Friday, September 15, 2006


A Short Review Of 'A Scanner Darkly'

A sense of unreality pervades ‘A Scanner Darkly’, Richard Linklater’s adaptation of the eponymous Philip K Dick novel. The story concerns Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), an undercover policeman with the pseudonym Agent Fred, who is assigned to monitor a group of drug addicts living at his house – including himself.

The film is animated, partly for financial reasons, using a rotoscoping method, in which actors are filmed and then ‘painted-over’. There are other advantages to this besides cost: Keanu Reeves’ animated face is less wooden than his real one, for a start. More seriously, it enhances the sense of paranoia that infuses the material, as Arctor struggles to comprehend the identities of both his friends and himself. As Arctor is forced to question what’s real, the animation reminds us that, in a very real sense, none of it is. However, the film consciously avoids becoming mired down in sermonising about the twin dangers of drugs and surveillance, and a keen sense of the absurdity, as well of the horror, of the character’s situations is evident. In one memorable scene, Rory Cochrane’s suicidal addict Charles Freck hears a narration to his own bid to end it all. It’s this leavening of the mood that saves ‘A Scanner Darkly’ from being a mere lecture.

However, it’s impossible to ignore the political side to the material. Unfortunately, Dick seems a prescient writer. One current advert on TV reminds us that ‘we are on CCTV over 300 times a day’ and exhorts us to ‘give them something to watch’. This commercial exploitation of the surveillance state is completely predicted in ‘A Scanner Darkly’, making the material perhaps even more relevant today than at the time of its writing.

I loved A Scanner Darkly. I thought the pseudo-animation technique worked really well, because it allowed the viewer's perception to be altered in a way that traditional film couldn't. I thought Winona Ryder and Robert Downey Jr were particularly good in it as well.
P Dick still holds teh record for most screenplays based on his science fiction literature.
I never liked Scanner Darkly as a book. It was obvious to me that Mr. Dick was having some issues with substance abuse at the time.

But I still plan on going to see the movie...or renting it on DVD. Whatever.
Glad it wasn't a complete waste of time, man.
I love Dick (no puns please!) and especially ASD. But I can guarrantee that with its overt drugs references it won't be released in Sinless City... or if, by some miracle, it is it will be mutilated by the censor.
Paul - I absolutely agree. The animation is far from polished, but that's just right for the material, which is so spaced out anyway.

SafeT - He had a very ambivalent relationship with drugs, taking them all the time but fully cognizant of the damage they were doing him. You're right about his abuse at the time - speed, apparently.

Binty - I have to confess to being a little confused as to your exact location . . . still, I should think it will be unreleasable in 90% of the world's countries owing to its content.
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