From the Vault: A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Before I was the Fraker I was John Doe and like everything else in this universe all cinema itself is interconnected on a molecular level. Slowly over time I plan to import many of my older reviews over to this new site under the banner of FROM THE VAULT. The format is simple, anytime I review a film here and it can be thematically (actor, Director, narrative etc) linked to a previous critique from the old site I will be sharing. When a review or article can coincide with a real world event like a retro-screening, personal curiosity or current event can be reflected, transfers happen.

Scanner Darkly

Writer/Director: Richard Linklater

Novel: Phillip K Dick
Cinematography: Shane F Kelly
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jnr, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Rory Cochrane

“Alright, I’m gonna give you a little feedback since you seem to be proceeding through life like a cat without whiskers perpetually caught behind the refrigerator. Your life and watching you live it is like a gag-reel of ineffective bodily functions. I swear to god that a toddler has a better understanding of the intricacies of chew-swallow-digest-don’t kill yourself on your TV dinner! And yet you’ve managed to turn this near death fuckup of yours into a moral referendum on me!” – Barris

A Scanner Darkly Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves in A SCANNER DARKLY

Phillip K Dick novels are notoriously fragile things when it comes to cinematic translations. Blade Runner stands tall, but the film is quite removed from the book.

Minority ReportScreamers and Total Recall showed promise but ended up as Sci-Fi action theatre, bogged down in happy endings, (Spielberg) studio tampering and poor casting. (Arnie, Tom) We don’t talk about Paycheck and Impostor. Dick’s latest opus to reach cinemas is his surveillance obsessed novel A Scanner Darkly.

Gathers-no-moss Director Richard Linklater (Waking Life) digs deep to communicate the philosophical world from the page, employing the ancient technique of Roto scope animation to explore alternate perceptions.

Los Angeles, 7 years from now the drug epidemic is approaching genocidal proportions. A massive portion of the population is hooked on an instantly addictive pill named,”substance D” aka “Death”, society functions in a chemically induced haze.

To fight the problem, surveillance cameras and sound bugs saturate the city; big brother sees and hears everything.

Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover narc who has crossed the line, leading a duplicitous life as a user and dealer.

Armed with a scrambler suit which transforms the wearer into an anonymous face in the crowd, his perception warped by substance D, reality is slipping away.

Experiencing a schizophrenic identity crisis, struggling to make sense of what’s happening, paranoia and confusion envelope him. Unaware, his superiors assign him to find a top level dealer.

Philosophical quandaries, existential hyperbole and cerebral manipulation ensue.
“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” – Fred

2006 A Scanner Darkly 029

Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder in A SCANNER DARKLY

“Can you see the zit on my nose under all this make up?”

John Doe says:
Indie-minded, Richard Linklater’s (Tape, Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Fast Food Nation), Waking Life was a mind smashing exploration of the lucid dream that offered infinite brain candy and supplied the animation tools for his new film.

A Scanner Darkly occupies the same space, I am not a fan of the word “Trippy” used as an adjective to describe a film, but it is perfectly apt here.

The arresting visuals, constantly morphing with a story that is equally fluid, put the viewer a little bit closer to understanding what day to day life might have been like through Timothy Leary eyes.

Compelling from the first color soaked frame to the last, this is a sensory experience enhanced by the fact that the actors are clearly discernable under there cartoon surface. Performances are untainted by the process, maybe enhanced.

Woody Harrelson (NBK, People Vs Larry Flynt, Wag the Dog) andRobert Downey Jnr (Wonderboys, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Chaplin, Restoration, Short Cuts) are electric together, bouncing off each other, bickering and waxing lyrical all their unique character quirks are taken to a new dimension. (Fans of Wonderboys, will delight in hearing two Downey Jnr lines recycled for the film)

Keanu Reeves (Rivers Edge, My Own Private Idaho, Permanent Record) is surprisingly adept in the film and pulls off the difficult demands inherit in the role. He projects a depth of emotion that is lacking in most of his appearances.

Winona Ryder (Heathers, Night On Earth, Edward Scissorhands, BeetleJuice) returns to cinema after hiatus and the style of the film seems to have freed up her delivery.

Linklater regular Rory Cochrane who played Slater in Dazed and Confused again is a presence that dominates his scenes and will keep you smiling with his trembling delivery.

I love my job, it has been so long I can’t even remember when I put this on my must see list and seeing it early was a treat.

I’m a sci fi whore who grooves on smart contemplative pieces on the human experience.

There is no doubt that the film is only going to please a niche market, it is intellectual science fiction to match Primer and Pi. Most will not be willing to invest their undivided attention in order to digest the, in hindsight simple story and its peripheral stimulation. Those who are in the target demographic rush out now. The rest wait till DVD.

Check out the trailer below


Brief Behind The Scenes footage




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