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Deep Thoughts

'What the #$*! Do We Know!?' tries to explain the mysteries of modern physics

By Richard von Busack

KICKING A ROCK doesn't prove its existence, or so the new movie What the #$*! Do We Know!? claims. William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vincente's semidocumentary concerns the illumination that quantum physics sheds on modern life. Human perception is faulty; both rock and toe are composed of intermittent atoms and electrons that fuzz out and reappear somewhere (into another dimension, perhaps). Empty space composes most of the aggravating rock, giving it only the illusion of solidity. And if we really knew how to open the doors of perception, Matrix-wise, we might be able eliminate the rock by blinking at it or some such.

We hear all this from academics, including Stanford's William Tiller, as well as a woman channeling the entity "Ramtha." But there's the rock, and there's the path--and there's the toe with the bandage on it, and there are 4 billion people who might stub their toe on the rock, suggesting a scientific probability that the rock is actually there. And here we are, poor meatbags doomed to toil and die. The thought of limitless human potential is overcome by the pressing requirement to repeat the phrase "May I take your order, please?" eight hours a day.

A fictional story connects the interviews. A photographer named Amanda (Marlee Matlin) is trying to escape the memory of her divorce. As she wanders around Portland, she's introduced to the new physics through vignettes: a young basketball player shows her the ball is but illusion and that time's arrow might go backward as well as forward. The many fountains in that lovely Oregon city show the plasticity of water, its ability to assume different shapes. Physics implies that the divine may exist: what else explains the idea that God can be everywhere and nowhere, being both a swaddled baby and an old man with a beard. Ramtha pronounces that a love of the particular will never be possible without a love of the infinite.

Fair enough. The directors dramatize an episode where Caribbean Indians were unable to visually "see" Columbus' ships, because they weren't properly trained to see them. We're shown photographs of Dr. Masaru Emoto's experiment demonstrating that water crystals can be influenced by negative suggestion (tell a bottle of water that you hate it, and it cringes and turns yellow). Dancing jellolike animated critters represent brain transmitters. And it just all sounds so very much like New Age malarkey. The final sequence, where Amanda happily throws away her meds, since she's now able to reprogram her depressed brain by happy thoughts, is a rare example of truly irresponsible cinema. If you've had relatives who you've dreaded would go off their medication, perhaps you'll see what I mean. All gratitude to two cameos by Armin Shimmerman (part-time Ferengi and principal Snyder on Buffy), who sidles up to Amanda as she peers at Emoto's photos and whispers, "If they could do that to water, imagine ..." Schimmerman's goat beard and unbidden appearance later in Amanda's mirror imply a guest cameo by Satan, who's always good for giving a slow movie a goose.

What the #$*! Do We Know!? (Unrated; 111 min.), directed by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente, written by Arntz, Chasse and Matthew Hoffman, photographed by David Bridges and Mark Vicente and starring Marlee Matlin, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the August 11-17, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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