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August 8, 2004

Quantum Leap

From: Time - Aug 8, 2004

A tough-to-spell film uses physics as a central plot device

It had its world premiere in the little town of Yelm, Wash. (pop. 3,289). It's an odd hybrid of science documentary and spiritual revelation, featuring a Greek chorus of Ph.D.s and mystics talking about quantum physics. It has a title that will be a challenge to typesetters across the country: What tHe #$*! Do wE (k)now!? (fans simply call it "What the Bleep?"). Yet this idiosyncratic indie film has become a sleeper hit in theaters up and down the West Coast, earning a surprising $1.7 million since February. Next month it will roll out on more than 100 screens nationwide.

Deaf actress Marlee Matlin stars as an embittered divorce who redefines her notion of reality after learning how quantum physics interacts with molecular biology. The explanations of physics are so visual — and, yes, understandable — that even moviegoers who struggled with high school math are enthralled. "We tried to give it that Friday-night-movie feeling," says William Arntz, one of the film's three creators (he financed its $5 million budget with earnings from his software businesses). "And that's not easy to do with electrons."

The film's scientific approach to life's mysteries may rile some religious conservatives. One onscreen participant, Columbia philosopher David Albert, has already complained that his remarks, which appear to support the film's spiritual premise, were taken out of context. (The filmmakers deny it.) Yet for its fans, the film is striking a chord. "There are a lot of people in metaphysical closets out there," says Arntz.

Copyright © 2004 Time Inc. All rights reserved.