curiouser and curiouser

1) Watching A Scanner Darkly for the first time, without having read any of the original novel and being completely unaware of the source, is a labor not unlike running as fast as you can through a field of molasses.  This is not to say that the film is unwatchable or that the story is unrecognizable amidst the twisted plot, but there are periods of lazy, drug-fueled contemplation juxtaposed with an increasing paranoia that begins to consume the characters’ lives until the audience is left quite far out of the loop and beginning to feel just a bit paranoid themselves.  There are big reveals without the dramatic tension one might expect leading up to such major plot twists, and consequently these reveals – that ‘Hank’ is actually Donna, that the government is behind Substance D and New Path – create an effect of stopping short, of blinking in confusion and trying to process what we’ve just seen even while the story has gotten up and moved on without us.  The rotoscoping is an apt technique for the scramble suit but can be hard to watch for an extended length of time as the animated characters seem to be in constant motion, melting in and out of the scenery and almost, infuriatingly real.  The human faces are the ‘realest’ of the animation, as their clothes and the settings often appear cartoonish – this is a startling visual effect, an uncomfortable existence that we are forced to accept for the duration of the film.  Optical complaints aside, this is effective in portraying a story of extreme drug use and justified paranoia that leaves us questioning the motivation of the government and the police but never the addicts – we don’t expect anything like clarity or moral fiber from drug addicts, but with Substance D so deeply woven throughout all branches of society we come to realize that we can’t expect much honesty or virtue from anyone in the film at all.

2) The first and last chapter of the novel are pretty faithfully adapted in the film, but what is missing in the latter is Jerry’s extended thoughts and research as well as a better representation of how long the bugs have been plaguing him and how long he spends trying to rid himself of what he has convinced himself are aphids.   As for the last chapter, Bruce’s thoughts are vocalized in the film and he actually says aloud that he has seen death growing out of the ground.  Linklater could have chosen to incorporate Keanu Reeves saying these lines as a voiceover while the actual character remains silent, a common cinematic device to express a character’s unspoken thoughts – the fact that he deliberately chose not to is puzzling unless we are meant to infer that Bob/Bruce is no longer capable of internal monologue or perhaps Linklater wanted his audience to be certain that Bob/Bruce is having these thoughts now, and not looking back in retrospect.  It is a small detail but it causes the last chapter of the novel and the final scene of the movie to be out of sync in a way that is slightly dissatisfying – the film does not give us Bob/Bruce’s religious experience as “time ceased as the eyes gazed and the universe jelled along with him”.  Reeves speaking aloud at the end of the film is perhaps Linklater’s way of assuring us that Bob/Bruce is still in there somewhere, that he is not completely lost to Substance D just as Philip K. Dick assures us through this spiritual, harmonizing experience in writing.

3)  Forum arguing against the rotoscoping animation  Wall of the film’s facebook page reviews

I liked the first link best because I waffled back and forth on whether or not I liked the rotoscoping when I first saw the film in theatres – I saw Waking Life later, and liked it much less than A Scanner Darkly.  Some people I’ve spoken to have argued that it shouldn’t matter, that I should focus on the story and stop overthinking the animation, but since there is an extra effort in rotoscoping rather than live action, I want to believe that Linklater did it for a good reason besides the fact that he had done it with some success before.  The IMDB forum was therefore pretty interesting to me.

4) The film A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater, can be described as an example of the stoner picaresque genre, in that it derives humor from watching people act out after taking drugs. How does Scanner Darkly compare to other stoner picaresque films such as the Cheech and Chong films, the Harold and Kumar films, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dazed and Confused (also directed by Richard Linklater), or other examples of the genre you can think of?

A Scanner Darkly differs from other stoner picaresque films in that while its humor is similarly derived from the actions and dialogue of tweaked-out characters, this humor is set amongst paranoia and fear that is justified and appropriate to the situation rather than a simple irrational belief held by drug addicts.  The story is not purposefully humorous or light-hearted in the vein of Cheech and Chong or Dazed and Confused, and the film does not take the effects and hallucinations of drug use to the same extremes as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Jerry’s life with aphids is nothing compared to Raoul’s bats or the hotel lizard orgy, after all.  A Scanner Darkly is instead a more serious film with humorous elements, perhaps not intended as an anti-drug message but a what-if sci-fi premise that is much closer to home than the usual implication of science fiction.


Comments on: "A Scanner Darkly (complete)" (1)

  1. Another excellent blog entry assignment. And I was happy to see someone willing to deal with the “stoner picaresque” question. You did a really good job with it, particularly in your argument that Scanner is not really anti-drug but more like “what if” plot (something Dick was particularly prone to in his novels). 10/10.

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