What does a scanner see? Into the head? Into the heart? Does it see into me? Clearly? Or darkly?

This afternoon (yes, I am an afternoon matinee kinda gal), I saw the long-awaited A Scanner Darkly. Phillip K. Dick, Richard Linklater, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, what more could one want from a semi-futuristic, rotoscoped creative descendant of everything from Waking Life to Minority Report to my personal favorite Arnold movie, Total Recall (who doesn't remember that girl with the three boobs?).

Richard Linklater, despite his previous fumbles with School of Rock is also the genius behind Waking Life (which includes a couple of Phillip K. Dick references), Dazed and Confused, and Before Sunrise/Before Sunset.

In Waking Life, Linklater used rotoscoping to create the sensation of ephemeral dreamlike existence. It is not suprising, then, that he uses it in A Scanner Darkly, which derives most of its meaning from alterations to conscious matter induced by the use of the most addicting substance known to humanity, Substance D, or as its users call it, "Death." The film is commentary on the extremes of pursuing the war on drugs, implicating the "soldiers" in that war to the continuation of its eternality. I know, I am being cryptic. I don't want to give away the end if you haven't read the novel.

I will say a few other things, though:

1. Robert Downey, Jr. does a great job as James Barris, a dude who clearly went to college at UT, became paranoid from all of the drugs he did, and was too smart to be with the rest of the bums in the house. Woody Harrelson also does a pretty magnificent job of acting like a total idiot. Winona...I feel like anyone could have played this part, and the rotoscoping didn't quite capture her image, but I suppose that that is the point. Keanu...he is kind of everpresent, reading lines and so forth, and does what he does best, as the confused but waiting to be enlightened narrator and, arguably, main character of the film.

2. This is the second time I've watched a Richard Linklater film and felt that it took place in Austin. This one tells you it is California, but there is something very Austin about it. Maybe it's Linklater. Maybe its the Barris character. Who knows? I like this feeling, because it was an identifier that set Linklater's production style apart from anyone else who may have taken on A Scanner Darkly.

3. Charlie Kaufman originally worked on the screenplay, before it went to Linklater. Would it have turned out differently? I thought about this a lot during the movie. Certain elements would certainly have been presented with a stark realism that is difficult to induce with the rotoscope, but that seems as if it is the point. Sure, the Kaufman version would have been a far cry from the interpretations of Phillip K. Dick we see in Total Recall or Minority Report, but I think that, as much as I love Charlie Kaufman, it was the rotoscope that really made this movie.

4. I feel like there needed to be a little more artistic license taken with the ending. It certainly skirts the issue of the implications of anonymous law enforcement, but it never goes so far as to actually say what I think the whole point of the story is: that in a world in which we do not know who is watching us and who is given power over us, we are forced to discipline ourselves, or take the chance of existing entirely outside the law.

Overall, I recommend that you see this movie if you enjoyed any of its predecessors. It is not nearly as thought provoking as Waking Life, or as action-packed as any of the aforementioned Phillip K. Dick novel and short story adaptations, but it is definitely worth watching if for no other reason than that you get to see Keanu Reeves completely lose it a couple of times and there are these cool shape shifting uniforms (which, again, could probably not have existed without the rotoscope).


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