate" Touchstone $3.7 million $9.2 million 2

4 "All I Want for Christmas" Paramount $3.6 million $3.6 million 1

5 "Little Man Tate" Orion $3.1 million $14.2 million 5

6 "Highlander 2" Interstar $2.8 million $9.0 million 2

7 "Other People's Money" Warner Bros. $2.6 million $18.5 million 4

8 "Strictly Business" Warner Bros. $2.5 million $2.5 million 1

9 "House Party 2" New Line $2.1 million $14.7 million 3

10 "Frankie and Johnny" Paramount $1.7 million $18.1 million 5

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