****/**** Image A+ Sound A- Extras C
starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder
screenplay by Richard Linklater, based on the novel by Philip K. Dick
directed by Richard Linklater
by Walter Chaw Our reality has almost outstripped Philip K. Dick's paranoid fantasies, and Richard Linklater's grim A Scanner Darkly is the slipperiest take yet on the war between perception vs. reality in a year that knows United 93. Keanu Reeves, so often woefully miscast, is wonderfully imagined here as a guy in a "scramble suit": his appearance constantly shifting in a kaleidoscope of mismatched parts--the uniform of future-narcs (seven years from now, announce the opening titles) sent undercover to ferret out the dopers and dealers of Substance D. It's a hallucinogen that eventually causes a rift in the individual consciousness (the left hemisphere atrophies and the right tries to compensate) and Reeves' Agent Fred is sent to find out where dealer Donna (Winona Ryder) is getting her shit. But the scramble suits seem mainly used to keep the vice squad's identities from one another instead of their quarry, meaning that Fred goes underground as himself, Robert Arctor, in full grunge, inhabiting his once-cozy suburban nook with tweaked conspiracy theorists Ernie (Woody Harrelson) and Barris (Robert Downey Jr.). Meaning, too, that Fred is asked to spy on Arctor, and that Barris, in a pair of hilarious scenes, informs on Arctor to Arctor. It's not the labyrinthine audacity of Dick's delusions that so enthrals, but rather the mendacity of them. What's complicated about A Scanner Darkly isn't the compression of identity or the various plots to which its characters imagine themselves hero and victim, but the idea that reality conforms itself to belief--that because life has stopped making sense to you, life has stopped making sense, period.