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What The Bleep Do We Know
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
Review Date:
9.21.04

Antonio Porchia, the Argentinian poet who earned his living as a carpenter, left a body of work that can be read in about 20 minutes. Most of his poems are from one to three lines long. Here’s one of them: This world understands nothing but words, and you have come into it with almost none.
Here’s another: He who has seen everything empty itself is close to knowing what everything is filled with.

I think the latter poem could serve as a mini review of "What The Bleep Do We Know", an independent film opening this weekend at The Nickelodeon Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz, but I may be wrong. After all, what the bleep do I know?

I do know that I’ve seen the film, and that I’ve read the production notes. And that I can make a few reliable observations about it, but I’m not at all sure I understand it.

"What The Bleep…?" is part animation, part documentary and part narrative. Other movies have blended genres, but none quite like this. And if this were a more traditional film, I’d be hesitant to tell you much about the story line. But it isn’t, so I’m not.

The narrative thread is carried by a character named Amanda, played by Marlee Matlin. Amanda lives in a gloriously appointed apartment in Portland, Oregon. She’s a dispirited photographer, bummed out by a failed marriage. One evening Amanda treats herself to a movie, The Wizard Of Oz. While she’s watching the Oz, and as she leaves the theatre, the director seems to employ cinematic devices that would indicate flashbacks, or memories, or perhaps wishful fantasies on Amanda’s part. We, the observers, don’t have enough information to determine which.

But soon, thanks to the interspersing of short monologues by a series of quantum physicists, physicians, and other well educated folks, we come to realize that what we’re witnessing are alternative versions of Amanda.

As the narrative proceeds, Amanda will encounter people and ideas that will transform her life. And, lest we become confused, there are plenty of talking heads to keep us on the straight and narrow, which turns out to be not very straight, and hardly narrow. In fact, we are often asked how far down the rabbit hole we’d care to venture.

"What The Bleep Do We Know?" is an odd film. It’s often artless, frequently awkward, but almost always interesting. The narrative portion has the feel of well intentioned, but badly directed and poorly acted amateur theatre. But the animation is clever, and the dozen or so assorted smart folks who speculate with wit and verve about such things as alternative universes or the nature of addiction or the vast emptiness of our cells more than compensate for the earnest but flaccid story line.

I wish I hadn’t read the production notes. They’re pretentious and self congratulatory. I’d prefer to think that a hired publicity hack knocked them off for a few bucks and that the well intentioned filmmakers didn’t have time to approve them.

"What The Bleep Do We Know?", for all its clumsiness, is, as that distinguished gentleman in the old Schwepp’s ads used to say – curiously refreshing. Any film that sends me to the library for a closer look at the intersection of consciousness and quantum physics is OK by me. Be brave. Take a chance on this one.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.