Reviews of A Scanner Darkly
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A Scanner Darkly est un film tiré du roman du même nom de Philip K. Dick. L’occasion pour moi aussi de découvrir Richard Linklater à travers ce film.
N’ayant pas lu le bouquin, je restais vierge à toute idée. Cependant, force de constater que l’oeuvre du cinéaste manque d’éclaircissements. C’est bien beau d’avoir un scénario alambiqué, mais il manque clairement de choses pour pouvoir comprendre parfaitement. C’est certes à nous de faire une partie du travail mais tout de même. Et où est l’ambiance oppressante promise alors que notre personnage est censé tomber dans la paranoïa? Pour ce dernier côté, on ne le ressent uniquement que dans le générique de début, très réussi. De ce côté, je reste assez déçu. Il doit manquer des choses importantes, et je suis persuadé qu’une Director’s Cut ferait du bien au film. Il ne faut pas jeter la pierre à Linklater pour autant. Son script reste assez prenant que pour ne pas s’ennuyer jusque la fin. De plus, le dernier quart d’heure est d’une excellente réussite. Etonnant aussi de voir que ce film est sorti au moment où nous étions encore sous l’ère Bush et celle de l’espionnage organisé sur sa population. A ce titre, le film est en phase avec son époque.
Ce qui m’avait le plus attiré dans cette oeuvre, c’est bel et bien son utilisation de la rotoscopie, qui reste une belle prouesse technique pour ce film. C’est déstabilisant au début, ça pourrait ne pas avoir de sens dans l’oeuvre, mais étant donné qu’on a affaire à un monde de junkie. L’image est parfois comme floutée, transparente et ça donne une impression de délire. Plutôt bien joué pour le coup.
Les acteurs sont corrects. Keanu Reeves n’a pas la stature pour un premier rôle. Robert Downey Jr. est incroyable par contre.
Ce n’est pas un film désagréable, mais son point faible reste son script où l’on sent des raccourcis trop vites faits, perdant le spectateur, le laissant parfois sur sa faim. Mais ça reste agréable à suivre.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
For whatever reason, with no use of mind-altering assistance, the first time I read Philip Dick’s A Scanner Darkly I felt myself pulled into the narrative to the extent that I knew the insanity as it slowly built, I experienced the growing paranoia and uncertainty as Robert Arctor’s investigation into his own activities distanced himself from his self. Never before, and never after (including rereadings of the book) was I influenced in this way. The film, whatever it can offer, can not offer that.
Yet, again, for whatever reason, with no use of mind-altering assistance, this movie affects me every time I watch it. The primary reason, I believe, is the underlying humanity inseparable from the story itself. If this had been reworked to the extent of any previous Dick adaptation (the only ones which I have not seen being Barjo, the Screamers sequel and the yet unreleased pictures, Radio Free Albemuth, The Adjustment Bureau and King of the Elves), this humanity might have been diluted too much to the detriment of the edification and catharsis that it now provides. Richard Linklater (whose filmography I have not sufficiently seen to make a statement about his skill, though what I have seen is mixed in quality) chooses to have greater faith in Dick’s material than any previous film based on the author’s work, and succeeds because of it.
Adhering to the book more closely than most adaptations, PKD or no, A Scanner Darkly follows Robert Arctor aka Fred (Keanu Reeves) as he struggles to navigate his two worlds. As Arctor, he is addicted to Substance D, an epidemic drug inspired both by Dick’s own use of amphetamine and by his familiarity with the culture of general experimentation; he lives in a tract house on funds from his part-time mechanic job with two flaneurs, James Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson). Their lives revolve around a, the acquisition and ingestion of Substance D and b, the discussion of how the world is doomed, their theories steeped in a paranoia so strong that everyone is suspect. Of course these people, feeling so alienated from those in power, suspect the government of somehow being behind their misery, but they recognize the degradation of their own faculties, and accordingly harbor suspicions even for their closest friends.
As Fred, he is a police agent only known to his coworkers by this name, his person being concealed beneath a scramble suit which, by manipulating the body and voice as it is perceived by others (through a constant rotation of face and body elements and a computerized voice), prevents anyone from recognizing the undercover agents. In addition to being a safety measure for the agents with regard to the people on the outside, it also belies the same paranoia present in the world outside where no one, not one’s closest comrades, are trustworthy; everyone is suspect. Whether on the side of law and order (and where the line for that side begins and ends is as unclear as a face on the scramble suit) or under the throes of the criminal and junkie underworld (and, again, as demonstrated by Arctor/Fred, one does not preclude the other) the fate is the same: entropy—of body, of mind, of society—consumes all. After an anonymous tip, Fred is assigned to monitor Arctor and to report regularly on his activities. His superiors know he is a member of the group hanging out at Arctor’s house, but he must edit any surveillance so that no one will know who he is. On top of his already deteriorating sense of self, this new assignment fosters the growing schism in Arctor’s perception of reality, and he loses the recognition that he is watching and suspecting himself.
