I went to see this movie last night simply because I saw the title on Fandango, clicked through to a description, and decided it sounded interesting. I had no agenda going in. Coming out, I'm not sure. I can say for sure that it's been quite a while since a movie made me think this much.
The film is an effort to relate quantum physics, spiritual mysticism and elements of post-modern thought into a coherent worldview that rejects the idea of objective reality and instead emphasizes the power of thought to influence reality. All this is done through a narrative storyline featuring Marlee Matlin as a neurotic photographer in Portland, Oregon, a bunch of truly phenomenal computer graphics, and a series of talking heads -- everyone from physics professors to "Ramtha," a 35,000 year old prophet allegedly being channeled by a psychic.
In clicking around the Web, I've seen it described as "The Matrix without the robots and computers." I've seen it described as a promotional flick for a new-age cult. I've seen it described as pseudoscientific bunk. In this public radio program, the director shrugs off criticism. He was trying to make people ask questions, he says. That people have a strong reaction to it shows that it worked. The show also features a skeptic of the film and a physicist interviewed in the film, and the two go several rounds about whether the scientific claims hold up. One of the folks on this show said something along the lines of "skepticism is important -- no one should accept ideas blindly without questioning them. But at the same time, skepticism only maintains the status quo. It takes leaps of imagination to move forward."
Interestingly, the idea that advanced physics may provide a theoretical framework for spirituality also popped up in Angels & Demons, a Dan Brown paperback I recently picked up while stranded at National Airport. As a novel, I thought this book wasn't that great (it read like a rough draft for his later and more well known The Da Vinci Code). But one of the premises of the book is that the Vatican had been secretly supporting quantum physics research at CERN because it offered the possibility of resolving conflicts between science and religion. Remarkably similar to the science-spirituality connections hinted at by "What the bleep."
One of the scientists interviewed in the film tells a story about how when the American Indians who first saw Columbus' ships come over the horizon, they literally did not see ships. Instead they saw a large wave in the ocean. They had never seen large ships, so their worldview did not permit such a thing to exist. It was only after a spiritual leader spent several days staring at the sea that he perceived that these were ships bearing people. At this point he passed on this knowledge, and the worldview of the community changed.
Whether or not this story is apocryphal, it effectively encapsulates the concept behind this film -- that the way we perceive the world is rooted in our preconceptions, and that a total paradigm shift is necessary to truly understand human consciousness. Furthermore, advanced science can be integrated with traditional religion to create a new unified worldview.
I honestly don't know what to make of all this, but it already inspired me to spend several hours online reading about physics and mysticism. Fascinating stuff whether or not you buy into film.