Blog response 9: A Scanner Darkly

Analyze the book
1. A Scanner Darkly the novel, is a sci fi story set in a dystopian US where drugs have gotten out of hand and surveillance is as prevalent as ever. The novel in some ways deals with Phillip K Dicks actual experiences with drugs, some of the situations in the book are based off of time he spent in a drug house. So while this is partly a story of the destruction drug habits can wreak, it also is aimed at the  governmental handling of the drug problem itself. There is an aspect of conspiracy against its own citizens, where government organizations have agents push drugs to find bigger fish, when in actuality the supplier is already a recognized organization that gets no attention. A major part of the story is a reflection of the era America was entering during the writing of the book (late 1970s.) The dysfunction and mistrust of the government at the time led to the prevalent themes conspiracy at the governmental level.

Analyze the Film
2. Scanner Darkly was chosen to be a film that harnessed the rotoscoping technique to several effects. One was the effect of creating a shifting image of character appearance. A big theme in the movie is the duality of identity, Arcter is at once an agent and a drug addict. The image of every character never seems to stand still, Arcter loses his own identity as an agent while on the mission and as such his shifts in identity are matched by his shifts in appearance. This theme is also obviously accomplished explicitly by the scramble suit where Arcter is millions of people at once. Arcter is spying on himself, he is part of the investigation that ultimately finds him guilty. There is a statement about the humans working in the big machine of government or military that is ultimately aiding the organization that is bound to hurt them. On another level the rotoscoping technique also offers a purely mood based element to the film where the shifting image gives the feeling of a drug induced visual trip. The experience our protagonist is going through is visually portrayed for us since its hard to tell what is real and what is fake at times. The blur between trip and reality is well captured by the style of the film as well as the content.

Analyze the Adaptation
3. While A Scanner Darkly the film is one of the more faithful adaptations compared to works like Bladerunner, Minority Report, and Total Recall it still missed the mark on certain characteristic traits of a Phillip K. Dick novel. The film does well to keep Dick’s sardonic humor faithfully. Through the use of eccentric personalities such as Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson, the funny is maintained with taste. The humor in Dick’s adaptations seems to be the first thing to go, so it is an accomplishment to incorporate it in the film. However one large theme from Dick’s writing that continued to be missed in this adaptation as in the others was his incorporation of religion into his stories. There is practically no reference to the religious themes Dick’s uses in the novel despite the title being a biblical reference in itself. Another element the adaptation is missing but is not entirely the fault of the film’s director/adaptors is the inner monologues that Arcter has during the book. A lot of trippy confused inner monologue is missed from when Arcter begins to slip deeper into drug abuse and his left and right brain wiring are crossing. This can be attributed to the nature of film and the difficulty it has depicting inner monologues.


Agrees that earlier Phillip K Dick adaptations just missed the mark in terms of capturing the essence of the novel. Praises the selection of Keanu, Robert, and Woody as actor choices for this movie since they are suited with talent and past history of drug abuse.

Interesting review, one guy writes the film review while his partner write the book review. He picked up on the themes of addiction and identity, but completely omitted any religious themes from the movie.

This is interesting since Phillip K Dick arguably leaves Arcters character in a moment of religious discovery and from interpretation this is a good thing, this writer is captivated by the fact that the movie ends with the lowest low possible. In that the main character slips into insanity and is never recovered. This highlights one of the main distinctions between the film and book were the film does not cover the religious experience at all and seems very miserable at the end.

Critical Argument

5. Scanner Darkly makes bold aggressive thematic statements against the surveillance state and the troublesome path humanity is taking. The film accomplishes delivering a mind shocking message that is somehow even more relevant today even though the book was written 30 years prior. The adaptation catches the book up to modern times with ease due to the prophetic nature of the book. The war on drugs had yet to become the phenomenon that it is today and this film does a great job exposing the type of misdirection and manipulation that is occurring in the present day. The spirit of the film was clearly rebellious as evidence by the appearance of radical radio personality Alex Jones in a scene where he is spouting conspiracy theories before he is abducted by a black van. By the end of the film I think the intention is for the viewer to feel mentally abused by devious scheme that the New Path corporation has implemented.


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