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a scanner darkly

I’ve had a habit of saying that no movie has ever consistently gotten Philip K. Dick right. That is no longer true. Whether or not you like A Scanner Darkly, it must be said that the film is faithful to the book, not only in the narrative fashion but also in the feel. At least in my memory, most/all of the book’s story makes it to the screen, from the aphids in the beginning to Dick’s personal postscript at the end. And by giving us a straightforward presentation of that story, Richard Linklater is true to Dick’s vision: paranoid, paranoid, and (did I mention it?) paranoid. Not all of PKD is here, because the novel was itself something of a commentary on his classic period, a great book in its own right but with the more flamboyant ecstasies of some of the drug scenes in earlier books turned into, well, paranoia (in the process, turning A Scanner Darkly into the one true anti-drug novel Dick wrote, although many would argue that they’re all anti-drug novels on some level).

The decision to use rotoscoping was genius. Some aspects of the novel, such as the “scramble suit,” would seem to defy any CGI attempt at representation, but as animated here, it makes perfect sense. A few critics have noted that the animation also gives the actors a chance to over-act effectively … the Aphid Man, who is the most paranoid character of them all, would seem ludicrous as played here by Rory Cochrane, but the animation just makes him seem freaked out. And the overall look of the movie, kinda real but also most definitely warped, is v.Dickian.

None of this guarantees you will like the movie. It’s rather slow and talky (not unusual for Linklater), and the plot is purposely confusing (not unusual for Dick). But I do think Dick fans will love the film, and probably Linklater fans as well. I’m very much the former, and fairly strongly the latter as well, so you can guess that I liked the movie a lot.

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