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A Scanner Darkly
A Scanner Darkly
Actors: Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr., Rory Cochrane, Mitch Baker
Director: Richard Linklater
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense, Animation
R     2006     1hr 40min

Set in a not-too-distant future where America has lost its "war" on drugs, Fred, an undercover cop, is one of many people hooked on the popular drug, Substance D, which causes its users to develop split personalities. Fred...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr., Rory Cochrane, Mitch Baker
Director: Richard Linklater
Creators: Richard Linklater, Anne Walker-McBay, Ben Cosgrove, Erin Ferguson, Erwin Stoff, George Clooney, Philip K. Dick
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense, Animation
Sub-Genres: Crime, George Clooney, Keanu Reeves, Indie & Art House, Drama, Animation, Futuristic, Mystery & Suspense, Animation
Studio: Warner Home Video
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Animated,Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 12/19/2006
Original Release Date: 07/28/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 07/28/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 40min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
See Also:

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Member Movie Reviews

Steve W. (cobaltblue) from YORK, PA
Reviewed on 11/17/2013...
A Scanner Darkly is like Vanilla Sky meets Robocop 3. The police officer, played by Keanu Reeves, has a complex, tainted view of the world, but is naive to his function in the larger plans within the law enforcement organization. His "roommates" are much more complex than they first appear; we explore each one through the challenges placed on the main character.

The cast alone is good enough for 4 stars. The overall artsy, cartoon-esk presentation of the movie is what makes this a HUGELY fantastic film for me. If someone told me "It's like a cartoon" I would have thought: "Roger Rabbit." But it's nothing like that. In fact, I've never seen any other film presented like this. It's what sets the mood and makes some of the more gritty scenes seem almost surreal.

My only wish was that they had put more Winona in it. Or at least, more Winona at the right times. :)

Give this one a spin. At a minimum you'll have something to talk to your friends about on Monday morning over coffee and Facebook catch-up.

Karen B. from GULFPORT, MS
Reviewed on 10/30/2012...
Awesome animation and vision of the book!
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Chad B. (abrnt1) from CABERY, IL
Reviewed on 5/26/2011...
This movie is awful. The animation is some of the worst I've seen (all they've done is traced over what they shot), the story is a mess & the acting is bad. This movie bombed for a reason.
1 of 4 member(s) found this review helpful.
Sarah F. (keanupattinson) from INDIANAPOLIS, IN
Reviewed on 7/6/2009...
This was such a strange movie, it took me a few minutes to really get into it but really while I was watching it, I felt like I was watching people abuse drugs and just descend further and further into darkness. Overall I liked it.
2 of 3 member(s) found this review helpful.

Movie Reviews

It's High Times for Moviegoers
Chris Pandolfi | Los Angeles, CA | 07/20/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Here's the interesting thing about Richard Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly": for a film about heavy drug use set in the not too distant future, it's probably one of the most honest and complex anti-drug stories ever told. I say this in spite of the fact that I found the specifics of the plot incredibly difficult to grasp. All I could comprehend were the general bits of information, most of which were gathered from trailers and commercials. Apparently, a fictional drug called Substance D rules the streets of Orange County, California. It's a highly addictive, brain-frying narcotic that has a long list of negative side effects. It's also an illegal substance, one that undercover cop Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) has gotten quite familiar with in his attempt to locate its main distributor. Upon infiltrating the home of a group of pill popping slackers, he starts using in order to blend in. Unfortunately, this drugged lifestyle eventually leaves him unable to distinguish reality from hallucinations.

Through the cinematic process of rotoscoping, Linklater has enabled the audience to feel the exact same way as Arctor does. Each frame of film was traced over and stylistically repainted, making the world the characters live in--as well as the characters themselves--look half like a cartoon and half like the physical realm. It was an absolutely incredible look, and I found that it gave the story an added dimension by representing a kind of realistic unreality (if that makes any sense at all). In that sense, it's almost symbolic that the undercover cops wear scramble suits, which are high tech cloaks with anatomical images that continuously shift from one to the next (apparently, a single suit can project millions of appearances). The state of the world these characters live in is ruled by uncertainty and deception. Arctor is ultimately tested, not only in terms of what he believes to be the truth, but in terms of his state of mind, as well.

