FILM REVIEW – A SCANNER DARKLY
Here is a film that really messes with your head. I felt as if I was on drugs while I watched it. Anyone who is on drugs, especially LSD, while watching this, is going to need serious help afterwards.
Based on actual drug experiences in the life of the book’s author, Philip K. Dick, (author of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, aka Bladerunner), the story tells of a man, Bob Arctor, played by Keanu Reeves in his best performance since the first Matrix film. Arctor is a scanner, known at work as Agent Fred a narcotics surveillance agent who has to wear a special suit which scrambles his identity and constantly changes his appearance to make him unrecognisable even to his own work colleagues, (the idea is to have them avoid corruption and identification at all times) as he watches a group of drug addicts through closed circuit television sets.
Unfortunately, Bob Arctor himself is a serious drug addict, affected by the very hallucegenic, Substance D (Slow Death), a mixture of Crack and LSD that really messes up his increasingly schizophrenic head.
As Fred, he s in effect watching his own life unfolds. There is a Kafkaesque sense of a man casting justice on himself throughout. He doesn’t even recognise that he is one and the same person. As the film argues constantly, the slow death drug D separates his left and right brain hemispheres.
In one brilliant drug trip, we see him visited by an alien who tells him that it will recite his crimes over and over at him for eternity. It takes six years for the creature to even reach Bob’s earliest adolescent experiments in masturbation. The film is shot in live action, and then animation rotoscoping is brilliantly painted over everything, creating a sense of a strange artificial and at times unsettling haze over reality. At times you wonder if there are subliminal cuts to pure live action footage.
What follows is not easy to follow, but the script is funny and intelligent, and very trippy things happen. The opening sequence in which a Substance D junkie gets convinced that he and his dog are covered in alien bugs is very well done.
There are brilliant moments of the kind of over-stretched dialogue only drugged out minds can conceive. One character tries to sell the others a stolen eight-gear bike as a much faster one. A lengthy debate follows on the real number of gears it has, and rather than admit that he was trying to rip off his buddies, the seller gets it into his head that the bike must be faulty and not properly machined. He invites everyone to go back with him to the makers to put it right.
As Fred’s work practices become impossible, he is pulled off the case and sent away to rehab. Only now does he discover that his fellow Narcotics agent in another scanner suit is Donna (Winona Ryder), his lover.
The performances, from Woody Harrelson, Reeves, and Ryder are excellent and though hard to follow, the film is a work of sheer genius. Possibly the best adaptation of a P K Dick novel ever, which after Bladerunner, is really saying something.