New Age movie extends franchise with a conference

Sun-Sentinel/June 2, 2005
By Nick C. Sortal

Fall in love with a movie and you might coax a friend to see it again with you. Or maybe buy the DVD.

Unless the movie is What the Bleep Do We Know!?, a New Age film that uses quantum physics to argue that we can create our own realities. That calls for a weekend conference, with the semi-documentary's nine scientists and mystics, and its star, Marlee Matlin, addressing the patrons.

The conference's five-city tour hits Miami this weekend. The first stop in Boulder, Colo., drew about 1,000. Among the topics: contemporary spirituality, self-realization and "religion in the quantum age."

For the movie to still be gaining momentum is itself a victory. It opened in February 2004 at a single theater in Yelm, Wash., playing for six weeks. Then came a short run in Portland, Ore., followed by a nationwide release mostly in art houses in October 2004.

Word-of-mouth endorsements spread after a marketing campaign aimed at yoga studios, health food stores and religious institutions such as the Unity Church and Religious Science International. It has grossed $11 million and has reached the top 5 on's DVD sales.

A South Florida high school teacher showed it this spring to his philosophy class, and Religious Science Fort Lauderdale held special viewings last fall. Madonna, Drew Barrymore and Michael Keaton speak of its virtues, and The Institute of Noetic Sciences created a 60-page study guide to cement the movie's messages.

Now, wishing to dive deeper into what its producers label "the rabbit hole" -- where Alice found Wonderland -- comes What the Bleep, the conference.

"We're waking up to something very powerful that proves why our No. 1 adult responsibility is to be the gatekeeper of our own mind," says Roz Reich of Hollywood, who will attend the conference. She has studied meditation and healing for 15 years.

Joe Dispenza, who speaks in the movie about how he molds his day merely by his thoughts, is among the lecturers.

"This is the beginning to unifying quantum physics, the mind, the body and the nature of reality," says Dispenza, a chiropractor who also studies neurology and brain function. "The most common thing I hear is `I always knew this, but I wasn't able to put it into words.'"

The crux of the movie: Matlin, a divorced photographer moping through life, sees how a person's mere thoughts can change their experiences. On her climactic photo assignment, she even sees animated neuropeptides (think of the Scrubbing Bubbles in the bathroom cleaner TV commercials) dancing to Obsession to portray their subjects' emotions.

The movie's talking heads offer their expertise between Matlin's scenes. Many of their offerings aren't that new, with indirect references to: Earl Nightingale, who in 1956's The Strangest Secret essentially said we become what we think; Anthony de Mello, who in 1990 wrote Awareness; and Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations with God who, like the movie, describes God as someone who neither punishes nor judges. Some theories of Carl Jung and 1920s German physicist Werner Heisenberg also surface, as well as a summarization of quantum physics similar to that in Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.

It is the sum of those theories has touched people. Matlin views an exhibit that purports to show a person's thoughts can change the molecular structure of water. Loving thoughts purify it; anger pollutes it. Because the body is made of mostly water, it's not a stretch to believe that you can change your own makeup, the lecturer in the movie reasons.

Nova High School teacher Kai Ehnes showed the movie to his philosophy class.

"In philosophy, we don't teach, `Here are some dead guys, let's go through it,'" Ehnes says. "We're sort of at this brink in existence of man where something great is going to come through, and I think this movie points to it."

Meanwhile, some scientists dispute the quantum physics at the foundation of the movie, and argue that much of what is purported as fact is still unproven. And they point out that quantum physics deals with particles smaller than an atom, so transferring those theories into the world you and I live in is a bit of a stretch.

"It claims to be about quantum physics, but it makes gross distortions that would make any self-respecting scientist squirm," says physicist Simon Singh, author of Big Bang. "It has duped millions into mistaking pure claptrap for something of cosmic importance."

Sandra Vega, a post-doctoral assistant in geophysics at the University of Miami, buys into most of the movie, but understands why there are caveats in the quantum physics portion.

"People in this movie see an application of a science theory that explains a spiritual phenomenon. That's what people like.

In addition to the science questions, critics also say the movie doesn't clearly disclose a tie to the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, which promotes telepathy and channeling of spirits. The film's three directors are Ramtha students, and one expert who speaks is center operator JZ Knight, who says she channels the spirit of a 35,000-year-old warrior named Ramtha.

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