Review: A Scanner Darkly (2006)


No, Winona Ryder did not actually get naked, I know, I’m crushed as well!

Screenplay By: Richard Linklater
Directed By: Richard Linklater

I will not lie, A Scanner Darkly is a tough movie to take in. I firmly believe it is a film that can only be grasped, in any fashion, after multiple viewings. But, after finishing A Scanner Darkly I felt the need to ask this question, is it worth seeing again? I believe that it is, because there is more to be discovered in the narrative and visuals, there just has to be. I don’t know how exactly to frame my thoughts on this matter, because there’s a good chance there isn’t much depth beyond the obvious in A Scanner Darkly. But, for some reason I believe there is, and that plus the films possible ambition lead me to want to digest it again sometime in the future.

The rotoscoping animation style on display in A Scanner Darkly is rather unique, it has only been done a handful of times that I am aware of. It works with the mind bending nature of the narrative at times, but it also works against it in the greater sense. The story needs your focus, what the characters are saying needs your focus, and there were times when I found myself paying attention to the rotoscope and not the story or the characters. It ends up an interesting visual style, but also a distracting one.

Like usual, Robert Downey Jr. gives a well acted performance, with wit and a snappy, but paranoid, nature about him. Woody Harrelson was also very good, while Winona Ryder was better than usual. However, I was quite surprised with the performance of Keanu Reeves. He was surprisingly interesting, able to be quite introspective and sell me on the material. I never thought I would say this, but Keanu Reeves was a major strength of this film.

Now, A Scanner Darkly can be and is highly confusing. But, it’s mainly confusing in its straight narrative. In its message and theme elements there are a few different ways the audience can go. This is where the film needs revisiting from me, because I feel there may be something deeper, something I am missing. Because on this viewing I took it as a statement on our society today and on that point it didn’t bring anything new to the table for me. We are a country succumbing to drugs and succumbing to a big brother government, what A Scanner Darkly presents in that realm is very much old hat. But, I think there are other elements boiling beneath the surface, the loss of identity, drug use and sci-fi conventions. But, I didn’t get enough depth on those matters, maybe I will on future viewings, we’ll see.

Based on its ambition and what I think may be under the surface I am willing to give A Scanner Darkly a passing grade. But, this is a film I will have to revisit, and my view will probably change quite a bit based on future viewings. A Scanner Darkly teeters on the edge, it can either become a better, deeper cult hit, or I am wrong about its ambition and the drug police state message is all there is to this movie. Who knows, all I know is that A Scanner Darkly did interest me, and I will revisit it someday, we’ll see what impact the film has on my subsequent rewatches.




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