A Scanner Darkly

By itself, A Scanner Darkly is an absorbing tale of addiction, surveillance, paranoia and betrayal. And if you add in the strong cast and unusually surreal cinematography, the story becomes a catchy exploration of the nature of freewill set in a failing state of the future.

Substance D, is a powerful hallucinogenic drug that has rampantly taken over society to the point of collapse. Even a virtual police state with constant surveillance seems ineffective in capturing the purveyors of the drug. The drug cartels have become so powerful, that the individuals working in the narcotics bureau have to resort to hi-tech shape-shifting suits to protect their identity.

Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an introspective cop, working on drug enforcement, who himself is addicted to Substance D. James Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) is a fast talking, enlightened fellow addict, who can do anything in the name of self-preservation. Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane) represents the common everyday addict. When Bob has to investigate himself and his friends as part of his job, he realizes that the source of drugs may be closer than he imagines. Fighting increasing paranoia and psychosis, Arctor has to work against a deadline imposed by his degenerating mind to discover the truth behind the source of the drugs.

The movie does a great job of channeling elements of Trainspotting and Blade Runner, in capturing the despondency and chaos of drug use. The screenplay adds to the tense and gripping narrative, sometimes derailing the narrative just enough to make you doubly attentive. The dialogue is inventive, dark and perverse. The characters are hazy, colorful and disengaged. And the story, with its unexpected twist at the end gives the experience a deeper, more meaningful closure.

A Scanner Darkly is one of those Science Fiction movies that has no science and almost very little fiction about it. It is experimental story-telling where form and factor go hand in hand with intent - until the two are indistinguishable. Sure you can always find the story a little contrived. Or you could argue that the original novel did not entirely come through in the movie. But at the end the movie is visually one of the more unique experiences. And an engrossingly bleak story about a dystopian future.

November 08, 2010

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