I now understand why that rotoscoping process was used for an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel. Only he could have written about the life-destroying effects of an addictive substance. Likewise, only this kind of film can do justice to the point he was trying to make, namely that you can't trust anyone, especially when you're addicted to a powerful drug. Unfortunately, elaborating on that point would give too much away; I will say that all in this movie isn't exactly as it seems, and more than a couple of characters have hidden agendas. There are a number of truths hidden amongst the film's eccentric style, and by the time you get halfway through, you're completely lost.

However, this is the kind of movie you don't mind getting lost in, even if you have no idea what's going on. I have to admit that while I understood the underlying message of the story, I barely understood this film as a whole. Watching the sequences unfold and listening to the characters interact is almost as brain scrambling as the evil Substance D is. This is especially true of the conversations between James Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.), Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), and Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), three of Arctor's equally spaced out friends. Their esoteric banter flows seamlessly from topic to topic in an Altered Consciousness sort of way, filled with anti-establishment ramblings that almost come off as poetic. It even gets comical at times; during a road trip to San Diego, Barris claims he left the front door of their house unlocked and attached a note for burglars to read (which, supposedly, was all part of an elaborate scheme to record the intruder and solve the mystery behind the Substance D ring).

There are some interesting moments shared between Arctor and his girlfriend, Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). Their relationship revolves around their mutual abuse of Substance D, which doesn't exactly enhance their moments together so much as it leaves them in a perpetually dazed state of awareness. Their conversations are almost as esoteric as those of Barris, Luckman, and Freck, the only difference being a small degree of intimate, meaningful language. One also gets the sense that Arctor is trying to understand Donna as a person, specifically why she's behaving in certain ways. He knows how devastating the effects of Substance D can be, and he fears that maybe she's going too far with her usage. The two show genuine concern for one another, even when they find themselves lost in a conversation about drooping, floating cats.

Despite the free flowing course the story takes, everything does come together by the end. "A Scanner Darkly" is one of those movies that can cleverly hide behind a hallucinogenic facade in order to convey a serious message. If you're considering seeing this movie, you have to be willing to get jerked around somewhat, especially when it comes to your expectations for solid characterizations and straightforward storytelling. I think I knew all along that I'd find this film confusing; the ads made it perfectly clear that this was a very unconventional project. But in the end, I didn't really mind; the story takes on the form of a seriously warped puzzle, and I welcomed the opportunity to put the pieces together and figure things out for myself.

Let me end by quoting the tagline from Jim Henson's "Labyrinth": "A world where everything seems possible, and nothing is as it seems." I find this to be a fitting way to describe the world of "A Scanner Darkly." If you see it with that quote in mind, you just might come away with a better understanding of it."
A Worthy Version of a Classic Story
Lisa Shea | 01/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a movie you definitely want on DVD - because you'll want to watch it first with just the movie playing, and then after that with the audio soundtrack that includes director Richard Linklater, actor Keanu Reeves and most importantly the daughter of Philip K Dick. The insights that she provides into the movie and the storyline are priceless.

It's important to realize that Philip K Dick usually wrote about characters, not action sequences - and specifically, he wrote about those in society who did not "fit in" well. If you look through his stories, you'll find they often feature people who are misfits, who society overlooks or forgets. In A Scanner Darkly, the featured 'oddballs' are druggies hooked on Substance D - a drug that is never really described, but apparently causes paranoia and hallucinations.

The key here is to sit down with a glass of wine, a big bowl of popcorn and settle back for a character-driven story. This isn't a Rambo or Dirty Dozen story - it's about how people relate to each other, in many subtle ways. It's a study of interactions.

