"Reality, Through a Glass Darkly"
What You Need To Know:
Like Philip K. Dick's other stories, A SCANNER DARKLY plays like a quirky film noir. The animation flattens out the story as well as the expressions on the actors' faces. Like the novel, the movie has some Christian themes and biblical allusions reflecting Dick's attraction to Christianity. They occur, however, in the context of a mixed pagan worldview with strong foul language, explicit nudity and strong sexual elements. There is a much more engrossing, more powerful story underneath the movie's silly animation and immoral, pagan content.
(PaPa, C, FR, BB, AP, Ho, LLL, VVV, SS, NN, A, DDD, MM) Mixed pagan worldview with some positive Christian elements and biblical allusions portrayed in an allegorical, dark, mixed, antinomian fashion that may come across as a bit New Age, plus a strong, but often implied, moral statement against hallucinatory drugs, a negative and critical view of America and government surveillance, and one or more references to homosexuality; at least 78 obscenities, six strong profanities and three light profanities; one very strong, but brief, violent scene, creepy scene where stoned man thinks he's crawling with bugs and character seriously contemplates committing suicide; depicted fornication in at least one scene, some crude sexual comments, implied sex, a reference or two to homosexuality; upper female nudity in several scenes, plus upper male nudity in several scenes; alcohol use; many, almost continual drug references, but placed with a message that is ultimately anti-drug; and, stealing, lying, deceit, and manipulation in a dark story that's not resolved happily.
A SCANNER DARKLY is a filmed version of the famous anti-drug novel by Philip K. Dick. Regrettably, the filmmakers have decided to shoot the movie in live action, but cover up the actors’ performances with rotoscoped animation. The animation obviously helps save money on some of the required special effects in the story, but it flattens out the story and the actors’ expressions.
In the hard-to-follow story, which is set in Southern California, Keanu Reeves plays Fred, an undercover narcotics cop seven years in the future. Fred wears a thin, specially designed, human-looking suit that covers up his identity, even to his superior, who also wears a suit. Fred is really Bob Arctor, who, as Fred, is ordered to spy on himself and his friends, Jim Barris, Ernie Luckman, Dona Hawthorne, and Charles Freck. They all seem addicted to Substance D, a powerful illegal drug that has enticed 80 percent of the population.
Surveillance cameras are set up in Arctor, Barris and Luckman’s house while Fred watches. The identities between Fred and Arctor begin to blur as Arctor and his male friends become more and more paranoid. A twist at the end reveals another reality.
Like other science fiction movies based on Philip K. Dick’s stories, A SCANNER DARKLY plays like a quirky film noir. It also has some Christian themes and biblical references reflecting Dick’s attraction to Christianity. The story’s worldview seems mixed, however, because it only offers up its Christian elements and biblical references to help round out the story of drugs, paranoia, government surveillance, and confusion of identity. All of these themes, of course, are typical for Dick and many of his novels and stories. A SCANNER DARKLY also includes strong foul language and strong sexual elements, plus some explicit nudity, as well as brief violence.
There seems to be a much more engrossing, more powerful story underneath the silly animation, gratuitous foul language, nudity, sexual content, confusing plot, and bizarre characters. Viewers, especially more intellectually and artistically inclined ones, may come to understand why the filmmakers applied animation to the original live action scenes. If they are honest, however, they will also conclude that, ultimately, the animation just doesn’t work. That’s too bad, because the original novel was a very personal, redemptive one for Philip K. Dick, who had problems battling drug addiction himself. In fact, before the end credits roll, the movie borrows Dick’s grieving epitaph for all the friends he lost through drug addiction, either through death or permanent brain damage. In the end, drugs cut Dick’s own life short. His life should be a stern warning to all of us.