In a totalitarian society in a near future, the undercover detective Bob Arctor is working with a small time group of drug users trying to reach the big distributors of a brain-damaging drug called Substance D. His assignment is promoted by the recovery center New Path Corporation, and when Bob begins to lose his own identity and have schizophrenic behavior, he is submitted to tests to check his mental conditions.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Charlie Kaufman wrote a screenplay adaptation of the novel with Australian Director Emma-Kate Croghan. He couldn't produce a usable script, and when his profile swelled with the success of Being John Malkovich (1999), he lost interest in the film. When the project changed hands, Kaufman's script was no longer involved. See more »
During the first psychological test, the 'dog' and 'pyramid' cards disappear from the table after Bob puts them down. See more »
[on the phone]
I looked them up. They're aphids. They're in my hair, on my skin, in my lungs. And the pain, Barris, it's unreasonable. They're all over the place. Oh, they've completely gotten Millie too.
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The "Phil" mentioned in the "in memoriam" list as having permanent pancreatic damage is Philip K. Dick himself. See more »
Thanks to Rick Linklater and the Dick family for allowing a Scanner Darkly to re-envision Philip K. Dick's great novel without straying from its central themes and story line. Good film adaptations of literature are very often collaborative efforts between two or more artists - the writer and the director (and sometimes her/his production team). Make no mistake - A Scanner Darkly IS one of these collaborations - it is definitely a Linklater film - from the spare but very effective and hypnotic Graham Reynolds sound track to the disturbing but mesmerizing holosuit scenes and the pseudo-philosophical paranoiac banter between Harrelson and Downey's characters. In fact, I remember the last time I read Dick's novel - around the time I heard Linklater was directing this film - thinking that some of the scenes in the book could be lost in Linklater's wonderful film "Slacker".
Linklater and Dick are a perfect match.
The story is about a deep-cover narcotics officer (Reeves) who is in danger of becoming one of his own targets, since he has become addicted to a very popular and addictive hallucinogen - Substance D (AKA "Death") The cast is all very good, and extremely well suited for their characters. But here again, we are seeing Linklater's interpretation of the novel. He saw the comedic potential for the Barris character and played it up by giving the role to Downey and presenting Harrelson as a combination of loyal side-kick and straight-man to Downey's sometimes overpowering Barris.
What the story is really about is the culture of recreational drug use and addiction. Its portrayal of this is on target, and though the subject is treated with some sympathy, the contradictory messages, denials, and complex rationalizations permeating that culture also come through powerfully. In this manner, the film nails the book spot-on.
Reeves is perfectly cast as Arctur. His subtle and somewhat detached style is exactly what was needed for this complex and sympathetic character. And although some have stated that he was "blown off the screen by Downey and Harrelson" I couldn't agree less. Downey is louder and more domineering, yes, but Arctur is not a loud, ultra-dynamic, paranoid, and could not be played in a way which could compete with Downey's character.
Although I believe Winona Rider to be very talented, I had my doubts about her in the role of Donna - one of my favorite characters in Dick's novel. However, once again, Winona exceeded my expectations. I have never seen a bad performance out of her.
This is great casting, period.
While these are not criticisms, I feel obligated to make a couple of comments comparing the book and the film. First, the film is not really as dark and disturbing as the book. I can not explain why in this review - you will have to see it to understand why I say this. Second, I was very slightly disappointed by the reduced role of Donna in this film. Third - though some have commented that the film was hard to follow and that they felt they could only really get it if they read the book - I can only say that this is probably intentional. Yes, many of Linklater's films are non-linear and can be hard to follow for those who expect to have things explained to them. Linklater is, if nothing else, an artist and doesn't seem very interested in linearity or explanation. And the original work by Dick is no less ambiguous. In fact it is, in my opinion, more ambiguous.
This film does a great job of bringing to the screen one of the most intelligent and emotional works of science fiction ever written. My thanks to all involved.
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