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A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Everything is not going to be OK.
Director: Richard Linklater
Science Fiction

An undercover cop in a not-too-distant future becomes involved with a dangerous new drug and begins to lose his own identity as a result.

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Hazed and Dumfused

“Waking Life” was simply dumb, a collection of clever ideas or various forms ill handled. Though it was adventurous in a couple ways, it lacked the edge it could have had. So instead of changing the lives of a few people, it entertainingly mollified many.

This is much, much better. It attempts something that had structure and effect before it was a film. What it had going for it was Dick’s (by now, finally) famous technique of layered observation, frangible motivation and passion. That passion was the most intense until “VALIS,” and came from his own drugged life. It is a worthy book, possibly finding a new audience today with a new generation of thugs in government and drugs in life triggering newly emerging forms of paranoia.

What the film adds are some tricks that allow more literary internal dialog than is usual. I think it is simply because what we see is different enough that we allow the filmmaker more latitude than usual to extend conventional internal conventions: visions, dreams, metaphoric stories-within-stories and of course voice overs.

But there’s more: It has some actors that understand the effects required. Robert Downey Jr in particular chills. This is his personal story as well. His own disaster was caused in large measure by our intrusion into his life, and having us literally watch him while the story is about being watched makes it more visceral and disturbing than the book could ever be.

The animation technique employed here works for me in all regards except one. That’s because it is something still unfamiliar, between the abstraction of cartoon and the texture of “reality”. The idea of pulling colors from the filmed palette is wise.

What fails for me is the cloaking device, which in the book is simply a blurring. Here what they try to do is serially overlay many visual personalities. I understand the practical reason; our eye needs to be kept busy. But it fights the terms of the alternative world they have created with the other elements of the technique, which have a calmness that we accept because it is closer to natural than artificial. It may be simply that the animators had to design roughly because of the number required, and these seem more cartoony than whatever else we see.

But all in all, I allow the deficiencies, and I suppose you will too.

Posted in 2008

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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