Science Fiction

A Scanner Darkly

Produced by: Warner Independent Pictures

Reviewed by Ismael Manzano


          “I need time to digest.”  Those were the words I said when, while walking out of the theater, my wife asked me what I thought of A Scanner Darkly; I’m still digesting.  I was very interested in seeing this film, having been hooked by the offbeat plot and visually unique style shown by the preview.  I’d never heard of Philip K. Dick’s novel A Scanner Darkly until I saw Warner Independent Pictures’ adaptation of it, so I went into the movie with no preconceived notions and no expectations to judge the movie against.  Whether or not this is a good thing for me, as the viewer, remains to be seen.  Maybe in writing this review, I’ll be able to figure it out.

     A Scanner Darkly follows a man named Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), an undercover police officer who has infiltrated a group of addicts in the hopes one of them will lead him to a big time supplier.  The story takes place several years from our present, and the world is a grim and polarized place.  As Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) aptly put it, “You’re either on D or you’ve never tried it.”   

     Substance D. is the new big drug, grown from flowers that no one can seem to find, and it causes a host of mental problems for the user that may never be reversed even if they ever manage to quit.  It’s substance D. that Arctor and his superiors want; it’s substance D. that Arctor has become addicted to; it’s substance D. that is slowly driving Arctor insane, taking away his clarity, ebbing away his identity and his place in the world.  But can Arctor complete his mission with a head full of demons, a body full of illegal drugs and a circle of “friends” that would sell him out for the right price? 

     So I reach the descriptive part of the review and enter into the part where I express my likes, dislikes, and offer my opinion of the movie.  Visually, the movie was impressive and highly entertaining to watch.  The dialogue between Barris (Downey) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson) was not only funny and quick-witted, it was entertaining and eerily familiar, like every drunken conversation I’ve ever had.  The plot was enough to hold my interest for the entire span of the movie, and the twists were not at all predictable—until maybe right before they were revealed to the audience.  I left the movie feeling empathetic toward Arctor and curious to read the novel that inspired the movie.  But did I like the movie?

     When it all boils down to it, I was left with one question burning in my mind: “Would the movie have been worth watching if it wasn’t for the unique visual wallpaper?”  I would have to say yes.  It may have been delivered in a psychedelic candy wrapper, but the movie still had genuine moments of humor and thought-provoking dialogue.  Plus it painted a stark, all-too-possible image of the very near future.  So—for the record—I liked this movie.  It’s worth seeing if you want something pretty to stare at for a couple of hours, if you want to get lost in an interesting plot, or if you want to indulge your paranoid vices.  Check it out for yourself and enjoy.   


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