From the moment I saw the trailer for A Scanner Darkly, in all its rotoscoped glory, I knew it was going be a trip. Every minute of screen time required 500 hours of work. A lot can be said about the visual impact of this film, but to me what stands out is how accurately the actors and their performances were captured. Linklater’s first rotoscoped film Waking Life had a scrambled, rapidly changing style defined by the artist working on any given scene. In contrast, A Scanner Darkly is consistent throughout and much more palatable.
The trippy, graphic novel style may seem to be aimed squarely at fans of Dazed and Confused and other “faded” movies, but it’s the antithesis of the carefree pot-smoking days fondly remembered in that film. Though it serves up a frightfully predictive sci-fi setting, the story is a thinly veiled autobiographical account of the consequences of hard drug addiction, based on Dick’s own life experiences. The eulogy at the end of the film is a testament to that. Which is not to say the film is totally anti-drug; it’s anti big business and anti big government as well, but I’m guessing the anti-drug message may not go over well with Linklater’s usual audience.
The cast does a great job with each of their characters, with Robert Downey Jr. being perhaps the most memorable. Reeves delivers a starkly vapid Arctor, one where it can be hard to tell if he is burnt out or simply mellow, egging on the antics of his crazy friends. Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson round out the cast in smaller, but memorable parts. Charlie Kaufman’s script may have been more interesting (we’ll likely never know), but Linklater’s is easily the most literal film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s work yet, which is to be applauded.
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