It’s been a while since I have seen a movie based on a Philip K. Dick story. Given my love for sci-fi, and his prominence as a sci-fi author, I am actually surprised that I only have 2 movies based on his stories. Now today’s movie was one that interested me due to it’s nature, more so than it’s story. The animation technique for this movie intrigued me but unfortunately, I did not get around to seeing this in theaters due to personal reasons so I bought it when it came out on DVD. Now let’s get right into today’s movie, A Scanner Darkly.
The plot: Charles Freck is hallucinating that bugs are crawling all over him and his dog and he can’t get rid of them by showering or spraying insecticide all over himself. Not knowing what else to do, he calls James Barris, who tells him to put some in a jar and tells him where they can meet up. Meanwhile, a meeting is held at the Brown Bear Lodge and the host is discussing the Substance D epidemic, which has 20% of the population addicted to it. He introduces an undercover officer code-named Fred, who is wearing a scramble suit so that nobody there can know what he really looks like. Fred gets up to speak and talks about how the military is attacking countries where the organic component of Substance D, a blue flower, is rumored to grow, hoping to cut off the supply. He ends up rambling for a minute when he forgets his prepared speech and when someone over his suit’s radio tries helping him, he ends up just walking away. Fred heads to an abandoned building and entering a secured room, where he is able to take off the suit and reveals himself to be Robert “Bob” Arctor. After leaving the building, Bob places a call to Donna, a dealer for Substance D, and arranges to buy some D from her. Meanwhile, Freck meets up with Barris at a diner and as they are eating, they discuss New-Path and their rehab centers. The subject then turns to Donna and Barris talks about how Bob talks about sleeping with her but doesn’t really. The subject of her being a coke addict comes up and Barris tells Freck that he knows how to get cocaine for $3, which leads to them heading to a store and buying a spray can, then heading back to the house Barris shares with Bob and Ernie Luckman, where he tells Freck how he will make the cocaine. Freck starts to feel bad about trying to hook up with Donna under Bob’s nose but Barris tells Freck that there are things about Bob he doesn’t know. At the same time, Bob, inside the scramble suit, is talking to his superior agent Hank, who is also wearing a scramble suit. Bob/Fred tells Hank that he is steadily buying more quantities of D from Donna in the hopes she will soon lead him to her supplier. When Hank asks about Barris, Luckman, Freck, and Bob, Bob/Fred says nothing new to report but Hank says they got a tip from an informant about Bob and that they want Fred to step up surveillance on him. Later, Bob goes in for some psychological testing to see how he is doing and if he is becoming addicted to Substance D and Bob think this is because of the speech. After finishing his test, Bob/Fred heads to Hank’s office and is introduced to his informant, which turns out to be Barris. Barris tells them that he believes that Bob is part of a terrorist organization and Hank and Fred say they will keep a close eye on Bob. That night, Barris is attempting to make a homemade silencer and when he tries it out, it ends up waking Bob and causes him to remember his family and wonder how he got there. The next day, Bob, Barris, and Luckman are going to San Diego when their car breaks down and they are forced to pull over. As they get Bob’s car towed back to his house, Luckman gets paranoid that someone did this deliberately and could be stealing their stuff from the house but Barris says he left a device that would record anyone entering the front door. Bob gets upset, as the trip was intended to get everyone out of the house so that Hank could have scanner’s installed, and when he questions Barris more, he can’t figure out of Barris actually did what he said. When they get back to the house, they find evidence that someone had been there recently and Barris and Luckman’s paranoia increases but it turns out to only be Donna, who had fallen asleep while waiting for them. At headquarters, Hank shows Fred the monitoring system and tells him how he can switch out the scanners if need be and he can edit himself out, but tells him not to edit himself out all the time as they will be able to figure out who he really is, as Hank knows he is someone in the house. The next day, Bob starts suffering the effects of Substance D as he sees Barris and Luckman as cockroaches. As Bob watches the video of the house, he sees himself accidentally letting slip that he is a NARC but then pass it off as him being messed up on drugs. He also sees Luckman almost choke to death and Barris doing nothing to help him and when it seems like he is dead, Barris calls 911 but Luckman finally coughs up what he was choking on so Barris hangs up. Elsewhere, Freck decides to commit suicide by taking a bunch of sleeping pills all at once, but his death is merely an alien reading a list of all his sins for eternity. Bob runs into Donna, who takes him back to her place for the D that he asked for. While there, Bob attempts to kiss her but she pushes him away, claiming she doesn’t like being touched after doing coke, and Bob gets upset and leaves, despite Donna’s apologizing to him. Bob ends up hooking up with a girl named Connie but when he wakes up in the morning, he thinks it is Donna at first and freaks out. At headquarters, Bob is made to do some more tests to see if he is suffering the effects of Substance D and he ends up thinking of Fred and Bob as two separate people and worries that they will set up Bob. Later, Bob/Fred goes to Hank’s office, where Barris is there with a supposed tape of Bob and Donna discussing terrorist plots and weapons purchases, but Hank knows the tape is fake and has Barris arrested. Hank then discusses Bob’s addiction to Substance D, and that Hank knows that Fred is really Bob. After Bob leaves, Hank heads into a room to take off his own scramble suit, revealing that he is actually Donna. Donna then takes Bob to a New Path recovery center for help, where Bob sees that Freck is a patient there as well. As Bob goes through his treatment, he is transferred to one of New Path’s farms for his rehab work. When he gets there, he is told that his name is Bruce and he will be staying there for a while and Bob, whose brain is barely functioning, simply repeats back what he is told. Back in the city, Donna meets with her superior, Mike, where they discuss their suspicions that New Path is actually the supplier of the organic component of Substance D and Donna is upset at the fact that they sacrificed Bob by not telling him that his real job was to get so addicted and burnt out on Substance D that New Path would take him to the farm. Back at the farm, Bob is working in some rows of corn when he sees the blue flowers growing in between the corn stalks. When the owner of the farm and the foreman tell Bob to get back to work, Bob starts to remember some aspects of his past life and grabs one of the flowers and hides it in his shoe, planning to give it to the authorities over his Thanksgiving break, though it is unclear if he will remember back then.
A Scanner Darkly met with mostly praise from the critics, holding a 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is that it is, “A faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel, A Scanner Darkly takes the viewer on a visual and mind-blowing journey into the author’s conception of a drug-addled and politically unstable world.” The film was animated using rotoscoping, which involved animators tracing over the original footage frame by frame, a process which, according to director Richard Linklater, took 18 months though the actual filming only took 23 days. Grossing $7.7 million at the box office, A Scanner Darkly is the highest grossing rotoscoped animated feature but unfortunately, it was also a failure as it didn’t earn back the $8.7 million budget.
This can be a little confusing at times but it is a fantastic movie to watch. The acting was really good, with Keanu Reeves (Bob), Winona Ryder (Donna), and Robert Downey Jr. (Barris) all doing great jobs. Woody Harrelson ((Luckman) and Rory Cochrane (Freck) were also good but felt a little more like they were just there for comedic relief. I honestly have never read the story it was based on but the plot was pretty good. The animation was really good and very life-like, which made sense given the style employed. The only thing that did bother me with the animation is that it did kinda of hurt my eyes a little at times, mainly the times where they were using scramble suits, but other than that, I couldn’t really find any faults. A great movie that honestly has me ready to go to the library to check out the book.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5