Pop science gets fuzzy in “What the #$*! Do We Know!?,” a film whose oddness only begins with its title. Jointly conceived by a quartet of directors and writers to explain quantum mechanics to general auds, indie project blends staged dramatics, talking-head interviews and visual effects. Pic’s not-so-hidden agenda is to promote the fusion of science and New Age religion, making it a close cousin to ventures as Bernt and Fritjof Capra’s “Mindwalk.” Self-distribbed pic has gradually piled up coin in Washington, Oregon and Arizona engagements, and looks to add to the take with a word-of-mouth rollout; more bliss will come in vid.
Most physicists involved with quantum theory surely will blanch at the film’s simplified explanations, but younger teen viewers — any younger and they’re sure to go to sleep — may be intrigued enough to look at science with fresh eyes.
Pic’s curious structure of switching between concocted scenes involving a semi-depressed woman named Amanda (Marlee Matlin), and generous interview segs with scientists, mystics and theologians, is awkward at best.
The goulash suggests a scaled-down but feature-length edition of what could have been an Imax film (and certainly would have benefited from Imax’s usual under-an-hour running time) or, worse, one of those deadly educational films of yore. Still, with various Christian groups able to boast of several movies of their own, New Agers now have one to crow about.
The Amanda storyline is presented in discrete sequences (all shot in Portland, Ore.), often with minimal dialogue — a blessing, given that it’s generally below average. Amanda serves pic’s thematics in multiple ways: As an observer; an emotionally sour modern gal in need of a spiritual boost; and a contempo Alice in Wonderland.
Amanda is first seen taking the subway to her work as a pro photographer. She’s given a dreaded wedding party assignment which turns into a goofy set piece that’s the closest pic gets to comedy, as lubricated celebrants bring out their emotions, visualized in the form of bulbous animated creatures.
The cadre of thinkers and commentators assembled is composed of those with one foot in science and one in Eastern-influenced faith. By far the most irritating talking head belongs to terminally serious and slightly creepy “channeling” mystic Ramtha, while the most engaging is amiable physicist-author Fred Allen Wolf.
Given the low budget, lensing combining vid and film looks terrific, and ambitious f/x work is sharp if at times repetitive. The filmmakers have tipped that pic’s title should be pronounced as “What the Bleep Do We Know!?”
Movie palace aficionados should take note of scenes shot in Portland’s exquisite Bagdad Theater.