A Scanner Darkly

7.01 h 40 min2006X-RayR
Set in suburban Orange County, California, in a future where America has lost the war on drugs, one reluctant undercover cop (Reeves) is ordered to start spying on his friends.
Richard Linklater
Keanu ReevesRobert Downey Jr.Woody Harrelson
English [CC]
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Supporting actors
Winona RyderRory CochraneDameon Clarke
Anne Walker-McBayTommy PallottaJonah SmithPalmer WestErwin Stoff
R (Restricted)
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4.5 out of 5 stars

2469 global ratings

  1. 74% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 14% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 6% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 2% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 4% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

Ed.Reviewed in the United States on May 30, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
I think this is the BEST adaptation of Philip K
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I think this is the BEST adaptation of Philip K. Dick's work to date. Everyone involved did a brilliant job of capturing the spirit of the book.

The visuals were excellent. It took me a bit to get into the rotoscope look but I've watched the film several times and it just works perfectly.

The acting is brilliant. Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson have one of my favorite comedic exchanges over the bicycle. And Keanu Reeves was an excellent choice for Bob Arctor, a burned out junkie. Not a slam at all. I really think he was brilliant at this complex, tragic character.

I think Philip K. Dick would have been deeply touched. I was with the closing letter from Phil.
28 people found this helpful
Look1Reviewed in the United States on June 25, 2017
4.0 out of 5 stars
It is a dark tale with muddled or wacky characters living not all that comfortably, at odds with themselves and the world around ...
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I watched this after watching Waking Life again, which is similarly color enhanced and by the same director, Richard Linklater. The technique here is more stable compared to the more dreamy, shifty style in Waking Life. I'd seen A Scanner Dardly once before but hadn't remembered it very well, and didn't know it was a Philip K. Dick story. I was curious to watch it again having learned more about PKD. Frankly, I've been having an increasing sense that this world is "scripted" somehow, that we're characters in a play, many plays, by many script writers hidden from view. We find ourselves in scenes doing and saying things we hadn't planned or practiced, and others similarly acting out parts not just spontaneously, but more cleverly storied than anyone could have anticipated. Is it angels or demons or aliens or future selves (as in PKD's case he theorized) or God or multiple personality expression - I don't know. But I thought the movie might shed some light on the subject. In this case. Not so much, I don't think, as the story is more about a serveillance system and a particular drug being used and issues of addiction and people in hiding, odd characters, and non conformists. Some question of loss of self or shifting sense of self, but not so much a question of where thoughts come from, mind control, outside influences. I found it somewhat depressing to watch. It is a dark tale with muddled or wacky characters living not all that comfortably, at odds with themselves and the world around them. My DVD includes a commentary with Keanu Reeves, as well as the writer and producer, and PKD's daughter, Isa Dick Hackett. I found her comments most interesting about her father and the meaning of the story. PKD apparently wrote this quite a bit from actual experience. His writing is very influenced by some non physical being that played a big role in guiding his life.
16 people found this helpful
D. LarsonReviewed in the United States on July 8, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
I had forgotten how funny “A Scanner Darkly” was
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And how beautiful. Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey and Woody Harrelson riffing together in the car or on the couch, it’s like the stoner version of the Three Stooges crossed with Cheech and Chong. They’re hilarious in the scene where Harrelson and Downey are threatening each other with rock and hammer, and the bit where they’re scrutinizing the carburetor at the side of the highway? Comedy gold!

And when Rory Cochrane attempts suicide with a handful of downers and a bottle of good Merlot? And is interrupted by an Argus-eyed scold with an endless list of his sins? Great stuff. You might was well live, Mr. Freck, it can’t be any worse than this.

I hadn't seen “A Scanner Darkly” in a long while, and I’d forgotten how lovely the rotoscoped images are. Seriously. Check it out! Los Angeles is transmuted into grimy yet beautiful pulsating painting. Keanu Reeves has a decaying ranch house in the suburbs, one that would be just depressing and repellent shown in “real life”. But animated, it’s a sort of wonderland of grubby decay, the strewn trash and overgrown yard transmuted into something rich and strange.

