A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly


Reviewed by: Moominkat

I've not read much Philip K Dick, apart from (like so many of my generation after seeing Blade Runner) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I started a couple of other novels but gave them up as unreadable - as with Stephen King, I think his writings make better films. So I've no idea how closely Linklater has stayed to the novel, although I've looked it up since seeing this film.

Not far into the future, the War on Drugs, like many other wars, has been lost. An undercover narcotics cop, Fred (a handsome if rather sad Keanu Reeves) has assumed the identity of Bob Arctor, major drug dealer, in order to infiltrate a drug ring and find the major distributors of the lethal Substance 'D'. How one is supposed to investigate oneself is beyond me - never mind Fred. The problem is that Fred has become hooked on Substance D and can no longer distinguish between himself and his nether-ego. Sometimes he forgets that the person he's watching on surveillance tapes is himself.

Copy picture

None of Fred's colleagues knows what he looks like, since he wears a sophisticated 'scramble suit' that disguises his looks and voice. In fact, he doesn't know what many of his colleagues look like, as they too wear these disconcerting shape-shifting rainbow suits. His 'target', Bob Arctor, lives in a run-down dump of a house with room-mates James Barris, a paranoid conspiracy theorist grass (a truly creepy Robert Downey Jnr) and Ernie Luckman, genial stoner (Woody Harrelson).

It seems Fred once lived a stultifyingly normal life in this very house, with his perfect wife and family, until the day he decided he needed more fear and uncertainty in his life. Where his wife and daughters have gone, we're not told. His new family consists of Barris, Luckman and occasional visitors Donna (Winona Ryder) and Freck - a nicely tuned paranoid druggie turn from Rory Cochrane, formerly Tim Speedle off CSI Miami. Aha! THAT'S why they killed him off.

So we bumble along. Fred is investigated for drug use, but he's incapable of stopping his world from crumbling about him. And then, as always happens in Philip K Dick's worlds, things turn out not to be quite what they seem...

I do see why Linklater felt 'rotoscoping' (turning from film to animation) was a good idea: it does enhance the blurring of reality and fiction. Mind, I'd have loved to see the 'live' scenes between the three housemates, they're funny and captivating. Despite Fred knowing he can't trust anyone, there's a real sense of comradeship between them. However, I came away unsure why anyone felt this novel needed filming: it doesn't really go anywhere. All it seems to say is that life pretty much sucks, you can't trust anyone and yep, they really are out to get you. It's a depressing outlook.

From what I've read of the novel, there are important scenes that take place in a rehab centre - yet this part is skimmed over. I got the impression that the director was in a hurry to finish - I found the film slow going for the most part, then suddenly we hurtled to the end. Still, it's well done and well acted and I was intrigued enough to stick to the end to work out what was going on - although with Philip K Dick, you can never be sure you'll understand it.

You probably wouldn't miss much by waiting for this film to come out on DVD.

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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Read more A Scanner Darkly reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****1/2

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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