I think that Philip K. Dick wrote stories that simply resonate with me in ways no other stories are capable of; I do not know why it is his stories that fascinate me so much but he is definitely one of the reasons that science fiction is one of my favorite genres. Dick was paranoid about the government and society and his themes often dealt with personal freedom among many other things, but his works are phenomenal and the films that are based on them can usually be just as phenomenal. A Scanner Darkly is no exception to this rule and is a fabulous addition to the movies made based on Dick’s works.
A Scanner Darkly takes place in the undefined near future, a time where the war on drugs is predominant and the government is invading peoples lives in order to stop it. Bob Arctor is an undercover narcotics agent who is so covert that he and he co-workers don’t even know what each other look like, much less their real names. Bob is trying to shut down distribution of substance D, the current drug of choice but to do so he lives undercover and has become addicted to the drug himself. As he lives his daily life with his girl Donna and friends Luckman, Barris & Freck he begins to question his sanity and if D has gotten the better of him.
What I love about this movie is that one of the main themes is paranoia. When does paranoia became a justified fear? When is paranoia a byproduct of your lifestyle? How do you live knowing that paranoia is a part of the world around you? Dick does not use his characters to answer any of these questions, but instead just uses each character to show the audience a different aspect of this paranoia steeped life and Linklater lets the actors inhabit the roles in a way that makes them utterly real and would make Dick proud.
When you talk about A Scanner Darkly you must address the visual style in which the film was made. A Scanner Darkly is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. To create the stylized visuals of A Scanner Darkly Linklater shot the film with the actors, sets, etc. and then has the image animated over. The end results are absolutely stunning and bring an otherworldly resonance to the story helping to put A Scanner Darkly into a timeline of it’s own instead of setting it firmly in the here and now.
As a resident of Orange County I loved the fact that the story is set in Anaheim and Arctor is a sheriff with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. It was a treat for me to see and hear places I frequent in the movie, right down to the ugly plastic flower art on the freeways. This is my home, except I don’t live in a drug den – at least I won’t until Dick’s version of the future sets in.
I must commend Richard Linklater for creating a masterpiece of a film in A Scanner Darkly; this film is going to be a staple in my DVD collection and I must admit that as I have been working on this review it has made me want to put the DVD in all over again and watch one more time.
Director & Writer: Richard Linklater
Bob Arctor: Keanu Reeves
Barris: Robert Downey Jr.
Donna: Winona Ryder
Luckman: Woody Harrelson
Freck: Rory Cochrane
Bob Arctor: What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can't any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone's sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I'm cursed and cursed again. I'll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.