Philip K. Dick could be called the poet of paranoia. Except that frankly, Dick was no poet, not even a great writer. Few have ever had as many ideas per page, even fewer had his strange insights of the world of the drugged and mentally damaged. But his prose was clunky and his characters barely sketched in. What Dick excelled at was finding the spaces between our reality and something disturbing and visionary behind it.

Richard Linklater’s movie is the single best realization of a Dick story I can think of. And it’s a great story for the first three quarters, scary and funny and intensely paranoid. It was a brilliant choice to film it in this lurid animation. Another filmmaker, especially a more “modern” one, would do the scramble suits in some overly literal CGI, a “vague blur”. Linklater’s vision of the constantly shifting, shuffling faces and clothing presented by the camouflage is perfect. Better than Dick’s description, really.

And could anyone have been a better pick to perform Robert Arctor than Keanu Reeves? His disconnected otherworldly face gives him a head start portraying a man whose left and right hemispheres aren’t on speaking terms. Behind his scramble suit’s mask, Reeves goes from alarm to terror to stupefaction in flickering animated expressions that show emotions John Wick has never heard of, let alone experienced. One of his better early roles.

Great casting choices all around, Harrelson and Downey and Winona Ryder. If only real world tweakers were so colorful and engaging, particularly Downey’s weasel attempts at ratting out his roommates while failing so ridiculously that it’s adorable. The movie’s one nod to sex is distanced from anything even vaguely erotic not just because of the animation but more by the off-putting creepiness of Reeves watching himself on his screens while never sure if it is himself he’s watching, or who he’s in bed with or if any of it actually happened. Aren’t drugs supposed to be fun, at least to start with? Substance D doesn’t look like a good time for anybody.

The last part of “A Scanner Darkly” where we get a peek behind the curtain of the shared delusion we call reality, that’s where the story becomes a little too conventional. A terrible conspiracy is revealed, sure, but after the kaleidoscopic look into the minds of those on Substance D, it’s too ordinary. Philip K. Dick fans who’ve read “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” or “Martian Time Slip” will know what I mean; the deeper you go down a PKD rabbit hole, when more is explained, the less reliable your knowledge and senses become. For that matter, I think it’d be a great idea to set up a Go Fund Me to raise money so Linklater could film “Palmer Eldritch”. Maybe a miniseries, to give the vast sweep of paranoid lunacy room to breathe. Or “Time Slip”. Or both.

I’ve seen just about every PKD story that’s made it to film, from the ridiculous but funny “Total Recall” to the beautiful but unnecessary “Blade Runner 2049”. It looked nice, is all I can say for that one.

Rutger Hauer and astonishing visuals saved Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” from being a pretty meh adaptation of one of Dick’s so-so books. “Minority Report” was fun, fast moving, full of ideas and Tom Cruise’s nose. Decent. “Total Recall”, the first one, was fun in a triple-breasted dopey Schwarznegger sort of way. The humorless and ugly 2012 remake was execrable.

Even Matt Damon couldn’t save the dull-as-dirt “Adjustment Bureau”. Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” manages to entirely miss the point of Dick’s book while indulging in flashy photogenic Nazi stuff. Of them all, “A Scanner Darkly” is the one I think the master would have approved of, if you could have caught him in a sober lucid moment. Just about every PDK story is about the ways in which reality ain't what it used to be, if it was ever real at all; “A Scanner Darkly” plays with his favorite theme in a striking and entertaining way.
9 people found this helpful
Brandon MatujaReviewed in the United States on April 24, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
Great film.
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One of the very best films based on or inspired by Philip K. Dick novels or short stories. And, one of the more faithful. (Though, as everyone notices, movies can never completely reproduce the original source material; books are involved mostly with ideas, inner dialogue, etc. but movies must "move" and focus on action.) Great acting and film-work all around, here (including his famous Rotoscope live-action/animation combination.) Apparently, these characters were based on people the author knew personally. And the events were probably inspired by the author's own experience within "the drug culture" in the '60s and '70s.
12 people found this helpful
DreReviewed in the United States on January 4, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
PKD, what else can you say?
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I love that this movie was rotoscoped and it's visuals alone call for anyone to watch it.
This is a movie that really sticks with me and has been great to experience multiple watches with friends. It seems like a strange meandering journey in a very odd world you almost don't know anything about yet feels familiar in ways. That feeling continues until right about the last 10 or so minutes where you realize everything had a point and the movie carries a lot of meaning with it.

