1. The novel A Scanner Darkly follows Bob Arctor as he navigates a group of drug users in order to find their dealers, so his “Agent Fred” persona can take them down. This is a Philip K. Dick novel and it explores the drug culture of the USA, and how it perpetuates itself. The novel is semi-autobiographical because Philip K. Dick became dependent on amphetamines while writing it, and used his experiences with “street people” in his real-life house as a basis for the relationships in the novel. Bob Arctor’s stint in the New Path rehab center is also drawn from real-life, as Philip K. Dick spent time in a Canadian rehab center posing as a heroin addict.
2. The film, A Scanner Darkly, is portrayed in interpolated rotoscope, an animation technique that is based on the real actions of the actors. This technique allows the viewer a “trippy” viewpoint that further drives the drug culture portion of the film home. Keanu Reeves (nee Ted from Bill and Ted) also allows the viewer to become fully immersed in what this film is supposed to be about. Kind of like A Requiem for a Dream, the film follows these people as they go through their drug addled lives, but we maintain a sober viewpoint of what they are actually doing. This allows the viewer insight into what drug use looks like, and in this film, it is not pretty.
3. The adaptation is somewhat faithful. The most glaring difference is the year, instead of the novel’s 1994, the film is set in a future where extensive surveillance exists (which we know was definitely not 1994). As mentioned in the film essay, the film follows the story at hand a little more, while the novel looked at the culture revolt of the story. The film still includes this revolt, but it does it implicitly, through the general attitude of the characters as opposed to devoting resources (in the novel this takes the form of words) to its portrayal.
In this interview, Linklater says that it takes 500 hours to do 1 minute of rotoscoping.
This review talks about how well the rotoscoping technique works for the scramble suit and drug addled performances of some of the actors.
This article brings up a point that I did not really think about while watching the film, all the actors are cast because they are well-known slackers. Keanu Reeves, enough said. Robert Downey Jr. was a drug using slacker back in the day, Woody Harrelson has been on the front of “High Times” for a few covers, and Winona Ryder is a crazy person. All these actors personal lives translate into an added bit of info into each of their characters, blurring the lines between who they play and who they are, much like the “Substance D” in the film.
5. Scanner Darkly can be described as an example of the stoner picaresque genre, in that it derives humor from watching people act out after taking drugs. How does Scanner Darkly compare to other stoner picaresque films such as the Cheech and Chong films, the Harold and Kumar films, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dazed and Confused (also directed by Richard Linklater), or other examples of the genre you can think of?
A Scanner Darkly is less stoner picaresque, and more about the horrifying reality of hardcore drug use, like in the movie Requiem for a Dream. Where the films listed above all have the characters resolving their issues and being able to choose their next actions, ASD and RfaD show the permanent effects of this kind of drug use. Bob Arctor is a vegetable, damned to work in the fields to pick flowers for the rest of his very short life (and even if his secret flower gets to the police, his mental facilities will not change). But in, for instance, Fear and Loathing, the characters go on their sojourn through Las Vegas, and then come back to their normal lives with nary a scratch. In fact, Hunter S. Thompson finds the ability to write a book about his experiences, in a way that makes it seem funny. The endings to Scanner and Requiem are anything but funny, and show a flip side to the comedy of the stoner movie.