by Brian Brait

What the #$*! Do We Know!?

dir. Vincente

Opens Fri Feb 27

Baghdad Theater

Why do we do what we do? What unknown forces influence our everyday decisions? What the fuck do we know? We know our names, where we live, and what kind of pizza we like... but what about the goings on within us and around us on a sub-atomic level? In most circles, it rarely gets a second thought. Out of sight, out of mind. Pass the beer nuts.

But Mark Vincente's What the #$*! Do We Know?!, a tidy, slick, and thoroughly compelling documentary-infused narrative, attempts to break the ice of quantum physics without putting us to sleep. The dramatized portions follow a few days in the life of Portland photographer Amanda, affectionately played by Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, as she deals with her separation from a cheating husband. These scenes were filmed at various sites around our fair city, which adds a certain resonance to the action. Interspersed throughout the narrative, noted quantum physicists break it down, posing huge questions about reality, and our perceptions thereof. They touch on deliciously radical and heretical topics, but stop short of simple explanations; this gives the film a lovely, meditative feel.

The filmmakers seem keenly aware that fully explaining quantum physics in two hours AND entertaining people is like teaching Greek to toddlers without making them cry. Thus, the basics are laid out before us, like an odd buffet of mind-expanding treats. Fanciful special effects act as a sort of lubricant between the shifting narrative/documentary focuses.

As Amanda moves through the metaphysically translucent Portland landscape, I couldn't help but get caught up in her journey. The filmmakers could have opted for a New Age-y, easy way out, but What the triumphs with humor, quiet beauty, and meaty discussion. In a time of overblown and preachy yarns about alternate universes (e.g. The Matrix), it is nice to see a movie with big ideas that doesn't get crushed under its own weight.