A Scanner Darkly Reviews
From whenever you watch A Scanner Darkly, it takes place "7 years from now." A time when over 20% of America's population is addicted to a new hallucinogenic drug called "Substance D." There is only one company however, that deals with rehabilitation and recovery, called New Path, but it is a mystery what really goes on in there. Technology, and security, has become more advanced, as there is facial and voice recognition given to authorities to hear when a crime is going to be committed. These advancements however, do not stop the manufacturing and distribution of Substance D. Authorities on the other hand have no idea where this drug is being created, and are using undercover agents to learn more about this drug's distribution process in hopes of finding its main distributor.
Bob Arctor, played by Keanu Reeves, is one of these undercover narks. Leading a double life, he could be deep undercover playing an agent for the orange county Sheriff's department (codenamed Fred), or he could simply be Bob Arctor, addict and supplier of Substance D. In order to protect his identity while at work, he is required to wear something called a scramble suit. A suit that continuously and seamlessly changes parts of his body's appearance and voice. His main complex in the movie is when 'Fred' is assigned to investigate 'Bob,' and the deeper into his investigation he gets, the more the lines between his two lives become skewed, and he begins to question what is reality.
Who can trust who? As the movie progresses, characters that you thought were friends start to turn on each other. One of Arctor's roommates, James Barris (played by Robert Downey Jr.), goes into the Orange County police department and, unknowingly to Barris because of Arctor's scramble suit, tells Arctor and another agent that Bob Arctor is planning a massive terrorist act. He isn't, but this gives a great representation of how paranoid Substance D really is.
The movie becomes harder and harder to understand due to Arctor becoming more and more addicted to the drug. He begins to have split personalities with his double life. Much like most of Dick's books, plot twists come in to play and Arctor realizes that the drug has taken him "too far" and his brain is lost with reality. One scene takes place after he is watching himself in cameras that are placed in his house, he thinks to himself, "What does a scanner see? Does it see the head? Down into the heart? Does it see clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can no longer see into myself."
Spoiler alert, the police were using him as a sacrificial lamb and were setting him up, without him knowing, to become addicted so they could admit him to New Path. They believe New Path, the addiction recovery company, is really in charge of main distribution and its claim to rehabilitate Substance D users is really just a front. At the end of the film, Arctor is seen harvesting in a field of blue flowers, the same flower used to make the drug, and in the last scene he picks one of these flowers and puts it in his left sock. Hiding this from New Path, you suspect that he might still have some sort of cognitive function. He is quoted in his mind saying "A present for my friends." His friends being the undercover police, essentially giving them the evidence they need to take down New Path.
Phil K. Dick, author of the novel, has steadily become more and more of a Sci Fi icon. Writing many books that have become blockbuster movies such as Minority Report, Blade Runner, and Total Recall. His reputation still stands with this movie. I noticed myself really feeling involved, and in tune with some of the characters. The director, Linklater, assumes his audience has a brain due to the film not having a main plot line, but rather character based story lines that require much more thought. In an intriguing way, he leaves much of the story to your own imagination.
A Scanner Darkly is one of Richard Linklater's most accurate representation of one of Dick's books. This movie however, is not for everyone. It's a complicated film that requires patience and, at least in my case, multiple viewings to appreciate the complex view of an addict's paranoia. Despite a mostly wordy plotline, Linklater grabs your attention and doesn't let go.
You can tell Linklater is not afraid of taking risks. One evidence that suggests this is his animation style that this entire movie is in. "Rotoscoping animation," is a technique that requires motion picture images to be traced over, frame by frame, to produce a choppy movement that is constantly shifting. This style adds an eerie perception of what is going on, but creates an opportunity for the audience to feel the same amount of unease that Arctor is feeling throughout the entire film. You begin to think "I finally understand what it's like to be on drugs." Phillip K. Dick is not a stranger to the paranoia that a drug addict faces, A Scanner Darkly, though fictitious in plotlines, was written and inspired by many personal experiences from Dick. In fact, his book was so personal, that Linklater had to receive permission as well as collaborate with Dick's daughters in order to preserve the integrity of the story.
Taking place in the future, this movie remains to have continued relevance. This story demands a level of self-awareness, and it serves as a wakeup call to society. At the end of the movie you are left with a sense of uneasiness, yet impressed. We need to be aware of the drug problem today. Upon discussing how addictive Substance D is, James Barris says "You're either on it, or you haven't tried it." Substance D, though fictitious in a literal sense, is very real to many people. It might not be a physical drug for some, but it might be an addiction to online social media, or alcoholism, coffee, or anything really. If you let something take over your life, like the characters in this film, you lose control and begin to question what life was like before you came to depend on what your addiction is.