The search for meaning often leads people to libraries, bookstores, houses of worship, schools and meditation rooms. Now there's a new venue in the quest for enlightenment: movie theaters.
The metaphysical movie What the Bleep Do We Know!?, the first of its kind to make it to the big screen, passed the $10 million ticket-sales mark in the U.S. and had consistent showings for more than a year, followed by theatrical distribution in more than 35 countries. The DVD immediately shot to the top of Amazon’s best selling list, was named Amazon’s #1 DVD surprise of the year and has sold over a million copies. The film's success ignited a conscious film movement: Bestselling-books-turned-screenplays The Celestine Prophecy, Peaceful Warrior, Conversations with God, The Alchemist and others have followed.
What the Bleep Does Hollywood Know?
This is a movie everyone in Hollywood thought would fail. With its scientific talking heads, theories of quantum physics and low-drama storyline, What the Bleep does not have the usual makings of a blockbuster. It’s no surprise Hollywood didn’t see stars around it — yet Arntz says his intention was always to have 100 million people around the planet see it.
“I started feeling that a huge chunk of the population was looking for entertainment beyond the crap that’s been spewed out for the last 20 years or so,” Arntz says.
“You know, we’ve seen all the stories, basically. We’ve seen all the dramas. We’ve seen Tom Cruise always win at the end of the movie. Nothing personal, Tom, but that’s just what always happens. So, you know, we’re kind of bored by it.”
“Hollywood assumes people are stupid,” asserts Arntz. But he and fellow filmmakers Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente made the opposite assumption when they took a risk on What the Bleep. “We just want people to think for themselves,” he says. “It’s a lost art in this culture.”
If so, What the Bleep has certainly revived it. In Q-and-A sessions in theaters across the country, Arntz says people ask him to further explain concepts from the movie, and they want to know what impact the movie has made on the culture.
He also hears from a fair share of naysayers. But that’s OK, he says, because at least it’s starting a dialogue about deeper issues.
“A lot of people who are more in the mainstream have said, ’Well, these ideas, I’ve never really been exposed to them before, but they’re really interesting and intriguing,’” Arntz says.
Will Other Meaningful Films Make It to the Box Office?
Moviegoers aren’t the only ones intrigued by What the Bleep — so are Hollywood execs. To them, a new market of people searching for inspirational films based on science and spirituality has been tapped, and Arntz says everyone is wondering how to get a piece of the action.
John Hagelin, a world-renowned quantum physicist interviewed in What the Bleep, met with MGM executives recently. “They told him, ’Look, we don’t know why this movie is popular,’” Arntz says. “’We don’t know where it came from. Not only that, we don’t even get what people are getting out of it. But we are really, really interested in this, because apparently it’s this huge segment that we didn’t even know existed.’”
It was a similar story at Paramount. An overtly mystical, stretch-your-mind movie has never made it to the big screen before, which is “partly what surprises the movie people,” he says. And that’s a big reason Arntz was so driven to make this film.
“This was part of our intent in doing it — to kick open the door for a lot of other movies that are spiritual or make you think about something and examine things,” he says. “I think there’s going to be a big interest in that.”
In fact, Arntz predicts we’ll be seeing a lot more meaningful film titles on the marquee: “I think [movie makers] will start going back to more of these spiritual bestsellers and option them.”
What the #$^!’ Is This Movie About?
Part documentary, part story, What the Bleep Do We Know!? introduces viewers to metaphysical concepts with the underlying theme that everything in the universe is interconnected.
Amanda, played by Marlee Matlin, has let anger and sadness rule her everyday life after infidelity enters her marriage. But through mysterious experiences and encounters — explained in parallel lines by a team of leading scientists and mystics — she begins to realize the power of thought and how it affects every cell of her body. The theories of quantum physics the talking heads present are complex, but the separate human story pulls you in. You glimpse what's beneath Amanda's unhappy life, and you find yourself invested in whether the weird science she's collided with might save her.
Producer-director William Arntz says he wanted to offer a “buffet” of messages for people to pick and choose from, but he ultimately hopes people leave the theater with an understanding of two main concepts: that you can become addicted to your emotions, and that you create your own reality. Arntz doesn’t profess to have all the answers — hence the title — but the ideas presented in the film definitely make you think.