Everything is Not Going to be OK: Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly
Everything is Not Going to be OK:
A Scanner Darkly
by Henry Edward Hardy
Richard Linklater’s film, A Scanner Darkly (2006) explores the boundaries of consciousness and identity. Based on the book by Phillip K. Dick, it revolves around the character of Agent Fred, who has been assigned to infiltrate a California commune in order to discover the ultimate origin and means of production of a new powerful psychoactive drug, “Substance D”.
—Note: spoilers follow—
Substance D produces hallucinations and dissociation between the two hemispheres of the brain. As in the book, The Erasers by Alain Robbe-Grillet, the officer turns out to be tracking himself. Agent Fred ends up investigating his alter ego, Substance D dealer Bob.
Phillip Dick was a methamphetamine user and suffered from visions and visitations as he describes in the afterward of the book. He was also a prophet and a very fine writer. His works have been made into some notable science fiction movies such as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. Dick, like novelist John Brunner were social critics and visionaries who in the 1970s foresaw a 2000s with a “war on drugs” in which the government suppressive apparatus and the drug kingpins are ultimately one and the same.
The film is live action heavily overlaid with computer graphics. The result is beautiful, but also psychotic and disturbing. Linklater uses a “digital Rotoscoping” process invented by MIT Media Lab guru Bob Sabiston, and earlier used by Linklater in his 2001 film, Waking Life. Produced by Stephen Soderbergh and George Clooney, A Scanner Darkly is a subversive canvass for provocative, and one might say paranoid, ideas and images.
The phrase, “a scanner darkly” is a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:12, For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. A common enough conceit, and one which features in many other “through the looking glass” tales, notably the manga Ghost in the Shell. But an interesting taking off point for a further exploration of consciousness, and the social construction (or destruction) of reality.
A Scanner Darkly (IMDB)
A Scanner Darkly (wikipedia)
A Scanner Darkly (Rotten Tomatoes)
A version of this article appeared previously in Current Magazine and on Electric Current.
Copyright © 2006-2007 Henry Edward Hardy