The movie What the Bleep Do We Know is hard to describe and even harder to review. Ordinarily one would judge a movie on things like the quality of the acting and direction, not by the content of the material or the number or lack of talking heads in the movie. So this won’t be so much a movie review as it will be a discussion on the merits of the arguments that the movie presents. It’s unusual enough a movie that it merits placement both in my Entertainment and Metaphysics archives. I think I can truthfully say you have never seen a movie like this before. It is in a league of its own.
What the Bleep is part story and part documentary. The thesis of the movie is right out of The Matrix movies: that what we perceive as reality is in fact just a simulation of our consciousness. But before you laugh and jump to your next bookmark please know that the movie is full of talking heads, most of whom are very learned scientists steeped in the science of quantum mechanics. You can’t dismiss them out of hand.
Regular blog readers of mine will know that I’ve been fascinated by what I have been learning about quantum physics. I have read Brian Greene’s book The Fabric of the Cosmos, which is all about the nature of reality. In an earlier entry I even speculated that quantum physics might be coming tantalizingly close to merging physics and metaphysics.
At least these physicists seem to be acknowledging that reality is not what we think it to be. The thesis of the movie is that we control the nature of our reality and experience through the direction of our consciousness. On one level we know this to be true. If we drive our car into a brick wall at 60 miles an hour we will likely end up dead. But the movie is suggesting that much like The Matrix that existence is not real because reality is nothing more than consciousness.
It makes you wonder if all these classically trained physicists have been smoking weed. But I truly think they are on to something. I didn’t find anything in the movie inconsistent with what I learned about quantum mechanics from Greene’s book, and Greene is no flake. That is not to say that their speculations are necessarily true, but the more I learn about quantum physics the more inclined I am to believe in the movie’s central thesis.
Alas though the scriptwriters don’t spend much time explaining quantum physics. After a surface overview they throw you right down the rabbit hole. (They use this term enough that they should at least pay some royalties to the producers of The Matrix movies, or maybe the estate of Lewis Carroll.) Deaf actress Marlene Matlin plays a photographer named Amanda who seems to lead a life that gets quantumly challenged. Reality begins to skew more and more. She seems to perceive the reality of pure consciousness behind our “reality”. The story frequently is inter-cut with snippets from interviews with their quantum mechanic experts. (One lady interviewed though is not a physicist at all, but seems to wear the label psychic.) Along with the story and the interviews is a lot of computer-generated imagery that attempts to depict how what we perceive is real may actually be an illusion. The CGI is good but often goes a little overboard in being cute. Yet it does so in a way that gets the vision of the film across.
Yes, this movie is a mind bender. There are certain people who might as well stay away from the movie. If you are a devout believer in any mainstream religion just stay away. You won’t be happy because a number of those interviewed reject the whole assertion of God as an external entity. The thesis seems to be that we are God and consciousness is our reality. In fact if you are fixed in your opinions about anything you might as well stay away. This movie wants to be taken seriously and you have better things to do with your time and money than have your convictions challenged.
For me their thesis is an idea that has been growing in my mind for many years. For now it is a concept I embrace. I add the caveat “for now” because I am always learning new things. As I learn new things what I believe tends to change. As a computer geek I sometimes ponder machines and the nature of software. Like lots of people I can write software that makes computers do things. But what is software anyhow? It is something completely intangible. It is virtual. It is not real. It is really an expression of an idea encoded so that it can be interpreted by a piece of hardware we call a central processing unit (CPU). If software itself is not tangible yet it can make tangible things like computers do useful work then why cannot our consciousness be just as real and alive yet intangible?
And just what is reality anyhow? This film at worst makes for intriguing speculation and at best makes a solid case that nothing may be real but all of existence may be wholly virtual. And if like me you get into the weeds on quantum mechanics and you learn that things we call solids are vastly empty entities comprised of vibrational strings pulsating at different energy frequencies … that really everything that can be perceived is pure energy … and you ask yourself just what is energy anyhow … then consciousness as the force that directs and shapes energy, which in turn forms matter, which in turn forms the boundaries of what we perceive to be reality … it no longer becomes some madman’s fantasy but something with breathtaking possibilities.
So this is not a movie for Joe Sixpack. This is not a movie for anyone set in his or her ways. This is not a movie for the devout. But this is a movie for people who want to stretch their minds.
This is also not a movie for those expecting stellar acting. I was a bit annoyed at times by Marlene Matlin’s acting (although my wife was impressed by her). I was annoyed by bit characters like the young African American lad who wants Amanda to join her in a game of quantum basketball. The special effects were sometimes overpowering and a bit too cute. But this is a movie about making you think and expand your horizons, not a movie out to win Academy Awards. On this level it succeeds very well.
Finding What the Bleep may not be easy. We found it at the Cinema Arts Theater in Fairfax, Virginia. I suspect the reason it is there at all is because after this review in Salon I sent an email to the theater asking them to show the movie. (I didn’t feel like going all the way into Georgetown to see the movie.) It’s on its second week at this theater and seems to be doing well. Eventually it will be released on DVD with lots of background interviews that should allow me to appreciate the breadth of the ideas presented. For now you will have to depend on a little less than two hours of show time to get your high on metaphysical speculation.
I won’t give this movie a rating. All I can say is that I enjoyed the movie. And if any of this sounds interesting or intriguing to you then you will probably find your time in the theater well spent.