A Scanner Darkly

I’ve read a lot of Philip K. Dick, and was intrigued to see A Scanner Darkly last weekend. It’s certainly the closest I’ve seen any film come to capturing the frenetic mania of his novels. I have no clue what somebody unfamiliar with his work would think, though. I was expecting the wildly meandering conversations, the uncertainty about what’s real – pretty much every PKD novel has the nature of reality as its theme – and the abrupt sci-fi twists and turns, but even so I had to concentrate.

The film was shot with real actors, then an effect was applied to the image to make it almost cartoony, but not quite:

effect shot from A Scanner Darkly

This is very subjective, but I felt the style represented the story and atmosphere well, although it took some getting used to. I had trouble understanding Robert Downey Jr. for a few minutes, before realizing I needed to watch his lips; this was interesting: even though the image was highly stylized and there wasn’t much detail around his mouth, it still worked.

The film had plenty to say about, or at least provoke discussion of, the future of technology as it relates to privacy and crime, as well as the ever-present questions of how we know what to believe. To be honest I was less interested in this than PKD’s extraordinary use of language and how this would adapt to the screen. The guy had an abrupt, unique style that’s instantly recognisable, but I’ve never seen anybody try it on film. Other adaptations, such as Minority Report or Total Recall, have kept the plots (kinda) but rewritten the dialogue. This didn’t, which was possibly risky, but I think it worked well. It certainly meshed well with the slightly unreal, drug-addled atmosphere.

But that’s just me – I like words 🙂 Definitely an interesting couple of hours, if you fancy seeing it.