A Scanner Darkly (2006)

May 23, 2011 By Mike B
Movie Review

What Worked?

Based on the novel by the legendary Science Fiction author Philip K. Dick, who was also a heavy drug-user, A Scanner Darkly is a sincere take on the drug user’s scene that doesn’t feel completely like anti-drug propaganda.  Richard Linklater directs the film, utilizing the interesting rotoscope technology, and Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr. and company give engaging performances.

Linklater uses rotoscoping, as he did in Waking Life, which pretty much makes everything look like realistic animation, and for the most part it gives the film an unorthodox feel that also allows Linklater to project the hallucinations of a druggie with ease. The visions are like a comic book come to life, and the look of the film captures what it might be like to be elevated by the main drug called Substance D. Everything seems weightless and surreal, but still familiar.

Playing Bob Arctor is Keanu Reeves, and his monotone, spaced out acting is a perfect fit for the film. Reeves as Arctor is an undercover officer that just might be too deep into the drug scene to return to normalcy. He walks around almost confused about what he’s doing, panicky at times, and always skeptical about his “friends.” The standout performance of the film is a tie between Robert Downey Jr. as James Barris and Woody Harrelson as Ernie Luckman. Downey Jr. as Barris is a fast-talking druggie that is untrustworthy, with the mind of a mad scientist. Barris is also quite comedic in his actions, as well as his entertaining rants while under the influence. Harrelson as Ernie is a modern hippie, and just as funny as Downey Jr, but more of a person you might want to hang out with. Both are great and some of the best comedic moments are when they have scenes together.

A Scanner Darkly is a fine adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel. It truly captures the culture of recreational drug use and addiction. The film sympathizes with the drug users, but the film itself is also a cautionary tale of where drugs will inevitably lead you; the contradicting message makes for a layered piece of cinema. How the film comes full circle is very thought-provoking, as we go from the characters that are hooked, to the undercover officer under the influence, to the New path rehabilitation clinic, and finally to the big reveal of how the vicious circle keeps Substance D pumping.

Potential Drawbacks:

Some may think that the rotoscope animation may be distracting, as it may distance viewers from the story and connection with the characters.

The dialogue can get rather complex at times, and the film doesn’t wait for the viewers to catch up. Having said that, the pace of the film is rather mellow, and may not be fast enough for those looking for a frenzied drug pace.

Film Recommendations:

Waking Life


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