Judged purely on structure, this film can not be recommended. Despite a clear story and sensible plot, a majority of the run time is composed of vignettes during which the characters carry on their daily activities: talking about their drug use, their desire to quit, who is out to get them and how they can get others. Certain explanations for later actions are thrown out there without any real anchor to anything else (specifically, the ~“give her flowers” bit which, though it works for me, seems somewhat lazy and last minute). Plot moments are interleaved with these slices of life until the final 20-30 minutes during which the story takes center stage and is finally (to an extent, according to the reactions of others not familiar with the source) clarified. But, as suggested above, the plot and even the story are less important than what is recognized about human beings; as with Dick’s written work, what reigns supreme is the idea.
As with much of Dick’s writing, the idea here is buttressed by his concern with the battle between the primal good and evil in the lives of average human beings. As the true machinations behind both the world (in which the story takes place) and the story itself are revealed, the audience is exposed to the difficulty in discriminating between these primals by human beings: the recognition of how good can (and often will) be enacted through evil, becoming evil, and the faith that good can (and indeed, ultimately must) arise even from evil. But, despite the breadth of his interests, Dick never lets these overwhelm the individuals, and the tragedy of Robert Arctor’s character in its complexity (the motivating factors being varied and vague in where they begin and end) combined with the aforementioned faith in an ultimately triumphant good, as displayed in the final minutes of the film, brings me to tears every time: being shown, again, how unfair people can be, and how seemingly necessary these human unfairnesses can be when we exist in a medium of unfairness, such as is life. Dick, though he poses the questions and offers interpretations of the questions and the results, rarely casts judgment on the people involved, and, fortunately, Linklater follows this same approach. There is, in the end, anger and sadness, but they are directed at the problems not at the people involved. All that is felt toward the people is compassion, both at the difficult decisions and the mistaken choices which coalesce into something no one person can predict.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
Celebrated American independent filmmaker Richard Linklater (“Fast Food Nation” & “Before Sunset”) reteams with animator Bob Sabiston (“Grasshopper” & “Waking Life”) for this faithful adaptation of the BSFA Award winning semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by American sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick, which was nominated for Saturn and Hugo Awards.
Burnt-out undercover cop Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) finds his grip on reality slowly beginning to unravel as he monitors the actions of a small group of users of an illegal drug called Substance D in the hopes of tracking it down to its source in the dystopian setup to this low-key animated musing on drug culture and its devastating effects.
Lifelike mannequin Keanu Reeves (“The Lake House” & “Constantine”) is at his most animated, despite directorial fears that he might be burnt out from his sterling work on the Matrix trilogy, and proves a suitably sexless partnering for one-time leading lady Winona Ryder as the drug-addled but curiously chemically-lacking pairing at the heart of the story.
The two leads are however completely outclassed by a neurotic Robert Downey, Jr., perhaps a little too at home in the role of the drug addled antagonist, at the head of an all superb supporting cast which includes star turns from Woody Harrelson, director veteran Rory Cochrane and a cameo from right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
The self-taught director once again deploys the innovative interpolating rotoscope animation of Bob Sabiston and his team which added so much to their previous collaboration but here seems a cute but expensive gimmick here as it is used to little effect other than to add the bugs at the beginning and to cover-up the crib notes of an addled Robert Downey, Jr.
The filmmakers have wisely steered away from the big-budget blockbuster bullshit of “Minority Report” and “Paycheck” for a more faithful adaptation of the author’s most personal work to create a fascinating and unflinching but not completely satisfying insight into this much reviled subculture where both author and director have found creative inspiration in the past.
“What does a scanner see? Into the head? Into the heart? Does it see into me? Clearly? Or darkly?”
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
A fascinating and troubling film, unfortunately burdened with the presence of the worst actor alive, Keanu Reeves. Worth seeing, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself cringing whenever his voice is heard. Even rotoscoping can’t save his attempt at a performance. It is even worse when he is onscreen with the accomplished Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr: it’s like you’re suddenly watching Laurel and Hardy and Dick Cheney.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
Crazily enough it’s a movie that makes sense more to those who have either used drugs/abused drugs/know someone who’s experienced either or both/or whatnot. The bigger ‘picture’ of the movie, the statement about how drug addicts are troubled people who are suckered into a confusing cycle of addiction because of money/politics/history, is there and is powerful enough for anyone to see. This is a very original drug film. Yet, the talks they have and the visual style really hits home if you’ve ‘played’ around with drugs and understand them. It’s true.
