What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole

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NOTE: This is not the poster for this film, it is the poster for the prequel to this film!

Review #41 of 365
Film: What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole [NR] 154 minutes
WIP: $10.00
When 1st Seen: 20 February 2006
Where Viewed: Starz FilmCenter, Denver, CO
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Official Web site for the film: What the Bleep!?™
Review Dedicated to: Arianne of Denver, CO


I ‘saw’ What The Bleep Do We Know!? over Labor Day weekend last September on DVD. I was extremely tired at the time. My sister had thought my mother and I would love the film as, when she first saw it, it had reminded her of a book I have been recommending that everyone read for the past seven years or so by Fritjof Capra called The Web of Life : A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems--please check it out from the library or order it from Amazon.com if you haven’t read it as I can state seriously that I learned more from this book than from all of college. In any case, my sister had us driving all over town for a copy of this “What the Bleep Do We Know!?” DVD which she finally acquired at a Best Buy store in Bellevue, WA, and then she nearly force-fed us the film late that night. I have to admit, and apologize to her in this very public forum, that I did not see much of it. I kept dozing off. The film is not easy to watch nor follow when you are very tired even if you are very interested in the topics of this film which, via interviews with scientists and a few journalists and mystics, attempts to help bridge the gap in human understanding of our universe. So, when I saw that there was going to be a ‘sequel’ to the film which actually turns out to be more of a Director’s cut than a sequel, I thought the best way to make up my previous transgression would be to go to see this one in the theatre with my sister! Yesterday afternoon, at around 4:00 p.m. we entered the Starz FilmCenter, home theater and cinematic education center of Denver Film Society and University of Colorado at Denver's College of Arts & Media, located in the reconverted Tivoli Brewery, to embark on this 154-minute trip down the rabbit hole.

To begin, this film, What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole, fits into a category of some very brilliant films that have been made over the last two decades including Mindwalk based on Fritjof Capra’s book, The Turning Point and A Brief History of Time based on Stephen Hawking’s book of the same name. These films, in different ways, seek to bring incredibly complicated scientific principles into the living room. I find their mission admirable, though unevenly successful. The initial source of their trouble in succeeding stems from a hope to avoid patronizing those viewers who are a bit more versed in the science discussed while simultaneously capturing the attention and imagination of those less versed. This requires a very delicate dance in the screenplay and direction that leads to some wildly uneven results. Personally, I loved Mindwalk and A Brief History of Time. While I am not alone in my sentiments, I am not in the majority. I showed Mindwalk to many groups of teenagers (mostly high school juniors and seniors) near the end of a year of Advanced Placement Biology only to find the majority of their heads hitting the table some 10 minutes into the film. These are not action or even story driven films. They are similar to taking a philosophy book and plastering it on a billboard. Some people will read and understand, most will drive on by untouched. Before these films can do their work, there must be a readiness in the mind of the viewer to be open to the ideas. And, this is a required precondition to getting the most out of the two What the Bleep!? films. The second film, by the way, which exceeds the first by 45 minutes, was designed to provide viewers of the first film and new viewers, I suppose, with a more detailed and scientifically-rigorous approach to the unified field theory that inadvertently connects all matter and energy in the universe together and brings about some incredibly unexpected phenomenon. Before I go further, permit me this, dear reader, one digression that proves a very important point. If you poll nearly any random person and ask the them these two questions: “(1) Does it require a continuous input of energy to keep an object moving?”, and “(2) which is more work lifting a chair or carrying a chair for a mile?”, you will invariably get the answers of “yes, of course, what an idiotic question” to the first questions and “carrying a chair for a mile, that’s easy” for the second. Now, people with a strong physics background or even a chemistry background that required them to learn the basics of physics to comprehend the basics of chemistry can tell you that, quite non-intuitively, the answers are “no” and “lifting the chair” because actually Newton’s laws state that an object in motion will stay in motion until acted upon by a force, so while it may seem that we have to put in energy to keep objects in motion, we don’t. Once an object is in motion, such as giving a hockey puck a push, it will keep moving—it doesn’t need a battery or a motor or a little gasoline-powered engine or a solar cell, it just keeps moving until it hits the boards of the rink. Take the puck to outer space and give it a push and it will go on forever or until it is acted upon by a force such as the gravity of a planet or a star or an asteroid that will shift its course or pull it down to the surface and a state of rest. In our own, everyday, experiences of interacting with the world, however, we get the idea that objects need energy input to keep moving because that is what we see. We see a car that needs gas or a grocery cart that needs to be pushed. Of course, that is because the earth itself is acting upon the objects with the force of gravity pulling the object down. So, to keep it moving, we must fight the force. Reduce the effect of the force by putting ice in between, however, and that blasted car keeps moving despite the fact that we have stopped the engine and even put on the brakes. As for the chair, well, it will be really disappointing to anyone that makes a living carrying things, but for a similar reason, actually moving the chair from point A to point B at the same height relative to the center of the earth does not require any additional work. The only work involved is in the actual lifting of the chair where the distance between the center of the earth and the chair is changed. Now, we feel tired if we carry a chair for a mile, so we think, therefore, we are doing a lot of work. But, think about it. Is it easier to lift the chair or to carry it across the room once you’ve lifted it? Try this with a dining room chair of modest weight. Note that lifting it takes more struggle than carrying it. Also, test this, lift it slightly up and down as you carry it (changing the position relative to the center of the earth as you go) and notice how much more tired you feel in no time. So, again, we as human beings tend to learn ‘wrong’ physics in our every-day experience because we draw incorrect conclusions. This is the great struggle for the physics teachers and professors worldwide. They would actually have an easier time teaching babies that had no interaction with the physical world yet than college students with a year of high school physics and a lifetime of misinterpreted natural data. And, such is one of the main challenges of these science films as well.

