`Bleep' sees the big picture, but it's incomprehensible


October 22, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

In the beginning was the void, teeming with infinite possibilities ... "

Thus begins What the Bleep Do We Know?, a layman's guide to quantum physics that attempts to make the most theoretical of disciplines understandable, while acknowledging the subject matter is so obtuse, it's impossible to understand completely.

So far, so good; it's hard to complain about a movie made for the express purpose of making its audience think. Those with only a passing acquaintance with quantum physics, a discipline that grapples with the age-old debate over what is real and what is simply our perception (the film refers to it as the "physics of possibilities"), should walk away from the film with their minds enlarged to varying degrees, depending on how receptive they are to such determinedly abstract concepts.

And while the "experts" don't always make sense, they at least seem to be trying in earnest.

But filmmakers William Arntz, Betsy Chaase and Mark Vicente go beyond quantum physics into realms just as theoretical but not so intriguing. And they aren't satisfied with having talking heads, all experts in their field, struggle to make their life's callings understandable. They've also grafted on a fictional drama in which a photographer (Marlee Matlin), frustrated with herself, her life and her surroundings, is assigned to shoot a wedding and, in the process, begins to understand that the only way she's going to feel better about herself is by ... thinking better about herself.

As a framing device, this is silly stuff, and Matlin spends too much time looking dour and at odds with herself to engage us. The whole thing seems just an excuse to have some basketball-playing little kid, who seems well-versed in the world of quantum physics, repeatedly ask her, "How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?"

The kid is supposed to be some sort of gatekeeper, or perhaps a warning. But what he really is is irritating. And the whole story adds nothing to what the experts are saying and what the film is trying to do.

What the Bleep Do We Know? should be approached with some degree of caution; about midway through, the experts stop talking about quantum physics and start going on about what sounds like self-actualization, New Age philosophy and mind-over-matter. They note that love, for instance, is simply a response to chemicals in the brain, and more screen time is given to neurologists and spiritualists than philosophers and deep thinkers.

The movie annoyingly waits until the end to reveal the names of those experts who have been doing all the talking; it would have been nice to know these folks' qualifications first. Then again, when one is identified as Ramtha, a mystic/philosopher who lived 35,000 years ago and is being channeled through an American woman, JZ Knight, maybe it's best we don't know this stuff right away.

What the Bleep Do We Know?

Starring Marlee Matlin

Directed by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente

Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films

Rating Unrated (language, brief sexuality, obtuse subject matter)

Time 107 minutes

Sun Score **

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