A SCANNER DARKLY. Drug-fueled dystopia

While working on his first animated film, Waking Life, Richard Linklater was already thinking about another rotoscope project. The choice fell on the screen adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel...

Dawid Myśliwiec

28 June 2023

A Scanner Darkly keanu reeves winona ryder in a car

…and the result of the work of the director and the entire team is a dark, ambiguous story about the struggle for identity in a world slowly heading towards self-annihilation.

A Scanner Darkly keanu reeves

While Waking Life was a complete narrative experiment, mixing the formula of a documentary with plot threads and pure animated creation, A Scanner Darkly is a fully formed, though not the easiest, feature. The film adaptation of the novel by the master of SF literature tells the story of the United States overtaken by a drug epidemic – the mysterious substance D has already addicted 20% of the population, and the police, in order to prevent the spread of the drug, introduced a super-precise surveillance system of the society. In this sick reality, there is Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), an undercover police officer who infiltrates the drug addicts community while being a victim of addiction himself. At work, he uses a dynamic suit that uses over one and a half million different images to effectively hide the identity of the officer wearing it. However, Bob’s biggest problem is not addiction to substance D, but the feelings he begins to have for the object of his investigation, dealer Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder).

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly is filled by a whole lot of dialogue scenes fueled by drugs, which is why accurate social diagnoses are intertwined here with pure delirious gibberish. These dialogues, however, are the best summary of the state in which the characters addicted to substance D find themselves – somewhere halfway between the “golden shot” and eternal nirvana. It is in these drugged conversations that the greatest value of the Linklater film lies: conspiracy theories, fantastic visions, memories of wacky events – it all appears in the conversations of drugged characters. The leaders in these deliberations are roommates: the mythomaniac James Barris (the brilliant Robert Downey Jr.) and the somewhat dopey Ernie Luckman (the excellent as usual Woody Harrelson) – these two, reminiscent of the characters from early Linklater movies, Slacker and Dazed and Confused, provide the film with the necessary dose of humor . Funny supporting characters, however, do not obscure the overall mood of A Scanner Darkly – humor is only an element here that allows you to protect yourself from throwing yourself into the depths of madness.

A Scanner Darkly

It is said that Philip K. Dick saw everything he described in the novel with his own eyes during his experiences with the American drug subculture of the 1970s. It is not known whether Linklater also saw similar excesses, but his version of A Scanner Darkly focuses less on them, devoting more time to how drugs affect the psyche of the characters. The film adaptation of Dick’s dystopia is more like a film noir, in which the femme fatale turns out to be that substance D that determines the actions and drives of the character. By applying an animated layer to the acting material, and especially thanks to this dynamic suit, Richard Linklater managed to create the impression of permanent unreality while rooting this story in a world understandable to the viewers. Instead of making a big-budget, star-studded sci-fi thriller (which, you have to admit, would have been very unlike him), Linklater made a dreamy, suitably dark crime drama about humanity’s self-destructive tendencies. And at the same time he made A Scanner Darkly look absolutely insane.

Dawid Myśliwiec

Dawid Myśliwiec

Always in "watching", "about to watch" or "just watched" mode. Once I've put my daughter to bed, I sit down in front of the screen and disappear - sometimes losing myself in some American black crime story, and sometimes just absorbing the latest Netflix movie. For the past 12 years, I have been blogging with varying intensity at MyśliwiecOglą

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