After the letdown that was Fast Food Nation and given the risky source material (a Philip K. Dick novel) and filmmaking technique involved (rotoscoping animation), I was excited and very wary when I sat down for an afternoon screening of Richard Linklater‘s 2nd Cannes entry, A Scanner Darkly. While I haven’t yet read A Scanner Darkly, I am a fan of Dick’s wholly original style of writing and Blade Runner aside, I have not been impressed with the adaptations of his work to date. Sure, Total Recall was a bit of popcorn fun, but it was certainly a far cry from a faithful recreation of Dick’s story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. I need not have worried. Linklater’s dark and engrossing film stands on its own as a work of exceptional depth and understanding and those familiar with Dick’s dystopic vision of the world will not be disappointed.
The story revolves around a narcotics cop named Fred (Reeves) who is investigating a drug dealer named Bob Arctor. Bob is dealing Substance D which causes a split personality in those addicted to the drug. Little does Fred know, but he is, in fact, investigating himself, as the drug has split his brain into two distinct personalities. Don’t worry, I am not giving away major spoilers, as this all happens in the opening few minutes. To be honest, it’s the hook and the film cannot really be explained otherwise. Keanu Reeves is perfectly cast as the dedicated drug addicted officer Fred/Bob, with the supporting players likewise perfectly cast as the various people that drift in and out of Fred/Bob’s life, including Winona Ryder as Donna, one of Bob’s customers and a potential love interest and the pair of Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson as Bob’s ne’er do well “friends,” assuming people in the world of A Scanner Darkly can even have any friends.
The story is almost one that you could see Charles Bukowski writing, assuming it was about booze and not drugs, of course. The protagonist/antagonist in the same person, friends that are hardly if ever loyal and the girl. There’s always a girl and we all know that the people who live in stories such as these don’t end up happy, don’t we. Not to give anything away, of course, but if you’re going into A Scanner Darkly looking for feel-good, popcorn entertainment, well, you’re kind of a dope. If instead, you are up for an engrossing, original, thoughtful, moving and wholly original work of art, then this is the film for you.
The world of A Scanner Darkly is not as far-fetched as it was probably seen when the novel was released in 1977. The really crazy thing? The parallels between the real-life “war on terror” and the war on drugs in the novel. Often all one needs to see what’s going on in front of one’s eyes is a little “fictional” representation.
A Scanner Darkly opens on July 7th in: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto and Austin and expanding throught the summer. It is released by Warner Independent Pictures
All photos © 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment
Here’s a post by SXSW’s Matt Dentler with some thoughts on the film, a quote from Linklater and some cool links to interviews: AusChron: ‘Darkly’ Frankly