What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole tries admirably to help us unlearn some of the physics we have mislearned and even some of the physics we may have been taught that turns out to be slightly wrong based on new discoveries of the past four decades of research. More and more we are learning that we and the universe are not made of matter that fits our everyday experience in dealing with matter. We think of matter as little solid particles that are hard and we can touch. And, this understanding works for us in nearly all of our interactions every day in doing the jobs that we need to do. In reality, however, the very hard matter that we can touch we actually never touch, isn’t hard, and isn’t even really there. We cannot actually touch things because our matter cannot come in contact with other matter because the surface of our matter repels the surface of other matter. When we touch things we are actually just detecting the mutual repulsion not physically touching. Matter isn’t hard because to be hard implies a very dense substance with lots of stuff squished into a small space. Actually, matter is made mostly of empty space not stuff at all, so it isn’t really dense at all. And this speaks a bit to the last idea that matter isn’t really even there. First, matter is mostly made of space which isn’t anything at all. How can something made of virtually noting be anywhere? And, second, some of the matter that is there (electrons) can actually be anywhere in the universe at any time and might or might not be there where you think they are in at the moment you might think they are, especially if you are actually trying to look and see if it is there so, in effect, the matter isn’t even really there. Finally, if anything, we tend to view the interaction of all the matter we encounter as if the matter acts like a baseball. Throw a baseball at a wall and it makes a dent in the wall. Throw it at a person and it hurts them and makes a bruise. Well, unfortunately, most of the matter in the universe does not actually behave like a baseball, and, in fact, the matter in the baseball doesn’t even act like the baseball we perceive. Consider the statements above. The baseball doesn’t actually hit the wall or the person as the matter cannot touch, the baseball isn’t hard, and really, the baseball isn’t actually there where you think you see it. Seeing things, of course, is an entirely interesting concept in and of itself since, of course, we can only see that which light reflects off/interacts with, and we only see what the electromagnetic waves of light ‘bring to light’ when they bounce off the matter that is mostly space and containing electrons that might or might not be there and then into our eyes where the light stimulates chemical processes that are interpreted rightly or wrongly by our brains. Meanwhile, more and more physics research is showing that our observation of physical events with our tools including our eyes changes the outcome of the events ever so slightly. Yikes. So, yes, there you have it, and you have only just stepped up to the rabbit hole, you haven’t fallen in.

The movie, What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole, uses interviews with experts—not all of whom are scientists—animation, and a somewhat distracting sides story starring Marlee Matlin as a depressed photographer who adopts the concepts of the film to overcome her depression and emerge a new more whole person, to help get at a premise that we human beings have (a) many misconceptions of how the universe really works, (b) have the capacity to over come these with some serious effort, and (c) will be richly rewarded for so doing because we will be able to tap into the greater consciousness of the universe, have greater control of our destinies, and be able to live the lives of our imaginations by thinking and intentionally striving to accomplish the goals we set. It is hard to blame the filmmakers for trying to accomplish this worthy if not lofty set of tasks. Largely, the film is successful with only three major problems. First, this side story with Marlee Matlin, while interesting, is wrought with problems. It is difficult at times to see how her story has anything to do with the points of the film. I hate to admit it, but a more thoughtful story line or better explanations would have helped. It also brings forth some of the goofiest and, to a degree, distracting sequences with little animated shapes that act out the emotions of the human actors. I hated this stuff. Major problem number two comes in that the scientists in trying to show their human sides occasionally cast some, I think unintentional doubt, on their own comments by interspersing too much of their own personal philosophies of life. This is very confusing to a person that doesn’t know the science well enough to get that this is personal philosophy or a kind of kidding that many scientist interject into their teaching work. Finally, it is a major problem in any film of this type if the lines between the factual scientific information and the conjecture, speculation, or just plain spiritual beliefs become to entangled. This film suffers from this nearly as much as the recent film One: The Movie which has been reviewed on this site. I am a very religious and spiritual person. And, I admit that I love the notion that there is more of a universal tie to our spirit than we could have ever imagined in a pure scientific sense. I also felt that What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole does a good job of showing the dangers of organized religions on people and their understanding of the universe. Yet, I feel it is extremely important to ensure that science fact be separated from fiction in a clear way. In the way What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole is organized, sometimes it is difficult to ascertain if what you are seeing in the film is science or not.

Getting over these three problems isn’t that much of a challenge. I would recommend getting ones mind prepared for this prior to the film, however, will make for a more enjoyable and intellectually satisfying experience.

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What The Bleep!?: Down The Rabbit Hole (Quantum Edition) [DVD](2006) DVD

What The Bleep Do We Know!? [VHS](2004) VHS

What The Bleep Do We Know!? [DVD](2004) DVD

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