Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

I was talking to this guy at a party last week, who works for Warner Independent, and he was talking about the movie he was working on. I can't remember exactly what was said, but I realized what the movie was, and blurted out "A Scanner Darkly?" I told him I was a fan of Linklatter's work (true), that Scanner was my favorite Phillip K. Dick novel (also true, although I've only read 4 or 5 of them), and that I thought it seemed like the perfect match of filmmaker to material (something I'd been saying for a while). So he invited me to a test screening the following (last) Sunday.

The screening was in Santa Monica, and I figured on a late Sunday afternoon it would probably take about an hour to get there if the traffic was bad, but I allowed myself an hour and a half just to be on the safe side. As it turned out, that still wasn't enough. I got caught in traffic and ended up arriving a couple minutes into the picture. Worse, in a late panic, I parked in the $12 parking deck instead of the $3 deck.

Anyway, A Scanner Darkly is a great film. I feel pretty confident that it is the truest adaptation of Dick's writing ever filmed. Certainly, it's the closest to my ideas and associations with his books. It is exactly the book put on screen, and it perfectly captures the confusion and paranoia of prolonged psychedelic use. In fact, there were actually a few little bits that I caught in the film that I think I had missed in the book.

Probably the best standard for a drug movie is whether watching the movie makes you feel stoned, which is certainly the case for Scanner. Much of the film consists of Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane going through paranoid acid freakouts, and they make a hilarious comedy team (with Keanu Reeves as the straightman). Downey in particular is funny as shit. There's also a great sense of place in the suburban tract houses and freeways where all this takes place. The animation is not as wild as in Waking Life, more focused and sophisticated. In some ways, I'd almost say that this is the movie I wanted Waking Life to be. There are a few scenes where they shift from close-ups of faces to wide shots of cars on the freeway or shoppers at a grocery store, and for a second you'd swear it had stopped being animated and become live-action. Then your eyes acclimate, and you see that it's still drawing. Very disorienting, which could probably be said for the whole film.

What's even more remarkable is the subtle shift over the course of the film from comic to tragic tone. The film ends on precisely the same note as the book--a tragic sadness with a faint glimmer of hope.

This was my first time going to a test screening, getting to fill out the questionaire and all. It's a pretty screwy process. A lot of the questions were along the lines of "Did you find any of the scenes confusing?" Which is funny, because the whole point of this story is confusion. In retrospect, I wish I'd written that on the comment sheet.


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