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Journey to reality unchecked

June 18, 2004|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

A mind-bending hybrid of documentary and fiction, science and mysticism, the film "What the #$*! Do We Know?" is ultimately more spoon-bending than anything else. Directors Mark Vicente, Betsy Chasse and William Arntz mix interviews with scientists, scholars and mystics, nifty computer generated imagery and a dramatized narrative featuring actress Marlee Matlin as a divorced photographer experiencing a breakdown of her own reality to challenge the totality of human knowledge.

If that sounds like a mindful, it is. The basic thesis of the film is that throughout history much of what initially was thought to be true turned out to be false. Therefore, much of what we assume to be true today may be false. The experts agree -- or at least they seem to agree; the film is edited in a way that the interviews form one long stream of consciousness punctuated by Amanda's illustrative meltdown -- that reality can be created from within one's own mind, with the brain triggering the necessary chemicals for your body to go along for the ride.

Reality is among the many topics questioned to the point where it's easy to question how much further you wish to go with the movie.

"How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?" a boy asks Amanda, the character played by Matlin, just as she's beginning her downward spiral.

However, like Amanda, you must reach the end of the labyrinth if you wish to know what's on the other side.

But be forewarned: The journey produces more questions than answers.

Some of the perceptions and realities could cause rifts in your personal relationships, and you may want to use the information very carefully or keep it to yourself.

For example, according to the mystic Ramtha, channeled through an American woman named JZ Knight, you don't actually love your spouse, you love your addiction to the emotions you associate with that person and the emotions are simply chemical charges.

Try taking that explanation home.

As entertainment, the movie is a mixed bag. Some of the talking heads become just that after a while, and Amanda's story is fraught with an excessive amount of navel-gazing.

The CGI animation is uniformly good, whether it is leading us on a "Fantastic Voyage"-type journey on a cellular level or anthropomorphizing some alcohol-fueled hormones on the dance floor at a Polish wedding. Accompanied by some inspired musical choices, that part is much funnier than it sounds.


'What the #$*! Do We Know?'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Sexual situations, language

Marlee Matlin...Amanda

Barry Newman...Frank

Elaine Hendrix...Jennifer

Armin Shimerman...Old man

Robert Bailey Jr....Reggie

A Lord of the Wind Films production, released by Captured Light Industries. Directors Mark Vicente, Betsy Chasse, William Arntz. Producers William Arntz, Betsy Chasse. Screenplay by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Matthew Hoffman. Cinematographers Mark Vicente, David Bridges. Editor Jonathan P. Shaw. Costume designer Ronald Leamon. Music Christopher Franke. Production designer Nava. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.

Exclusively at Loews Cineplex at the Beverly Center, L.A., (310) 652-7760.

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