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WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW!? (UNRATED) (2004)

Lord of the Wind

Official Site

Directors: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente

Producers: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse

Written by: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Matthew Hoffman

Cast: Marlee Matlin, Elaine Hendrix, Barry Newman, Robert Bailey Jr.

Rating:


“God does not play dice with the universe."—Albert Einstein

So, do you want to see a movie about what may happen if he does?

A whole lot of science has flowed under the bridge since Einstein expressed this complaint about quantum mechanics. See, he had faith that the world would make sense in an elegant and deterministic way, that the rules of the world stay the same from moment to moment. He felt that some of the rules are just hidden, and we will figure them out eventually. However, the current accepted opinion of science indicates that he was wrong. According to Professor Stephen Hawking, who does not appear in this film, “God does play dice with the universe. All the evidence points to him being an inveterate gambler, who throws the dice on every possible occasion.”

And, since God has such a gambling problem, what do we do about the starving family back home? The far-reaching and varied implications can be very interesting, if you are the type who likes to think about such things. The people who made this film got very excited and decided that they had to make a movie to explain their ideas about those implications. According to Mark Vicente, a cinematographer who got involved in the project from its early stages, in taking questions after an advance screening of the film, they started with the intention of doing a traditional documentary for a venue like “Nova,” only using humor to keep the piece bearable. They must have envisioned a sort of funny filmic research paper about the ultimate in complicated topics, the effects of the recent revelations of quantum mechanics on the meaning of human reality. They were also most interested in the recent discoveries concerning the biochemical nature of thought and the chemical basis of behavior and habituation. Since the status of the observer is a critical consideration in quantum mechanics, it would seem natural to include some thoughts about how those dice would affect human thought.

So, try to imagine the difficulty of making such a film! You would find that fun would be inversely proportional to the amount of time you spend on the details. It would get hard, very hard. That inverse proportionality becomes logarithmic, at the very least! Anyway, it must have dawned on them that they weren’t doing this for a grade. In the end, they decided on something less rigorous, a sort of filmic essay, instead of a filmic research paper.

This let them bring all sorts of things into the mix, from some of the mentors whose books they have read to Ramtha, the 35,000-year-old warrior who is channeled by an attractive blonde, JZ Knight. On the Ramtha website, they say that this film “features Ramtha and several of his selected teachers.” Hmmm. That probably wouldn’t fly on “Nova.”

Then again, the filmmakers are now free to do some interesting things like developing a bizarre and somewhat hackneyed narrative to illustrate their points. They got Marlee Matlin to bravely tackle the role of a woman whose mind is beset by the growing understanding of these implications. They got three different special effects companies to create visuals that are trippy and funny. They throw in a few sexual subplots because no discussion of human psychology would be complete without it, and sex certainly gets the viewers’ attention.

Eventually their scientific filmic essay reaches the point of comparison to religion. Religion, suffice it to say, does not fare well.

My guess is this film is going to be controversial. Since the film has been in limited distribution up in Oregon and Washington, close to Ramtha’s home base, there are already enough people to gauge public reaction to it. I heartily recommend the message boards on imdb.com for some insightful comments. I found that extreme reactions lead to misconceptions and extreme judgments, both for and against the film. People who hate the film claim that the acting and skill of the handling of narrative are atrocious and that the special effects are cheap and awful. They aren’t. Devotees think that the acting is brilliant and the effects are mind-bending. They certainly aren’t that either, but they are sufficient to get the point across, and it is an interesting point.

You’ve got to have some sympathy for Ms. Matlin in taking this role, and I doubt that Meryl Streep could have been any more convincing, given the context of the script.

The rigorously scientific and the devoutly religious will find themselves strange bedfellows in hating this film, and I think that fact alone is enough to recommend that you see it. I’ll admit that the film sometimes utters some conclusive and dogmatic statements that are so obviously unsupported by the facts, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Religion does that sometimes, and it still is permitted all manner of illogic. Since God is off playing dice, I guess he doesn’t really have to justify his actions. If this is a “cult film,” it may cause us to doubt our assumed convictions (a good thing), but it never really commands anything more radical than self-awareness and empowerment. Still, if I were a beautiful, well-dressed, young professional woman, I would trust neither faith in God nor quantum mechanics to keep me safe while I slept on a park bench.

This film succeeds in conveying the magnitude of the wonders of the intricate and enormously complex nature of the world, even if they may get some of the fundamental reasoning completely wrong. Sure, there are better science shows on “Nova,” but I say that there is nothing inherently wrong with imaginative speculation. Who knows? This film might even piss off some young geniuses to the point that they go out and uncover some of those hidden rules, proving Einstein right after all, getting God to leave Vegas and go back to his family. Now, wouldn’t that make this film worthwhile?

—Steven Harding

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



none now
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