Friday, May 14, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Quantum physics, miracles, spirit channeling: Say what?

Special to The Seattle Times

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Halfway through the documentary/drama "What the #$*! Do We Know!?," the key question shifts from the scientific ("How does our knowledge of quantum physics redefine what it means to exist?") to the self-help ("How can I use this knowledge of quantum physics to help make me a better, happier person?"). One answer to this latter question — apparently — is to draw hearts all over your body with a make-up pencil while soaking in a warm bath. If I'd known this, I would've taken quantum physics in college. I love baths.

The documentary — produced in Yelm, Thurston County — begins with a bang, the Big Bang, out of which, as you've probably read, came bubbles of various talking heads asking questions like "Are all realities existing simultaneously?"

These talking heads, which we see throughout the film (but without the bubbles), are never introduced to us formally until the end, but they fall into three basic categories: physicists with a New Age bent (William Tiller); physicians with a New Age bent (Jeffrey Satinover); and those who are simply bent. This last group includes Ramtha, or JZ Knight, a woman who looks like an overweight, possessed Barbara Eden, and is in fact (or is in theory) channeling Ramtha, a male "master teacher" who lived 35,000 years ago. According to the press kit, Ramtha "still baffles scholars." Also linguists, who don't know whether to use the male or female pronoun. The press kit recommends male.

Intercut with these talking heads is the story of Amanda (Marlee Matlin), a depressed, divorced photographer who has never gotten over her ex-husband's infidelity, and who relies on anti-depressant pills she keeps in her hip pocket. Then miracles begin to occur before her. She begins to see reality at a quantum-physics level.

Movie review


(½ star)
"What the #$*! Do We Know!?" with Marlee Matlin, Barry Newman, Ramtha. Directed by Mark Vicente, Betsy Chasse and William Arntz. Written by Chasse, Arntz and Matthew Hoffman. 111 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences (contains some strong language and adult themes).

One talking head says early on, "The real trick to life is not to be in the know but to be in the mystery," which is good advice ("Learn to love the questions themselves," poet Rainer Maria Rilke once advised), but the documentary doesn't follow it. It posits that since we are made of sub-atomic particles, we must be like sub-atomic particles. Perhaps we aren't matter but simply tendencies? Perhaps all our alternative realities are existing side-by-side and we just can't see them? The discussion slides into emotions and addictions and aging, and how thought can change reality, and how, at the start of our day, we should imagine the way we want our day to be, and eventually we might be able to make it so.

Here's the mystery for me. How did questions that started out so vast and existential swirl down into something so small and loopy and pathetic?

Erik Lundegaard:

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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