A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Opening with a nerve-jangling scene of a frantic, schizoid young man desperately trying to cleanse himself amid an infestation of bugs, A Scanner Darkly immediately establishes itself as the most Philip K Dick-like Philip K Dick adaptation so far. Its painstaking rotoscope animation, far from being a cheap gimmick, gives its vision of a drug-saturated near future world just the right edge of delirium and unreliability.

This is a film which will work not only for fans of Dick's work but also for anyone who has ever experimented with stimulants or hallucinogens. This seems all the more appropriate because it was such a personal work for the author, and the closing credits retain his personal dedication to all the friends he lost during an equivalent period in his own life: all the people who died.

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It's difficult to imagine any fan of Dick's failing to adore this film; but as it retains the genius of his work, so it retains the flaws, and this could be a big problem for some other viewers. Its complex storyline can be difficult to follow at times (deliberately so, considering the experiences of its protagonists).

It builds up slowly and sometimes comes across as rather dry, though there's a great deal of humour woven into the dialogue, especially from Robert Downey Jr.'s treacherous but vulnerable Barris. Fortunately, concerns about Keanu Reeves' ability to play the hero, a man whose undercover work has forced him to assume a dual identity which his drug-addled brain can no longer unravel, prove to be misplaced. His slightly stand-offish yet over-urgent style suits the part perfectly and enables him to create a character who is seriously damaged but no less likeable for it, an everyman with whom the audience can identify, a man desperately trying to hold onto his sanity in an insane world.

Beautifully judged dialogue and finely honed performances mean that all of the junkie characters at the film's centre are people it's easy to care about, even while they bicker over petty things and screw each other over. In this regard, the film is important as far more than a good piece of science fiction. Too often, films about drugs present addicts as irredeemable monsters and suggest that the reason for trying to interrupt the supply must be the protection of those who haven't tried them yet, the innocents. A Scanner Darkly has no innocents, and it argues fiercely that all of its characters are deserving of redemption. All, perhaps, except those who have created the situation - the hero's personal struggle is paralleled by his unwitting investigation into the conspiracy behind it, and it is in this strand of the plot that events take a really dark turn.

Disorientating but gripping, witty and packed with a powerful emotional punch, A Scanner Darkly is a brilliant piece of film-making. It stands like a tomb for unknown soldiers to remind us of the past and warn us about the future. Though we see as through a glass darkly, this film brings us face to face with the world.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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A Scanner Darkly packshot
An undercover agent with a drug habit watches his other self through a scanner.
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Moominkat ***

Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Philip K Dick, Richard Linklater

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Rory Cochrane, Winona Ryder, Sean Allen, Mitch Baker, Cliff Haby, Steven Chester Prince, Natasha Valdez, Mark Turner

Year: 2006

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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