A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            Philip K. Dick is a very good author, and a man whose name is spoken in hushed tones by his select group of male intellectual sci-fi-headed cultists. I have only read one of his novels, the non-science-fiction semi-autobiography Confessions of a Crap Artist, and found the man to be preoccupied with memory, escape, drugs. His prose is inventive and his story situations are brilliant. His previous film adaptations have been spotty at best, from the brilliant Minority Report to the out-and-out piece of dreck Impostor. Richard Linklater’s animated film adaptation of Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, probably most accurately captures his work. It’s also a breathtaking, oddly moving, surprisingly funny, and appropriately warped film. It’s one of the best of 2006.


            Seven years from now, much of the population is hooked on a new drug called Substance D. An unnamed narc, operating under the code name “Fred” (Keanu Reeves) is ordered to spy on an enclave of drug addicts in the hope of finding main Substance D suppliers. The hard part is that he is himself part of the enclave he is spying on, posing as a druggie named Bill Arctor. You see, his identity is a secret from even his own bosses, thanks to weirdly fluctuating disguise suits. He is hooked on Substance D, which is breaking down his mind, and making his assignment all the more confusing. His druggie buddies (Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr., Mitch Baker) seem harmless enough, if not totally zonked out of their minds, but may be dangerous. “Fred” ends up playing a different part in his spying-on-himself story than we suspect… It’s all kind of complicated, and will require discussion afterwards.

             The rotoscoped animation of the film (a process that involves filming the actors first, then animating over them) gives the film not only a vibrant visual style, but a hallucinatory disorientation fitting to the mind of a drug-addled, multiple-identity narcotics officer. Also, the anti-drug messages are very mature, extending past the oversimplified afterschool-special message of “Drugs Are Bad” into a somewhat ambivalent stance pointing out the addicts’ as well as the authorities’ own involvement in the foolishly named War on Drugs. It’s a fascinating portrait of the addicted mind, a quietly biting comment on drugs in culture, and, thanks to the unaimed ramblings of Harrelson, Downey Jr., and Baker, a funny entertainment. It’s a very good film.

Published in: on March 27, 2008 at 1:21 am  Leave a Comment  

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