A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Richard Linklater
viewed: 07/13/06 at Embarcadero Cinemas, San Francisco, CA

This is an excellent film.  I had been anticipating it for more than a year when I first read that Richard Linklater was returning to the rotoscoping animation technology that he employed so successfully in Waking Life (2001) to address Philip K. Dick’s novel, A Scanner DarklyWaking Life was one of my favorite films of the last 5 years, one that stuck with me.  The style of animation, in which footage is shot on digital video with real actors in live action and then painted over with a proprietary digital animation technology, offers strange and alluring effects and tied well to the non-linear approach to Waking Life‘s narrative.

So often, when one looks forward to a film, it fails to live up to expectation.  And though knowing this and always trying to curb expectation, this was a film that I was anticipating.  Linklater has a strange career record of some really interesting “indie” films and some really mainstream fare that has a moderate success/failure ratio.  He remains interesting, I think, especially as he delves in his own way into genre film and variety.

A Scanner Darkly has a striking design, visually, a constantly morphing textured surface on top of the naturalized movements that the animation traces.  The world of the film is deep in the drug trip, and the style and design truly match the content well.  Nothing is fixed and reality is utterly, constantly distorted.  You cannot see people directly, a layer of illusion lies on top of the natural image.  This design is a metaphor for the layers of identity and cognizance that are constantly challenged throughout the narrative.  The ultimate envisioning of this are the suits that the agents wear to disguise themselves.  When the suits are worn, which they are for long stretches in the film, the entire human form constantly morphs from visage to visage, person to person, clothing to another.  It’s a constant shifting of the person image that is strange and disturbing.  The protagonist, as he loses more and more sense of his own identity, struggles heavily when under this garb.  It’s an amazing effect and it’s neat because to do it in live action would be very showy digital effects, but even in this rotoscoped animation, it has a striking resonance.

The narrative is an interesting melange of detective novel, drug experience, and science fiction, though the science fiction is fairly limited, in a sense.  It’s a social critique and a sad story that I understand had a lot of personal relevance for Dick.

This film is unique and striking, and while it’s not flawless by any means, it’s truly one of the best films that I have seen in a while.

One Reply to “A Scanner Darkly”

  1. I find that Keanu Reeves’ habitually two-dimensional style of “acting” was perfectly utilized in this film, especially when he donned the shape-shifting suit. Linklater really captured Reeves’ transparent nature.
    Rory Cochran’s performance effectively wiped out any residue of his unfortunate time on “CSI:Miami” from my retinas.
    Robert Downey Jr was a pleasant surprise – playing a manipulative, twitchy druggie – what a stretch! Now that’s acting!
    Winona, oh Winona! Her performance was not nearly transparent enough nor concrete enough to be considered worthy of this film. What has happened to her? She has not been able to morph into a convincing adult in any of her movies following “Beetlejuice”. Oh, if she could’ve just stayed that cute little kid in “Lucas”, all would be good in the world!

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