In the opening of What the #$*! Do We Know?, an odd sort of documentary/intellectual infomercial about the paradox of what we humans call “reality,” a physicist who looks like a human Yoda clad in a super-tacky sweater says “be in the mystery.” Yet when you’re stuck in a theater with an all-too-real $10.25 ticket stub in your pocket, you don’t have much choice but to be in the mystery (althought at least three people left the theater during the show I watched).
Clearly, if you’re looking for satiating entertainment or a dose of fine cinema, don’t go see this film. But if you’ve never considered that we all may be living in an illusion created by the mind and social conformity — an illusion that the mind may have the power to alter — this could be the film for you. A sense of humor, your thinking cap and some interest in mysticism are requirements for this movie.
The film is apparently a love/hate thing that’s eliciting strong responses across the country. A friend in Arizona says people are enraptured and are returning to see it five or more times; but it’s bombing with critics. One reviewer called it a “complete waste of time, energy and film.” My husband, furious that I’d dragged him to watch it with me on a Sunday night, called it “an abortion of a movie for uneducated people,” and “a recruiting film for a cult and I’m not joining,” and that the filmmakers should have advertised, “If you still think the world is flat, this is a movie for you.”
Indeed, the filmmakers never overcome a “no shit” quality to their observations — such as a brilliant revelation that the male mind alone, without physical stimulus, creates a hard-on in the man’s “member,” as if that proves something other than the phenomenon of horniness. Yet there are some mind-bending questions posed. An interesting factoid, for instance, is that the brain doesn’t distinguish between sights and similar memories; so, we see what we are trained to look for instead of all that is there.
Most of the film consists of interviews with physicists who discuss consciousness, the substance of matter and experience. The movie suggests that thoughts can change the makeup of matter, and the scientists point out there is much about the physical world that science has yet to comprehend. For instance, the scientists say, science has no real explanation for the “vacuum” that exists between the smallest particles of matter. So it’s a type of faith that matter exists the way science so far says it does.
Though the subject of quantum physics is endlessly rich, the film doesn’t hit the ball out of the park, or even close. The filmmakers spend too much time interviewing a strange woman with big bulbous distracting lips who talks about how our notions of God and reality are all bunk. The woman, a mystic of some sort with a strange, unidentifiable but suspicious accent, claims there is no good and no bad and that all humans are gods.
And then there’s a fictional side story involving Marlee Matlin, a deaf actress, who plays a very angry photographer. We find out through flashbacks that Matlin is angry because she found her newlywed husband banging a woman whom he winked at while at the altar with Matlin. Matlin also suffers from a body-image issue in which she sees her Size 8 hips and butt as 4 feet wide. Matlin learns she can travel through time and space and recreate her world and get over her anxieties when she meets a magical little boy on a basketball court in her Portland neighborhood. She finds peace and happiness and forgiveness and freedom with this knowledge put to work when she meets a young man and gets drunk and witnesses little cartoon creatures that represent her inner consciousness at a wedding she’s photographing. Hungover, she takes a bath, squirts toothpaste all over the sink and draws little hearts and swirls all over her body with a blue pencil.
Needless to say, the movie is a mystery. And I think I missed a lot. But I’m not going back, though the film does inspire contemplation on the power of the mind and the potential for those who use that power. As a woman outside the theater said to her male companion: “But wait. If one person is visualizing and working for peace, and another person is visualizing and working toward war, then where does that leave us on the holodeck of life?”
Showing at the Main Art Theater, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak. Call 248-263-2111 for more info.
Lisa M. Collins is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].