The Movie Snob sounds off:
Have a touch of the existential blues? There are some films in current release that are just what the doctor ordered for people in our condition….
I Heart Huckabees (B). An impressive cast comes together for this philosophical comedy. The main character is a deadly earnest young fellow named Albert (Jason Schwartzman) who works for something called the Open Spaces Coalition or some such thing; his passion is the defense of undeveloped woods and marshes; and his current enemy is a mushrooming chain of department stores called Huckabees. But Albert is having a philosophical breakdown, proximately caused by his multiple coincidental encounters with the same Sudanese refugee, but encompassing the eternal questions about the meaningfulness/meaninglessness of life, the universe, and everything. More pressingly, he is getting squeezed out of his own organization by a smooth-talking Huckabees man named Brad (Jude Law). Albert turns to Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin), who are self-styled “existentialist detectives,” and they assure him that everything is connected and meaningful. They introduce him to fellow searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter who is convinced that everything involving the use of petroleum is tainted with evil. Tommy and Albert are then beset by a mysterious Frenchwoman, Caterine (Isabelle Huppert), a former associate of Bernard and Vivian who now preaches that the universe is actually blind, cruel, and chaotic. Trying to figure out what Albert is up to, Brad goes to the existentialist detectives himself, with consequences that threaten to upset the equilibrium of his relationship with live-in girlfriend and Huckabees model Dawn (Naomi Watts). Not surprisingly, there are few philosophical answers on offer, and the possible existence of theological ones is not even considered. But the cast digs into the late-night-college-dorm-sounding script with gusto, and there are some laughs along the way. And Naomi Watts is always pleasant to watch.
What the #$*! Do We Know!? (B-). This is a very odd, very independent little movie that’s really two movies in one. The more important seeming part is more or less a documentary–a bunch of short clips featuring a bunch of talking heads, mostly doctors and physicists. They try to explain, in lay terms, the state-of-the-art thinking in two fields: the bizarre world of quantum physics, and the more fathomable but amazingly complex world of cellular biology and biochemistry. (Interestingly, genetics is left completely alone.) Their ruminations are frequently illustrated with cool animated effects. The other, less successful part of the movie is a series of vignettes about a depressed photographer named Amanda (Marlee Matlin), whose life more or less embodies whatever topic the talking heads are discussing at the moment. It’s an interesting film, and the weight of the “scientific” opinion surveyed in the movie definitely seems to side with the view that there is an underlying unity and connectedness to the universe. But the moral implications of their theorizing are murky, and a couple of the talking heads seem to want to jettison talk about right and wrong, good and evil, altogether. What is supposed to replace them, I’m not sure. The theological implications of their speculation are equally nebulous. A few of the heads clearly express belief in some sort of God or at least godlike rational substructure to reality, but no one has any kind words for religion or traditional views of God. Like Huckabees, the movie is long on questions and short on answers. Maybe they’ll get to the answers in the sequel, probably called something like Not a Whole %&@! of a Lot.