Review: A Scanner Darkly
The year is 2013, and America’s “War on Drugs” has entered a new and dramatically different phase with the introduction of Substance D. Deep cover agents like Bob Arctor seem to be fighting for both sides of the conflict. Which side is he really on, though? Does he even know?
If you’ve already seen Linklater’s previous rotoscope animation film, Waking Life, you will know what to expect visually, but even if you have, your brain will need a couple of scenes to get used to the effect.
Once you’ve settled in, the performances take over. Harrelson and Downey are particularly good. At times you wonder whether their schemes to screw with one anothers’ heads have completely backfired on them.
If I have one criticism of the movie, it’s that it doesn’t really show what the effects of Substance D are on the users. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Linklater intended that the rotoscope anmation is the effect of Substance D. Or perhaps it’s not, and Linklater only believes that the effect is simulating Substance D, and that there’s an unseen force out there acting upon him, and in turn, us. Do you see what I’m getting at?
Regardless, the effect is gorgeous. There will be many times when you will get lost in a series of frames, trying to figure out whether certain elements are actual filmed and processed pieces, untouched elements, or complete fabrications.
I’ll admit it, I got choked up at the end, not simply because of the coda (taken straight from the novel), but because we are shown such a complete and detailed view of a situation that seems utterly hopeless. In the face of this, you can’t help but think about the human cost. It’s no mistake that the cast is made up primarily of former substance abusers.
For fans of Philip K. Dick, I would say that this is the most faithful adaption of his work so far and you won’t be disappointed. For those who aren’t acquainted with him, I still strongly recommend it. Unmedicated.