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Film Review: A Scanner Darkly

The premise of 'A Scanner Darkly', based on Philip K. Dick's sci-fi novel of the same title, is that of a bleak future where drugs have corrupted 20% of the population. The drug is Substance D, or "Death". Overseas, the government wages a war against drug terrorists worldwide. Within the country, however, the government watches and records everything we do, even in the relative safety of our homes.

Robert Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is the boyfriend of Donna Hawthorne, a Substance D dealer. Robert Arctor and his housemates, Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson), are all heavy drug users and spend much of their time having drug-induced conversations.

However, in secret, Arctor is an undercover operative for the Anaheim Police Department. Wearing a scramble suit that disguises his identity (even from the other police officers with whom he works), his task is to uproot the dealers of Substance D in the government's increasingly disturbing war against the dregs of society.

How did I get here? The pain so unexpected & undeserved & for some reason cleared away the cobwebs. I realized I didn't hate the cabinet door, I hated my life, my house, my family. My backyard, my power mower. Nothing would ever change, nothing new would ever be expected; it had to end, & it did. Now in the dark world where I dwell ugly things & surprising things, & sometimes little wondrous things spill out at me constantly, & I can count on nothing. - Robert Arctor, 'A Scanner Darkly'

Codenamed "Fred", he is trying to get close to Donna to identify her supplier, but she's refusing his sexual advances, and Arctor's housemates are beginning to suspect the reality of the relationship.

Things begin take a turn for the worse when "Fred" is ordered by his superior, "Hank", to spy on Arctor because the police suspect Arctor is the key to busting a major drug operation. In the meantime, Arctor's housemates are becoming increasingly paranoid with the idea that the police are out to get them.

And so begins a strange cycle where the hunter is hunting himself, yet doesn't seem to realize the true nature of everything going on around him. The film centers a lot around the concept of paranoia and the effects of drug abuse, accentuated further by the fact that the entire film is rendered as an animated graphic novel. It seems like the whole world is being viewed through the eyes of an addict, and thus adds another layer of interest to the entire serving.

The ending might not be to many people's liking, but, without giving too much away, it also raises a few more interesting questions of ethics and 'doing the right thing for the greater good'. However, overall, I enjoyed the movie despite its overtly dark and depressing mood. Comic humor is provided by the inane conversations between Arctor and his housemates, as well as the idiosyncratic Freck, who's hallucinations are always a source of comedy.

Ultimately, if you're into twisting conspiracy theories or have a taste for intelligent fair like this, I'd definitely recommend this movie. Be prepared to not understand a lot of parts, though; as Arctor becomes lost in the convoluted world that becomes his reality, things might just be just as blur for you.

- saintmaverick -

3 mad rant(s):

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  1. Shine said...

    Pardon my ignorance, but I have never heard of this movie before, until now. Is it a straight to DVD release?  

  2. stmaverick said...


    No, I think it was released in cinemas worldwide. I don't think it was a straight to DVD release here in Malaysia.

    - saintmaverick -  

  3. Digital Film Scanner said...

    I got the various information on your blog about Digital Film Viewer, Digital Film Scanner Reviews and Film Scanner Review.  


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