Movie Review 2007 #17: A Scanner Darkly

Done in the rotoscoped style of his “Waking Life”, Richard Linklater’s version of the Phil K Dick novel stars Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder.


Set “Seven years from now” in an Orange County California ravaged by a new drug menace, Substance D, A Scanner Darkly follows the lives of a few people centered around Bob Arctor, who owns the house they all hang about in…and whom he spies on as a drug agent.
The trick is, as a user of the drug himself, the abuse of it has affected his brain, and his own identity is called into question…
Hitting on themes of Government surveillance, paranoia, and drug use, A Scanner Darkly is short on action and long on talk, with dreamy, drug induced conversations and diversions that give the movie a feel somewhat similar to Waking Life.
Reeves does an okay job as Bob Arctor, but I think a better actor could have conveyed the split personality problem that Arctor faces as the movie progresses, a break between himself as agent, and himself as drug user. The real star of the movie, who dominates every cell of the movie he is in, is Robert Downey Jr as Barris. With his real life drug problems as a palimpsest upon which he can base his performance, he does very well with his role. Ryder and Harrelson do all right with their roles, especially given the layers of duplicity in some of the characters true motivations.
Showing the cumulative effects of drug use, not only on Arctor, but also on Barris and the other characters, is a strong suit of the movie. The movie comes off with a strong anti-drug abuse movie, but the movie is *not* preachy…in point of fact, a preachy speech to a community group given by Arctor goes very badly.
The movie is interesting to look at, and I do think the rotoscoping was a good choice, since it did allow the “scramble suit” to be shown effectively on screen, as well as the hallucinatory aspects of the movie.
I don’t think this is the best Dick adaptation (that would be Blade Runner), but its one of the better adaptations of what Dick’s work is like and is all about.