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Who knows What the [bleep] do we know?

By Julie Sabatier
Portlanders lined up to see What the Bleep Do We Know: A Quantum Fable for over six weeks after its debut in McMenamins theaters in late February. The documentary-science-fiction hybrid was filmed locally and includes interviews with scholars, scientists and mystics on big questions such as “Why are we here?” and “What is God?”

“It’s a different style of movie altogether,” said Peter Boicourt, film buyer for the McMenamins theaters. After he saw the numbers from Yelm, Washington, where What the Bleep first opened, Boicourt said he knew the film was something extraordinary. It seemed worth taking a risk on an unknown group of filmmakers, he said, especially since some of the scenes take place in the historic Bagdad Theater.

The fictional portion of the film stars Marlee Matlin who plays Amanda, a deaf woman going through an Alice-in-Wonderland-style mid-life crisis. Footage of Amanda’s unraveling life blends with scientific and mystical theories from a variety of perspectives on how our thoughts affect the world around and within us. Among the theorizing voices are renowned quantum physicists including University of Oregon professor Amit Goswami and mystics such as JZ Knight, who claims to be channeling the 35,000-year-old spirit of an Atlantean god called Ramtha.

“Science has been saying the mind affects reality for quite some time,” said writer and director William Arntz. “This is the first non-fantasy film that not only says this, but shows mind/matter interaction and does it in a thoroughly entertaining way.”

William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, and Mark Vicente, who wrote, produced and directed the film together, are all followers of Ramtha’s self-actualizing ideology. The mystical being is never mentioned in the film and Knight’s name and credentials, along with those of the other interviewees, are deliberately withheld until the end. For the most part, the film avoids a didactic tone, encouraging viewers to seek answers for themselves.

“During the making of the film it was decided that what was important was the message, not the messenger,” writes Arntz on the film’s official website ( He has a point; knowing who’s who in the chorus of voices has an impact on how we perceive what they have to say. I don’t know about you, but when I’m being asked to question everything from love to molecular structure, I like to know who is asking the questions. This is one reason I got more out of the movie upon a second viewing.

What the Bleep asks a lot of its audience and I certainly don’t recommend going into it on an empty stomach. Each time I went to see it, I saw a few people walk out of the theater in the first half-hour, presumably because they were not ready to absorb 108 minutes of The Matrix meets Waking Life.

Putting into film what authors such as Stephen Hawking have used to fill books is a difficult task. In addition to documentary-style interviews and the fictional narrative, the film employs animation and computer graphics to break down complex scientific concepts, sometimes going so far as to oversimplify them. The fictional wedding scene, which attempts to show how people are addicted to their emotions, serves as a welcome comic interlude. The interviewees’ ability to laugh at themselves also helps to lighten the tone.

“There is no ‘out there’ out there,” says Fred Alan Wolf, psychiatrist, writer and lecturer. The movie is peppered with such remarks, indicating the film’s awareness of its own limitations. The filmmakers chose to touch on various topics related to the nature of time, space and energy rather than plunging into one area of the discussion. Specialists in any of the fields the movie highlights will no doubt feel it fails to do justice to their métier. The scientists and pseudo-scientists from the fields of psychology, biology, physics, anesthesiology and healing essentially agree on one point: the world is filled with infinite possibilities and we don’t know what all of it means, but we know it means something. The film serves as a tool for reexamining reality, leaving viewers both bewildered and enlightened. Just don’t forget to question the film itself.

Julie Sabatier is a freelance writer and editor.


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Last Updated: May 9, 2004