I really appreciate that this was done in a combination of real life acting and animation. It floors me that in modern times anyone might look down on this because it is a "cartoon". Is a Renoir less worthy than an Ansel Adams because a Renoir was done by hand? Animation isn't inherently kiddie. Hand drawn works can contain quite mature topics. In this case it is *ideally* suited to the story - because a main aspect of the tale is that the characters never quite know what is real and what is imagination. Are the bugs really there? Can he trust what he sees? All signs point to NO. The viewer is caught up in this same confused world. If this had been live action, then 'odd things' would have instantly stood out. But the point of a drug haze is that everything seems 'unreal' - and so odd things fit into that flow much more smoothly.

If you don't know druggies, rest assured that characters like this are quite average - and this story is in essence an autobiography of Philip K Dick's life in the 70s. He lived in a house just like this with his two brothers after his divorce. He lost his wife and two young girls. He was very paranoid that one of his house-mates was a narc, spying on their druggie activities. One of his friends did think bugs were crawling on him. At the end of the movie is Dick's actual ending to the story - a list of his friends who were damaged or slain by drugs. Included on this list are his ex-wife and himself.

So what you have in the movie are the druggies at turns being nice to each other, being very cruel to each other, mistrusting each other, and turning to each other for help. One of the druggies - Bob - is actually a narc cop code-named Fred. He's gone undercover to figure out who is supplying Substance D to the area. Unfortunately, he's gotten himself hooked during his undercover work. Even worse, part of what Substance D does is to destroy your brain - so he's developed in essence split personalities. The Bob-Druggie part forgets most of the time he IS a narc. The narc half of him, when he's in the police station, knows he's spying on this group of druggies but forgets that he is one of them. So when the narc is told to specifically spy on "Bob", he literally doesn't realize that this is him.

Here's where the movie - trying to stuff a dense book into under 2 hours - has some problems. If you haven't read the book, it's not clear at all that Narc-Fred forgets who he is when he goes undercover as Bob. It's a big twist in the book, but in the movie it seems clear to the watcher that it's the same person, and it's not made clear in the story that he's forgetting his "other half".

Other than that, the story is really pretty straightforward, plot-wise. The druggies are paranoid about the world around them and plug on with their lives. The cops are trying to figure out who the supplier is, so they bug the house and try to get that information. Like most Dick stories, there's a twist, although to be honest I thought it would be a much larger twist. Also, like most Dick stories, there's little female presence and the ending is only slightly hopeful. These aren't happy-go-lucky romances that he writes - they are dark warnings about where society is heading when it marginalizes those who don't fit in perfectly.

If you're confused about the movie, I definitely recommend reading the novel. That might be easier to grasp and give you more insight into the characters. Then go back and watch the movie again - taking it slow. Pay attention to the nuances of what they say, and how the characters relate. See how they feel society is treating them - and then take a look what society actually does with these people. Maybe they aren't quite so paranoid after all - maybe there is some resaon for how they feel.
Everything is not going to be OK
N. Durham | Philadelphia, PA | 12/30/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Richard Linklater may seem like an odd choice at first to bring Philip K. Dick's classic story to life, yet with his pretty faithful screenplay and innovative film techniques, Linklater makes perfect sense to direct A Scanner Darkly. Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, and Rory Cochrane play drugged up, strung out friends hooked on a drug called Substance D in Orange Country, California in the very near future. Reeves is Bob, who unbeknownst to his friends, is an undercover spy for the government looking to gather info on the group, and wouldn't you know it that his two personalities begin to split until he doesn't know what's what. For the most part, Linklater nails the paranoid tone and feeling of being an addict, and the performances, particularly from Downey and Cochrane, are superb. Even Reeves goes beyond his typical, wooden self and gives a great performance. The biggest drawback of A Scanner Darkly is also it's biggest draw however: Linklater's "roto-scoping" technique (giving it the graphic novel look) which he used in Waking Life, doesn't always suit the story and tone. When the comedic elements strike, everything is brilliant. However, when the more serious and heart breaking elements of Dick's story come into play, the animation feels gimmicky. Despite that, A Scanner Darkly is still one of the best sci-fi movies released this year, and regardless of whether you are a fan of PKD or Linklater, this is definitely worth seeing."