From an ‘outside’ perspective you could only judge these characters and these habits from a different ethical standpoint. If you get the idea behind drug use and abuse first hand then you understand the thin line of good and bad that the movie is all about. It’s an interesting head trip for sure. Drug users may be crazy sons of bitches but what about the ones herding them and using them and persecuting them? Are they less valuable or important than other human beings? Do they not deserve to be helped or treated with respect? Or do they deserve to be pawns or scapegoats or outcasts because of their pain and confusion?
I found a lot of questions spring up with this movie. Linklater still keeps making challenging pop art. Kudos to ‘getting’ Philip K. Dick.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
What if the government turned one of its own into that which it serves to rid society of? If it enlisted anonymous employees for a mission, while necessary, that called for them to turn their recruit into an addict? The only way to infiltrate an illegal operation is to send one of its own inside. One sacrifice needs to see darkly in order for humanity to one day be able to see clearly again. A Scanner Darkly is a dark and personal descent into hell. Set in a not-so-distant future, our players are constantly under surveillance in order to capture those who are corrupting the world with the drug Substance D. We are thrown into the underground to see first hand the destruction of humanity, one delusion at a time. Science fiction has never been better and a story by Philip K. Dick never adapted so intelligently.
I have seen many Dick adaptations to film over the years, the favorite being Ridley Scott’s artistic and intelligent Blade Runner. Not until now, however, have I really wanted to go straight to the bookstore to pick up his entire catalog of novels. Never having read his stories I wasn’t sure what his tone really was. Minority Report was a good film until the tacked on sappy ending that only Spielberg can do, and Paycheck was a dismal waste of time. But then you have the dark despair of Blade Runner and the corruption of Total Recall, two movies which succeed greatly in my mind. After watching Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Darkly, I have to believe the heavy, cynical outlook on life is what Dick does and have to wonder whether the two failures changed his stories to go mainstream (which wouldn’t surprise me in the least). His works need independent visionaries like Scott and Linklater to say screw the mainstream, we need this story to go out right.
We are introduced to Keanu Reeves character, after the credit sequence, and learn that he is a government agent working to stop the distribution of Substance D. Like the others in his job, he must wear a scramble suit to conceal his identity on the job. This suit makes it impossible to know who the agent really is. When off the clock, they actually are junkies themselves, infiltrated into the culture to play the addicts off each other and get a big arrest. Reeves is perfectly cast as a man of principles who has slowly gone off the deep end into psychosis. He recalls to himself the wife and children at home, while at the moment he is a low-life named Bob Arctor, living with his user friends/suspects. Only Keanu can pull off the heady aloofness needed when he is assigned by his boss to watch Arctor, (yes, himself), to see if he slips and can be arrested. His employers know he must be in that circle of people, but there is no way of knowing which one he is, making this seemingly ludicrous assignment possible.
While Keanu’s split personalities drive the plot, his friends make the ride enjoyable. Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane are hilarious. The three are in a permanent state of delusion, leading to paranoid inferences and activities. No one besides Downey Jr. can stop on dime and go off into tangents and unintelligible brainstorms when provoked by his own thoughts. The rapport between this crew is amazing and they play off each other brilliantly. Even Winona Ryder does an admirable job as Arctor’s girl/dealer Donna. She plays a junkie on D, but with a heart. Her character allows us to see deep into Reeves’ character emotionally. A side effect of D for females is the shutdown of the sexdrive; the utter disgust at being touched affectionately. We are shown the feelings that Donna and Arctor have for each other that can never be fulfilled. Hopefully her shoplifting hiatus has come to a close and Ryder follows this comeback with more roles in the future.
The story runs at an exciting pace, keeping you on the edge of your seat to continue through and find out Bob Arctor’s fate. Will he be arrested although he is taking surveillance of himself? or will he be able to find a bigger fish to fry while making his cover and descent to hell mean something? The layers Linklater has sewn together here are all superimposed on each other to great effect. The language has many quotable passages that you can almost feel are Dick’s words, and for this I commend Linklater for the courage to stick to the real heart of the story. I almost don’t have to mention the rotoscoping effect used, similar to the director’s previous gem Waking Life. Without the freedom animation allows, the movie could not have been as successful as it is. I applaud all involved as this journey continues with its laughs and tears all culminating in the heartbreaking finale, that when looking back really is the only way it could have played out. Also, it was a very nice touch, before the credits, having Philip K. Dick’s memoriam for all his friends that had died or suffered immensely from the effects of drugs. A Scanner Darkly tries to give meaning to their descent and a glimmer of hope for the future to one day rid itself of the voluntary plague.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.