Fearful Symmetries

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21 July, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

Another recent viewing was A Scanner Darkly. Being a big fan of Philip K. Dick, I've been awaiting the release of this film ever since I got wind that Richard Linklater was tackling it with his rotoscoping technique and all and it did not disappoint. At this point, Linklater's reimagining is the most faithful to the original story of any film based on a PKD story. Blade Runner deviated from the book dramatically but retained the PKD spirit. I'm ambivalent about Minority Report. There are times when I see it as having retained a lot of the PKD spirit with the most glaring exception being Tom Cruise's Anderton being too good, too macho, and virtually without flaw – nothing like the protagonists of Dick's stories. Dick's protagonists weren't exceptional men in exceptional circumstances, they were flawed average Joes in totally fucked up inversion of reality. Other times I view it as being just as crappy as most of the rest of Hollywood's adaptations but with great cinematography.

Dick's A Scanner Darkly begins with Jerry Fabin's memorable dealings with imaginary aphids. It's a scene that has stayed with me ever since I read the book for the first time. Although the film transfers this role to Charles Freck, the realization of this scene was fantastic.



The scene displays something that no other film version of Dick's stories has ever conveyed – his dry humor. Robert Downey, Jr. was an inspired casting choice as he is absolutely great as Barris with his paranoid logorrhea going 100MPH.



Kudos also to Woody Harrelson as Ernie Luckman. Those two have some hilarious Abbot & Costello-esque scenes together. The bit with the bicycle and its disappearing gears is just classic. I won't go into a lengthy summary but the basic plot concerns Bob Arctor as played by Keanu Reeves. He is a narc and is trying to stem the tide against the highly addictive Substance D. In order to maintain his cover, he adopts the persona of "Fred" and wears a scramble suit whenever he goes in to see his boss to give reports.



The scramble suit alters his voice and is like a movie screen in that it constantly displays a montage of people on the outside disguising the identity of the wearer. Barris, Luckman, and Freck are all addicts and friend of Arctor. Donna Hawthorne is Arctor's girl and a supplier of Substance D. Winona Ryder does a good job as Donna with her lines about not wanting to be touched because she does so much coke. The paranoia of these guys comes across pretty well though I miss the scene where they take apart the house looking for surveillance devices.

My main gripe about the film is that it didn't get across the actual split of Arctor into Fred & Arctor. In the book, Fred is unaware that he is Arctor and thusly spying and informing on himself while the film see Arctor going down that path, it never delves into the absurdity of the situation as does the book. It's a disappointment but not one that ruins the film because it offers so much else. Linklater originally used the rotoscoping technique in his Waking Life and it is used to great effect here. The animation is more clear and detailed here and, once you get used to it, it isn't ostentatious at all. It suits the surreal vision of the future and make the scramble suit fit right into the world instead of standing out. All at once the vision of the future is fake and surreal yet also extremely familiar. Plus it makes a perfect fit with a story that has identity as a theme. The actors look familiar but they're not as we've seen them before. We’re seeing our world through a glass darkly.

The biggest surprise was how good Keanu Reeves was in the film. I really, really, really don't like him as an actor. His presence in The Matrix made the film virtually unwatchable for me. But he is a great Bob Arctor. Reeves does a good job with the role because much of it is about him just being onscreen looking all scruffy. There's not a great amount of dialogue for him so he can't screw things up; his facial expression say much more than his dialogue and are so much more effective.

Go see A Scanner Darkly. Better yet, read the book and then go see it. If you're interested, you can watch the first 20-some-odd minutes of the film here.
|| Palmer, 9:33 PM

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