• Year: 2004
  • Directed by: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente
  • Starring: Marlee Matlin
  • Written by: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Matthew Hoffman, Mark Vicente

Part documentary. Part narrative. What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? reminds me those educational films they show in high schools. You know, where Jimmy’s having problems in chemistry so the teacher takes him on a magical journey through labs and factories where Jimmy gets to learn all sorts of neat facts. It’s kind of like that, but marginally better.

The story part revolves around a woman (Marlee Matlin) who’s going through some personal life challenges. She’s depressed and hooked on a happy pill. As she tries to go about her life, she continually has surreal experiences, which are really just lead-ins for the documentary sections. These are the bread and butter scenes of the movie, since the surrealistic story parts are inserted as visual aids.

The idea that What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? tries to sell you is that positive thinking can change your reality. It isn’t as simple as Tony Robbins standing in front of the camera and telling you to stay positive. What the #$*! wants you to believe that positive thinking will alter your reality in a very real and measurable way. I won’t say that I’m entirely convinced, but the film does a fine job of easing you into the idea. It starts off with real world examples and questions that the common viewer can relate to. For instance, the question of “what is really perceiving reality: the eyes or the mind?” is raised. If a person has a reaction to the visual image of something and then has the exact same reaction to the mental image or memory of the same thing, who’s to say that the eyes saw anything at all in the first place?

Then the film covers Columbus’ landing in the Americas. The argument is made that the natives couldn’t see the boats in the water because the idea of ships was so beyond their conception that they saw nothing. It took the shaman of the tribe to notice the ripples in the water to know that something was causing the ripples and therefore be able to see the boats. I don’t know if I believe that, since the natives probably had watercraft themselves to commute up and down the rivers and therefore would have had some concept of boat.

In any event, the film ramps up from there touching on quantum physics, neural nets, the hypothalamus and more to convince you that you can affect a change in your life through changing your perception. Unfortunately, none of the authorities featured in the film are able to provide substantial evidence to support the thesis.

At one point, one of the interviewees states something to the effect of that a person could walk on water if he or she just believed they could.

I remember hearing a similar concept when I was a child. Young Elmer Fudd was chasing Young Bugs Bunny and Elmer ended up running off the edge of a cliff, yet he didn’t fall. “Oh, we haven’t learned about gwavity yet.”