A Scanner Darkly

1)Book Analysis: A Scanner Darkly, written by Philip K. Dick in 1977, is ScannerDarkly_7077a science fiction novel whose narrative serves as a commentary for the drug-saturated period that was the 1970’s, as seen by Dick himself. The story follows Bob Arctor, an undercover narcotics agent, who accidentally becomes hooked on a popular hallucinogenic
while on a sting. The book visits many themes throughout its duration which include conflicting personalities, drug addiction, deception, and reality vs. illusions/hallucinations. According to the author, the book was meant to show the negative effects that drug-addiction can bring about while intermingling science fiction themes such as the advanced technology present throughout.

2) Film Analysis: Richard Linklater’s 2006 film adaptation of A Scanner Darkly follows the same plot as Dick’s original novel and stars Keanu Reeves as Bob Arctor, the main protagonist. The film contains the same thematic eleMV5BMTU1ODk2NTkwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDkwNDI0MQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_ments seen in the book such as addictions, conflicts in perception between drug-induced hallucinations and reality, and conflicts with multiple identities as seen through frequent use of “scramble suits” and frequent drug use. Linklater uses a very untraditional filming style in that he filmed the entire movie digitally to begin with, but then added a layer of animation through a process called “rotoscoping” which makes the film seem like an unusually realistic cartoon, complete with the subtle details and imperfections seen in the live action films. The music chosen for the film, despite the futuristic setting, was largely un-synthesized and utilized mostly acoustic instruments. The movie relies heavily on musical accompaniment as there are very few scenes without a score in the background.

3) Adaptation Analysis: Linklater’s adaptation of Richard K. Dick’s novel is largely successful in that it maintains the thematic elements in the book and covers all major plot points, characters, and settings despite the time constraints of running for less than two hours. However, critical reception was less than impressive; a fact which is not entirely surprising considering the amount of information that needed to be condensed and relayed to the audience in a cohesive manner. In other words, I believe this narrative fared much better in its original form which, being a novel, have the author much more time to process all of the variables at play. This issue came into play particularly during scenes where Arctor is switching rapidly between identities (and personalities) which can be relatively difficult to follow unless one is completely invested for the duration. It would seem that having read the book prior to viewing the film would be the most ideal approach and would give viewers a more fruitful experience, having already registered the plot beforehand. The animated-feel of the film did well to give it a surreal tone in which reality is not always a certainty.


4) Online Sources

“A Conversation with Richard Linklater”

  • Presents an interview with motion picture director Richard Linklater where he discusses his adaptation of A Scanner Darkly.

Johnson, David T. “Directors On Adaptation: A Conversation With Richard Linklater.” Literature Film Quarterly 35.1 (2007): 338-341. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 July 2015.

“An Interview with Bob Sabiston of Flat Black Films”

  • The article presents an interview with animated film producer Bob Sabiston where he discusses his development of software aimed at automatizing the rotoscoping animation process. Sabiston specifically discusses how he brought about this technology and how he utilized it in A Scanner Darkly. This article is important because it provides insight into the historical and artistic process of rotoscoping, providing a deeper understanding of how the film was made.

Sabiston, Bob. “An Interview With Bob Sabiston Of Flat Black Films.” Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal Of Film & Television 69 (2012): 53-60. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. Web. 3 July 2015.

“Don’t Box Me In: Blurred Lines in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly”

  • An essay written by Caroline Ruddell of St. Mary’s University College, that “seeks to analyze the [film’s] visual style” by discussing its aesthetics.


5)Critical Analysis

In the film, the flower that is the main ingredient of Substance D, or “Death,” is called Mors ontologica, which translates as ontological death, or death of being. How does this flower represent the main philosophical concerns of the film?

The main ingredient of Substance D, the blue flower, Mors otologica, is a paradoxical symbol as “the death of being.” Identity crisis due to the terrorizing affects of the drug is what parallels to the very meaning of the flower. The philosophical concerns of the film are the very warnings to choose not to fall into substance D. Bob Arctor seems to have chosen Substance D because he did not enjoy the happy routine life with a family. While it is not clear whether the government system, New Path, is the cause to his addiction, it is clear that Arctor desired a unique inconsistent experience. The affects of the drug divide his identity into two. One of his comrades hallucinates and barely stays alive. When Arctor goes to the farmland and mountains by becoming Bruce (what New Path renames him), he becomes a complete mindless toy. He is a vegetable among vegetables. The identity and personality of Arctor is dead, yet the body still functions and is alive. The temptation of the flower—of the drug led to this conclusion. Both the flower and the drug are alluring—but it is the cause of death. In the final scene, when Arctor puts the blue flower into his shoe, portrays a hint of hope that will mostly likely cycle to despair. Just as the blue flower is bountiful and hopeful, it is deceiving since it causes death.



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