Sunday, July 09, 2006


A Scanner Darkly

Since I'm a fan of Philip K. Dick's playfully morbid writing, I was mostly pleased with A Scanner Darkly. It follows the book fairly closely, unlike the more accessible adaptations of his material, which radically depart from his particular brand of pessimistic insight about the future of human technology (I'm thinking of Minority Report and Blade Runner, which both of have their merits, but that's thanks to Spielberg and Ridley Scott, respectively, who adhere to conventional aspects of science fiction). Scanner may be slow and sedated, but that's sort of the point, since it essentially documents the gradual decay of coherent subjectivity. Unlike Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, a visionary depiction of how hallucination can unsuspectingly turn from ectastic to horrific in a seamless stream of conciousness, Richard Linklater's direction places emphasis on the frusteration of drug abuse once the startling effects of the opiate become a given. If anything needed some tweaking, it's the cop thriller genre one-two punch surprise finale, which could have been spread across the film's running time to keep the longer dialogue sequences more fluid. But I'm assuming that fluidity was the last thing on the filmmaker's mind.

Linklater doesn't take full advantage of the rotoscope technology the way that most people would expect him to with this story. Since there are drugs, one would think things should get trippy, and they don't do that very often. Personally, I'm glad we're spared too many explorations of these addicts' wounded mindfucks. Keanu Reeves doesn't really act as much as he drifts around, and Woody Harrelson is eternally chill, limiting his range. It's pretty refreshing to just watch their characters strung out on the dreaded Substance D, in extended, rambling conversation, harboring the delusion that they're actually saying something interesting. That delusion, friends, is the ultimate tragedy of justifying excess.

And as a side note, it's true that Robert Downey Jr. really only plays himself these days, but in this case that works better than ever; I get the impression that only he could play a pretentious addict without coming across as condescending or stereotypical.


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