A Scanner Darkly
Review Date: 7/31/06
Like most of the works by Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly has a very complicated under layer behind what the viewer immediately sees. The method used to bring this particular Dick vision to life is called Rotoscoping, a pain-staking process of hand tracing every single frame of a live action performance, their associated textures and backgrounds. Richard Linklater, the director of A Scanner Darkly, previously used this same process on another film he directed in 2001 called Waking Life. Skepticism by newcomers to this method of film presentation will subside quickly when they see the film and realize that certain aspects of this film, especially the Scramble Suits, would have looked out of place if Darkly had been filmed in conventional Hollywood fashion.
Without giving away major plot points or key revelations, Darkly is a pretty movie to view with an interesting take on the future, America’s war on drugs and undercover police officers. The film’s main character is Robert Arctor (Keanu Reeves), a drug addicted police officer, reminiscent of John Anderton (Tom Cruise) from another Dick adaptation, Minority Report, who uses a aforementioned department issue Scramble Suit. The Scramble Suit bestows upon him the ability to look and sound like anyone in the world, which assists him in infiltrating and arresting drug dealers. There is a new drug on the streets and no one knows where it is supplied from, no matter what covert methodology is employed. It isn’t long before Arctor is unknowingly drawn into this struggle, even as the condition of fractured mind (you’ll see) grows worse.
Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder) plays Arctor’s girlfriend, though she won’t hug, kiss or have sex with him. The reason she gives: “I do a lot of coke.” Arctor also has two live-in roommates, James Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), though neither of them probably pays rent of any kind and are most likely free-loading. Barris and Luckman do, along with Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), provide the majority of the humor found in A Scanner Darkly and are sardonic assets to the film.
There are so many laughs and interesting concepts within A Scanner Darkly that they make the film worth seeing at least once, though multiple viewings will be necessary to understand the nuances of the plot, much like Dick’s We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (Total Recall) and to a greater extent Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner). I’d read two of Dick’s books: The Minority Report, Second Variety (the book Screamers is based on) and parts of We Can Remember It for You Wholesale and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so I knew walking into A Scanner Darkly, as it is supposedly closely based on its name sake, that it would be imaginative. If you venture into Darkly, you may become instantly addicted to its “Substance” as many of the film’s characters are.