Amazingly realized adaptation of Philip K. Dicks semi-autobiographical sci-fi religious allegory, a tale of drugs, paranoia, and friendship in a Southern California dystopian future, which includes scramble suits: which generate a different image every second to protect the identities of officers working under deep cover, scanners: people employed to constantly observe for subversive activity through seemingly omnipresent cameras, and substance d: a highly addictive popular new drug with hallucinogenic qualities and brain destroying side-effects. "A Scanner Darkly" aims to inverts the police procedural from word go, Keanu Reevs plays Archer, a simultaneous drug dealer and undercover police officer who may be investigating himself, but because high doses of substance d. (which hes become addicted to on the job), is causing the lobes of his brain to malfunction so that one hand no longer knows it washes the other. In any event he doesnt seem capable of doing much other than observing anyway, having become something of the living slacking dead himself. He lives in a house with two junkie roommates, and receives occasional visits from Winona Ryder as his similarly addicted girlfriend, who has an aversion to being touched. It's the drugs she says, "I do allot of coke. I'm sorry", to Archer's continuous frustration.
All performers, Robert Downey Jr., Rory Cochrane, and Woody Harrelson especially give amazing performances, becoming completely absorbed in their characters (who if I haven't mentioned by now are all covered in animated cell shading ala director Linklater's earlier "Waking Life").
The animation is much more stable and illustrative than in Waking Life, and the acting and script capture Dicks ear for dialog perfectly.The sci-fi/police procedural element of the film is a dressing, for ruminations on psychological decay and paranoia. The true heart of the film, lies in Archer's interactions with his friends, who double themselves as junkie co-dependents. At some points Archer is aware of the state of his life at others (usually times on substance d), life flows by in the tragi-comic norm common to drug users, a haze absurd episodes, headaches, and sudden bouts of with drawl sadness. Through the psychedelic haze of hallucinatory free flowing faces, moments of paranoia are illuminate portions of the truth but never the whole. "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." [I Corinthians] .Author of the novel A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick believed and often wrote about a concept called anamnesis, a Greek word that means "the loss of forgetfulness". Archer is using D. to forget, his life, his job, his identity, and he succeeds, burning out as many before him(look for the list at the credits), he does remember a blue flower. On one level of plot this may crack the drug racket, which is being run by the re-hab center (the way Philip Morris sponsors anti-cigarette Truth commercials, as free advertising), but just as Substance D. is the symbol of death, the blue flower too has its own symbol, so say the Gods of wikipedia anyway: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_flower
Though it's themes are somber, it's tone is peppered with surreal humor, Woody Harrelson momentarily transforming into a cock-roach, Robert Downey Jr's security system, and the highlight, Freck's suicide, where an inter-dimensional being appears by his bedside to read him his sins, which will last of eternity. A Scanner Darkly is a tragedy of lost friendship and brain cells, it was based on a time the author himself was living with several young people, after leaving his family and between books, he wrote this after leaving rehab(James Frey eat your heart out), and channeled expertly by Richard Linklater whose talent for coaxing spirited, talk heavy, thoughtful performances and pioneering experimental animation blend perfectly. I had the benefit of seeing this the first time in IMAX, an experience I hope I remember to not forget.