Tag Archives: substance d

A Scanner Darkly – Review

14 May

Living in a world where our every move could be closely monitored by the government without our knowing is a terrifying concept. For all we know, this may be happening already. I could be under surveillance as I sit here writing this review. Then again, maybe I’m just being paranoid; moreover, this paranoia is the essence of A Scanner Darkly.

Seven years into the future, nothing is secret and everything is questionable. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is a police officer working deeply undercover amongst a group of junkies addicted to a new drug, Substance D. These junkies consist of the clever and possibly homicidal Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.), the spaced out loser Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), the paranoid Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), and the dealer of the group Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). Soon enough, due to a suit that hides the officers identity while at the precinct, Arctor is assigned to spy on himself, and deal with the junkie turned informant, Barris. As this vicious conundrum of identity and trust keeps unraveling, Arctor soon beings to lose control of who he is due to “cerebral cross chatter” and the other effects of Substance D.

The initial main drawing point of A Scanner Darkly is the bizarre and intriguingly surreal animation. After the film had been shot it was than edited over a period of 15 months using Rotoshop, which the director, Richard Linklater, had used in a previous film, Waking Life. This stunning use of animation gives the film an other worldly feel that I’ve never experienced before with a movie. It was realistic, than at the same time, was artificial.

With films like Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting, the theme of drug addiction and withdrawal is not new. What A Scanner Darkly does differently is explore this theme with a deeper level of subtlety. The film doesn’t use eerie music or impressive camera techniques to make the viewer uncomfortable. The Rotoshop animation helps, but what I feel is the driving force of paranoia is the way the story is told. Up until the very end, the viewer has very vague impressions of what is real and what is not. The story is expertly told from both the sides of the police and the junkies, so when these worlds collide, it’s enough to make your brain split down the middle.

This story is definitely classified as science fiction, but a lot of what occurs in the film is funny. Robert Downey, Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane are fantastic at playing the three most paranoid characters I may have ever seen. The way these characters handle themselves using the backwards logic of drug use is very entertaining, yet in no way condones the use of drugs.

The government in this semi-futuristic society only adds to the paranoia backing up the film. Sure, the characters are nervous, but shouldn’t we be just as nervous? I can honestly say that I have no idea just how deep the government, the FBI, the CIA, etc. can probe into the lives of everyday citizens. I wouldn’t call my uncertainty fear, but I would say that there is a good chance that we very well may be watched by “Big Brother” sometime in the near future.

I love how everything about A Scanner Darkly relates back to paranoia. The psychology behind Arctor, the drug abuse, and the overpowering government are incredibly fascinating.  As a film, A Scanner Darkly succeeds in making the audience feel strange and nervous, all while telling an intricate narrative. I’m definitely interested in going out and finding my own copy of Philip K. Dick’s original novel, which this story is based on, and seeing how Dick tells the story. For now though, I highly recommend A Scanner Darkly. It is a fantastic film.

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