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A movie directed by Richard Linklater

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A different kind of story, true to Philip K. Dick's vision

  • Dec 27, 2006
Those who criticise this film for lacking in narrative drive are either missing the point or had been expecting something different. It is true that there is very little "plot" here (until the end), and much of the film involves sitting around the house, hanging out with Bob Arctor and his various friends and associates. The majority of the screen time in this film is devoted to establishing an atmosphere (and leaving a few hints about a larger plot) within which the central twist of the story will make sense, rather than a conventional narrative about a character who has a more or less clearly defined problem (1st act) that he will then work to resolve (2nd act) creating further difficulties for himself whose resolution will result in a totally revised situation (3rd act). The rotoscoping animation, combined with a pervasive lightness and sense of humor made this not at all tedious to me -- Linklater accomplishes something quite remarkable in making the situation of his characters both heartbreaking and pathetic and at the same time unbearably funny -- but I can understand why it might put some people off, especially those who thought they would be getting a mind-bending action sci-fi kind of thing (it does star Keanu Reeves, after all). At the same time, I think it was absolutely crucial to Linklater's point (a point deeply true both to this novel of Phillip K. Dick and to his overall world view) that he make the majority of the film be about just giving us a glimpse into the minds and worlds of a group of "junkies" (one of whom also happened to be an undercover agent not entirely aware that he himself was the subject of his own investigation). What dominates Phillip K. Dick's fiction is a deep sense of paranoia (radical skepticism) about the world, about the powers that be, and about the nature of reality. This kind of paranoia is often characteristic of and associated with (especially during the time he was writing) the drug counterculture that is depicted here -- but the twist that makes this film ingenious is the suggestion that this paranoia is in fact totally justified, and that ironically the very same forces that are responsible for the illusory character of what we take to be real (the powers that be) are also the ones who both create (or at least enable and benefit from) the drugs that are responsible for the alienation of the counterculture and are the ones who lead the war on drugs. Central to Phillip K. Dick's (and Linklater's) vision here is the insight that In an insane world, where the reality we are presented with is fiction (an Orwellian doublespeak world where "freedom" means "free trade" means "corporations and not people rule the world") there is a sense in which paranoid delusional drug addicts who believe Big Brother is always watching are the only ones who have a "realistic" grip on the way things are. In fact, the film suggests, the paranoid fantasies of the drug addicts are fairly tame compared to the reality. Obviously, the subtext of the film in a post 9-11 climate is not really about drugs, but about paranoia and fear itself (and it was the same in Phillip K. Dick's era, with the Vietnam War and the Red Scare standing in for Iraq and the War on Terror) -- and about the way in which those in power create fear and then label those who see through the media as paranoid and as belonging to and supporting the network of terrorists.

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More A Scanner Darkly reviews
review by . January 21, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
The Cast
WARNING: This review contains spoilers!   Based upon what may be Philip K. Dick's most personal novel, the film A Scanner Darkly is an awe-inspiring "science fiction" film directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused and Waking Life). Linklater, who also wrote the screenplay, has done a remarkable job in staying as close as possible to Philip K. Dick's original story. In fact, out of all of the many films adapted or inspired by his work, A Scanner Darkly may be the most faithful. …
review by . November 02, 2008
A Scanner Darkly
To fully understand the movie, you'd have to read the book first. But to fully appreciate the movie, its best to have not read the book and have an open mind to the differences.     The plot: Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane) is covered in aphids. At least he thinks so. Freck hangs out with Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson) and Bob Arctor's girlfriend Donna (Winona Ryder).     What Bob's roommates don't know is that there is more to Bob …
review by . March 07, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Interesting story and decent interpretation      Cons: Predictable and the acting was only so-so      The Bottom Line: It is ultimately predictable but the strength of the story (once you get into it) makes the predictability just a minor nuisance.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.      A Scanner Darkly a Philip K. Dick novel adapted for the screen by Richard …
review by . February 01, 2007
The first thing that strikes you about `A Scanner Darkly' is the animation. Innovative from the first frame, the only comparisons I can come up with is an advanced, artful leap from `Adult Swim' from The Cartoon Network or the adults' version of `The Polar Express'. Easily more fluid than either, the animation at first may come off as unnecessary, flashy, or just plain irritating. But once you get your brain hemispheres adjusted, you realize there is real method to the madness. But, oh boy, what …
About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #68
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (www.eckerd.edu/ic), and am co-director of … more
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Starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson
Directed by Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater (screenplay) Philip K.. Dick (Novel)
Based on the novel 'A Scanner Darkly' by Philip K. Dick
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