Here's the first thing that's audacious about What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole, the second installment in what has become a franchise of oversimplified science, outlandish speculation and woo-woo spirituality: It's not a sequel. It's a revision. Shamelessly, Rabbit Hole uses extensive footage from the first film, including the entire condescending narrative about a depressive named Amanda (Marlee Matlin), and offers almost nothing by way of novelty. Instead, the "new" film tacks on an additional 40 minutes of interviews and animation, expanding upon its specious ideas and advertising the same misleading messages peddled by its predecessor.
Part of what's so frustrating about the Bleep project is that it is not 100 percent bunk. In fact, plenty of its claims are worthwhile: that addiction to certain emotional patterns prevents people from being present, for instance, and that early experiences create neural networks in the brain that color the way a person sees herself thereafter. (A girl who is ostracized on the playground, for instance, becomes a woman who feels like a perennial outsider.) The problem is that so much in Bleep plays fast and loose with both science and spirituality, and so many of its claims are unsubstantiated, overgeneralized and unexplained. Or, you know, wrong.
Some examples. In the segment on water experiments, in which Dr. Masaru Emoto is said to have subjected frozen water crystals to various messages from human consciousness ("Thank you," "I hate you," etc.), we are told that the human body is 90 percent water. According to several medical sources, however, the adult human body is actually about 55 to 65 percent water. If Bleep can't get this simple fact right (and it had two chances), how can we buy its grand pronouncements about the nature of human consciousness? Here's another claim: "The brain processes 400 billion bits of information per second, but we're only aware of 2,000 of these." Who quantified those "bits," and how did he or she do it? (And what is a "bit"?) Another isolated quote: "Sex itself is an invention to allow us to see into the future. Think about that for a while." Um, OK. I thought about it, and it still makes no sense.
What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole
Directed by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente. Featuring Marlee Matlin and Elaine Hendrix. Opens Friday.
Worse than these random errors and vague prophecies, however, is one of the film's central and driving ideas: that the laws that appear to apply to subatomic particles can also be applied at the level of physical objects and human psychology. In fact, Rabbit Hole refutes this claim even as it makes it. One of its interviewees (it's a chore to say which, since the film doesn't identify anybody until the final credits) explains that there are two sets of laws governing the universe: Newton's laws of motion apply to the physical objects in our world; at the level of the atom, however, the laws of quantum mechanics take over. These laws are counter-experiential, stating, for instance, that a single particle may exist in multiple places at the same time.
This seems to be a huge problem for physics. How can these two sets of laws be reconciled? But Bleep doesn't attempt to answer that question. Instead, it assumes that quantum laws can easily be applied to people and to physical objects and instructs us to imagine a world in which we can manifest ourselves in more than one place at a time. OK, that's fun, but it's also a fantasy. Presenting it as science is irresponsible.
Then there's the psychology. Using the biology of neural networks, Bleep advocates for a revolution in human consciousness that overcomes entrenched patterns and opens up to new ways of thinking. In other words, Bleep says, if you're a victim, stop being a victim. Unhook your existing neural networks and create new ones. But how? Anyone who suffers from PTSD, for instance, knows that you can't simply change your destructive thoughts by willing them away, just as any addict can tell you that knowing you're an addict, while certainly the first step to recovery, isn't nearly the last.
What's so insidious about Bleep's stabs at psychology is that we do have proven tools for dealing with addiction--therapy, bodywork, meditation, 12-step programs--that may actually rearrange neural networks, creating new associations among neurons and helping the brain to let go of the old. So why isn't Bleep directing us toward those? Where are the interviews with people who have dedicated their lives to opening their minds to deeper and larger places of consciousness? And why is Bleep's principal philosopher of addiction, an ancient being named Ramtha, who is channeled by a woman named J.Z. Knight, smoking a pipe?
In the end, What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole is a smidge clearer than its predecessor, since the additional information explicates some of the science in plainer terms. But its two-and-a-half-hour length makes it next to unbearable. And, however you slice it, Bleep remains a work of naive invention and wannabe spirituality. Unfortunately, it seems to have snagged quite a few people in its web.
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