SCANNER DARKLY" NOT QUITE DARK
Erica Hector Vital
Red Rock Review
Las Vegas Round The Clock
A SCANNER DARKLY
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring Keanu Reeves
I need a story. Complexity of director Richard Linklater's graphics aside.
Stellar performances by Keanu Reeves as the poster child for existential
questions on the malleable nature of identity and Robert Downey Jr. as a
drug-addled Lothario, notwithstanding, I need a story.
In this recent
conversion from novel to screen, much of novelist/short story writer Philip
K. Dick's facility with lacing sci-fi with social commentary which made
Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Total Recall so immediate and
titillatingly surreal, is lost in the translation from book to arthouse
animated film so that what we get from A SCANNER DARKLY is too much
commentary, not enough film.
Keanu Reeves is Fred, a
narcotics cop buried mind-deep in the war on drugs. Being the ideal
narcotics agent has earned Fred the distinction of being one of the chosen
few to merit top security use of the identity concealing, Scramble Suit.
Screenwriter-director Richard Linklater, makes vivid use of the tools of his
self-styled craft of interpolated rotoscoping, overlaying live action
photography with high animation. In Linklater's hands, Keanu's feline
features are reconfigured into a United Nations of faces, complexions, and
genders as Fred shields his identity in a suit meant to protect his cover
and his life. As disconcerting as the suit is for Fred to wear, it is just
as unsettling for audiences to see. The concept is philosophically rich--who
are we; how do we truly define ourselves; does the flesh make the man--but
within the framework of narrative film, the kaleidoscopic shifting of
animated features, rapidly slipping over the features of the actor is
maddening, and intrusive.
Keanu's Fred is
also Bob Arctor, or Arctor is also Fred, as the narcotics agent becomes
socially marginalized addict, surrounded by a circle of like minded
Substance D deadheads, who in the thrall of the drug, spin feverish yarns of
bicycles found, drug pad sabotage, and adolescent intrigue. Woody Harrelson
as drug buddy Ernie Luckman is craftily animated and his work here is
heartbreaking and real. We listen to the dude in all his surfer boy
splendor, hoping to see the beginnings of reason under an endearingly
self-indulgent, drug induced paranoia. Though Winona Ryder, as Donna
Hawthorne, is the quintessential Lady In Red, a ballsy, unattainable damsel
in drug-addicted distress, Harrelson is our soft spot in the film. He and
Keanu are drawn so close to the bone there is the sense of seeing more of
these actors in A SCANNER DARKLY than we have before, as if Linklater's
animated process reveals the nerve and the range we'd seen only glimpses of
in other work. Robert Downey Jr.'s helmet of a head, packed with more
cunning and angst than a classical Shakespearean actor should have a right
to, punches through the screen so that it is not the Scramble Suit that
Linklater should promote as the wonder in animation but Downey's brow, the
tortured intellect leaping through pen and ink.
Fred's work as a narc is
to rein in Bob Arctor and his friends. In the Orwellian war between the
Agency and Substance D, Arctor and his crew are public enemy #1. But the
precept of Keanu's Fred surveilling himself as Arctor strikes me as more
Prince and The Pauper, than Philip K. Dick. This bias is personal. Again, I
need a story not a concept and double identity themes frustrate me to the
point of throwing myself at the screen.
Much has been made of
Richard Linklater's care in staying true to Philip K. Dick's 1977 novel.
That loyalty is palpable. As the screenwriter/director adapting P.K. Dick's
personal story of tragic disillusion under a government both persecuting and
colluding with an enemy drug culture, Linklater is inspired and sincere. The
effects of the drug, Substance D, mirrors the effects on society in the
70's, the division of culture, long hairs and Neo-cons sharing one body, one
society and warring against itself as drugs are both supplied and eradicated
by the same powers that be. It is a war against the self. Prolonged use of
Substance D erodes the bridge between the right hemisphere and left
hemisphere of the brain, between friends and lovers, between self and self.
Never let the left hand see what the right hand is doing. Both the novel and
the film are hellbent on breaking the code of identity, or at least daring
us to look behind the looking glass of reality and who we think we are.
In the Philip K.
Dick non-fiction, Cosmogony and Cosmology, the novelist says of his work, ".
. . I ask, in my writing, what is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded
with pseudo realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very
sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives. I
distrust their power."
Like Nostradamus, Philip
K. Dick and his imaginative, prescient work has been ascribed with having
the uncanny power to tell the future. In this adaptation of A SCANNER DARKLY
I think he saw Richard Linklater coming.