Awesome! A Scanner Darkly is my favourite novel about drug culture and my favourite Philip K. Dick novel. To me it is the only novel that is really tells the truth about drug users rather than romanticising or condemning them. It is also quite a flawed novel which makes it ripe for adaptation and Richard Linklater has done an excellent job of making what is currently the definitive Dick adaptation for the big screen.
The film retains Dick’s ear for junkie patter with conversations and incidents that had me doubled up with laughter with the idiocy and veracity of it all. It also has the paranoia and psychosis of drug culture, capturing perfectly the false camaraderie of those united only by their drug of choice. Ultimately any drug user becomes alienated from the rest of the world (something the film explicitly mentions in the opening scene) and that strange mix of bonding and estrangement is perfectly captured. There is one perfect scene where Bob and Donna are sitting on a sofa, each holding a cushion. When Bob asks to touch Donna instead she freaks out (though it a slightly less coherent way than presented in the book).
The protagonist’s central dilemmia of having to spy on himself is Kafkaesque and a kind of endlessly relevant theme but the film also incorporates a dialog about the War on Terror and the War on Drugs. It is less condemnatory about rehab than the book and while remaining a very bleak kind of film it has a softer, more positive ending than Dick’s almost nihilistic conclusion to the novel.
The rotoscoping is great and really helps present an altered view of reality without being too gimmicky. Something like the scramble suit would just have looked a bit crap in a fully live action film I suspect (one of the dilemmas of V for Vendetta, of course, which struggled to complete with the highly stylized novel).
Performance-wise Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr. and Rory Cocherane all give excellent performances (although Downey Jr. is head and shoulders above the rest and refuses to simply turn in a stereotype). Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder probably divide people more but I have a soft spot for both and think they do well here. Keanu does get the pathos of Arctor’s position and his tragic end. I was moved by his monologues anyway…