A Scanner Darkly

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Does The Scanner See Darkly?

Jul 31, 2006
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Cool animation, challenging material, good story

Cons:May take more than one viewing to get it all

The Bottom Line: If you want something different that will make you think, this is a film to see.


What is the Scanner? Who is it watching? Who is watching it? What is its purpose?

Richard Linklater’s new film A Scanner Darkly poses a number of questions, most of them more complicated than the ones above. Done in the style first made familiar to audiences with his film Waking Life, Scanner takes viewers on a visual as well as intellectual journey. In fact, there is so much going on that some brains may feel the need to be fried once the credits role. Ironic perhaps but it does add emphasis to the film’s point.

Based on the story by Philip K. Dick, Scanner follows a group of friends being monitored by the government. These friends are hardcore users of a drug known as “Substance D” and law enforcement officials believe that one of the friends will be able to lead them to higher ups in the drug dealing ring. They place video surveillance equipment in the home of the friends and an agent is assigned to monitor the footage.

Of course the reality of the drug industry is layered and complicated. Where the drugs originate is a mystery. And it is hard to know who does and doesn’t want that mystery solved. The drug industry is one of vast amounts of wealth and power. People possessing those things do not willingly let go. They profit off of addiction and great lengths must sometimes be gone to in order to stop them. However, how far is too far? Sometimes the line between good and evil blurs and those previously on the side of righteousness sell their souls in the course of the fight.

If a population is kept in a state of numbness, then who is left to protest? No one.

A Scanner Darkly is about the friends and the drugs. It is also about perception. What is reality? Is there a reality? Who do you trust? What does the Scanner see? Does it see inside of you? Does it see clearly or does it see darkly?

Since the film isn’t traditional animation it relies heavily on the actors performances. Which I thought were good for the most part. Keanu is dry as usual but this is one of the films where his “style” of acting works. I use the term style loosely. He plays drugged out well. Winona Ryder is good as always, as is the rest of the supporting cast. Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. are great together. Downey does crazy and paranoid so well.

It is certainly a film that asks for multiple viewings to absorb everything it contains. It is a movie that makes you think and I at least appreciate a bit of intellectual stimulation every now and again. I love the technique that Linklater uses, combining live action and computers in an animation process known as interpolated rotoscoping to create a visual style that adds depth to themes of the film. I like that the visuals add to the film’s point rather than just being a means for the director to show off his technical skills. It all forces the audience to become active members of the film rather than passive observers. Our normal role as observer is highlighted and if the film is aware that we are watching, how can we trust what we see? We are forced to analyze, criticize, question, and be a part of the experience.

This is not a brainless film for a lazy afternoon. It is however a refreshing break from the standard summer fare. If you’re looking for something different and challenging then A Scanner Darkly is a film worth checking out.


Recommend this product? Yes


Movie Mood: Serious Movie

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