A Scanner Darkly

How Richard Linklater uses rotoscoping to capture the heartbreaking, hallucinatory horrors of drug addiction.

“I saw death rising from the earth, from the ground itself, in one blue field.”

From a visual perspective, there are few movies I hold in higher regard than A Scanner Darkly. Its distinct use of rotoscope animation makes for an eye-catching spectacle likely to grab the attention of any moviegoer with an interest in the aesthetic. Indeed, it was the film’s unique stylings that first drew me towards it. The end product is a feast for the eyes – boasting a vivid, luminous wash of colour, countered by deep and sinister shadows.

In reality, Linklater’s primary intention for this technique was never to amaze his audiences, but rather to reflect the chaos & confusion that comes with addiction. Throughout the film’s 95-minute runtime, you feel like you’re caught in a perpetual state between a dream and reality – unable to cross the threshold into either. The experience only intensifies with the characters’ increasing paranoia. There’s a nervous energy to every single performance – captured most effectively by Robert Downey Jr’s Barris & Rory Cochrane’s hapless Freck – that never lets you feel at ease. The entire ordeal serves as a mere snapshot into the tormented soul of a drug addict.

And that’s exactly what makes this tale so important. Both Philip K. Dick’s original novel and Linklater’s big screen adaptation showcase the horrors of addiction in a way that’s never meant to condemn the addicts. Instead, they’re far more interested in understanding them. The final fifteen minutes prove to be one emotional gut-punch after another – capped off by an abridged version of Dick’s heartbreaking eulogy to the victims of this seemingly unstoppable enemy, “who were punished entirely too much for what they did”.

4.5 Stars

Random Thoughts

Richard Linklater’s ability to helm two projects like School Of RockA Scanner Darkly back-to-back (and pull them off so spectacularly) is exactly why he’s my favourite director working. Too bad this was his only foray into sci-fi – I’d love to see him return to this genre one day.


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