Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Is a satire successful if it never reveals its true nature? Or a colossal failure?

Robrt L Pela, in his review of What the #$*! do we know?, compares it to the faux documentaries of Christopher Guest. This is cavalier treatment of Guest, all of whose movies from Waiting for Guffman and the more recent, A Mighty Wind, are extremely funny and a treat to watch. Aside from the Polish Wedding sequence, What the #$*! is greyly unfunny, endlessly repetitive and in the final analysis, tedious. In his review, Pela mentions "those humorless movies that soft-pedal science to those of us who wouldn't know the nucleus of an atom if it entered us from behind". This one however makes no attempt to even soft-pedal science. Sure, we get a lot of talk about quantum mechanics, but there is never an attempt to explain it, howsoever rudimentarily. No Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle, no dual nature of matter. Maybe, it is "too wacko to be what it claims to be: a semi-serious documentary", but it is never really wacky either.

Despite what Pela says, I don't think that movie is intended as a spoof. The behavior of its talking heads - who perhaps think that the best way to hammer a concept into our heads is by sheer mind-numbing repetition - indicates otherwise. But on its own terms - that is, as a semi-serious docudrama - it is even worse. It starts off with a gratuitous extrapolation of quantum mechanics, which is applied in a seemingly arbitrary manner to all manner of things from the nature of reality to the presence of free-will. The metaphysical mumbo-jumbo used borders on cant. Then, we veer off into neuro-chemistry - emotions are compared to addictions – and then suddenly, the talk turns to the nature of God. But it's only in its tedious final quarter that the movie reveals its true colors. All of the talk - quantum theory, neuro-chemistry, and even the dubious meta-physics - is in support of that standard staple of self-help hacks - - "I am what I think I am".

Concurrent to all this is the fictional narrative of a young deaf-mute recently-divorced woman whose conception of reality changes. A smirking young boy asks her "How far down the rabbit-hole do you want to go?” And later on she stumbles on to a woman who talks about how the power of words changed the shape of water molecules. The movie asks us to imagine what we could do to ourselves if we only thought right. At the end, our protagonist has dutifully started loving herself and becomes a more satisfied person (or so the movie would like us to believe). This straight-for-TV story is interesting only because of some delightfully funny animated sequences - sequences, I must say, that are strangely incongruent with the rest of the movie.

Is Pela spoofing himself when he recommends the movie as “fine family entertainment”? I have never been less entertained in my life. The movie peddles bad science – and what’s more, its bad film-making too. This is a self-help book/movie masquerading as a scientific documentary-parable. Instead of wacko insights, we get repetition. Instead of soft-pedaling science, we get pseudo-scientific rubbish.

I just wish that the film-makers had made an all-out faux documentary instead. Their animated sequences cackle with energy and a few times, even had me convulsed with laughter. But finally, I hope to God that the movie was intended as a spoof, even if an unsuccessful one. Because otherwise, it becomes not just a bad film, but instead criminally bad film-making that ultimately endorses bad science.

No comments: