The Friday Afternoon Movie: A Scanner Darkly

Today is as good as any for a mind-fuck so the FAM is proud to present 2006’s A Scanner Darkly directed by Richard Linklater and featuring a rotoscoped cast headed up by Keanu Reeves who stars as Bob Arctor, a member of a household of drug users. Arctor is also known as Fred. This is the name he goes by at work, where he is an undercover police agent assigned to the household in order to discover the source of a new drug called Substance D. Fred has, in the course of his investigation, become addicted to Substance D as well and soon his surveillance focuses on one person: Bob Arctor.

And so it goes in A Scanner Darkly. Adapted from the 1977 novel of the same name by the late, great Philip K. Dick, one of his most personal work, in many ways a record of his drug experiences in the 70s. Twisting and turning, it is also one of his most complex, a labyrinth of alter egos where people are hidden from even themselves. Linklater handles all of this with aplomb, putting together a movie that deftly trumps its source in plot presentation. As much as I have always liked A Scanner Darkly it oftentimes trips over itself in explaining events, making for more than a few passages that require multiple readings in order to suss out.

Despite any problems with plotting, it remains one of Dick’s saddest works, and one of the few novels in which he goes out of his way to create real characters with a modicum of depth. The man, for all his brilliance, never put much importance on the people that inhabit his worlds; they function merely as tour guides, escorting the reader through the fantastic universes he has created. But the story of Arctor/Fred, perhaps by dint of it being a roman à clef, manages to overcome this proclivity and in doing so presents a powerful tale of paranoia and profound loneliness.

The fate of Arctor, used, abandoned, and broken, was one that Dick witnessed far too often and he channeled that hurt and anger into a story that sets its sights on both sides of the drug debate. It is most telling, then, that in his afterward, in which he lists people he has known who have suffered serious permanent physical, mental damage, or death from drug use he lists himself as well. It is just as sad that this list, included in the ending credits of Linklater’s film, had a name added to it. The story of A Scanner Darkly never really ends.

6 Responses to “The Friday Afternoon Movie: A Scanner Darkly”

  1. Carrie Clevenger Says:

    Whoa. A lot of this movie was done by people I call friends, that worked their little hands off for almost a year Here in Austin, Texas. Yes, at least check it out. It’s a crazy, crazy world.

    Thanks for the feature!

  2. tertiary Says:

    A great, dark, sad, film, full of wonderful performances, yes, even from Keanu.

  3. sterlingspider Says:

    It probably says something about me that whenever I think of this movie the very first thing that pops into my head is:

    “Total total total totally total total… total providence”.

  4. Ben Morris Says:

    The roman à clef with a knife to the bone nature of the book made it the Dick book I least wanted made into a film. I feared for the worst. When I first heard it was being made into a film starring Keanu Reeves it made me unhappy in ways that I do not have creative enough curse words to convey. I was sure it was going to be awful.

    I was wrong. Despite my anger and trepidation the film is very good.

    Side note: Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic in this film, especially the scene where he is showing off his homemade silencer.

  5. alumiere Says:

    Thank you for posting this; a wonderful film of an incredible book.

    Second time I’ve seen Keanu Reeves appear to be a truly talented actor. I think he needs to make better choices or work with better directors more often. The Matrix wasn’t bad, but it felt like he was playing himself; here and in My Own Private Idaho not so much.

  6. toro Says:

    Yep, the movie is really good.