I owned this on DVD for a number of years and after mistreatment it no longer works. I thought I'd try the BRD and it was awesome. Nice and clear picture and great sound.
The menu itself leaves a bit to be desired. I mean it's great and all it doesn't have all that nonsense "watch this" trailers and it doesn't take 5 minutes to watch the movie, but its also very minimalistic. Added commentary and a short video about the year it took rotoscoping. But alas, I really bought this for the movie content and that's totally fine. It's worth owning.
5 people found this helpful
Christina ReynoldsReviewed in the United States on July 22, 2020
4.0 out of 5 stars
Wonderfully Original
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A Scanner Darkly is a science-fiction movie that is animated using an interpolated rotoscope; the cast, cinematography, and story development come together and result in a piece of work that can be described as nothing more than a work of art....

Drug use and abuse is one of the central plot themes in this film, and the animation enhances the feeling of this film as one big acid trip. The motions characters make are exxagerated - facial expressions included - and this remains consistent throughout the entire viewing. This "comic book" style keeps the overall plot at the forefront and also prevents the audience from being too wrapped up in the individual performances each actor presented on their own.

On that note, this story is in some ways a narrative regarding the realities of substance abuse - an issue that affects a record amount of people in the real world. There is a poignant representation of the effects drug use can have on the mind and body, and the ongoing debate of "nature vs nurture meanders in the background. It's hard to make a film about this subject without polarizing the characters in to categories of likeable and unlikeable, anf this film managed to avoid doing that. For that alone I say: bravo!

Critisms of this movie are substantiated and justified when the book it is based off of is brought in to consideration. Despite pulling obvious influence from the novel, this movie flows and feels like a set of different events that are connected almost by coincidence. I would imagine that the only explanation for this would be a possible time constraint, but expecting an audience to do this in regards to content that can be controversial can be harmful and have real world implications. It is recommended to read the book and have it in mind when watching this avoid falling in to cracks or holes,that desperately need to be filled throughout he course of this film.

Despite this, the story telling element is strong and the casting department knew what they were doing.

I would recommend!
One person found this helpful
Stella CarrierReviewed in the United States on January 1, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
A Gripping Watch
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I admit that I was inspired by the idea to see a Keanu Reeves film after my husband mentioned something pertaining to the actor. I decided to take a chance with using an online amazon gift card gifted to my husband and I from my mother in law to watch A Scanner Darkly and I am surprised in a good way that this film was illuminating to watch even though I wish that it could have had a happier ending. Keanu Reeves (Bob Arctor/Fred), Robert Downey Jr. (James Barris), Woody Harrelson (Ernie Luckman), Wynona Hawthorne (Donna Hawthorne), and Rory Cochrane (Charles Freck) are among the multiple people involved in this film. The beginning of the film opens with the character of Fred showing a viewer some of the circumstances that he is involved that shape who he becomes during the plot development. James Barris, Ernie Luckman, and Rory Cochrane, are all connected to each other in certain ways and eerily the viewer is shown why James Barris is actually the more calm/collected mastermind behind why he (Barris) and (Arctor) become connected to each other plot wise in the first place. The character of Donna Hawthorne is friendly towards “Fred” though the film development shows why she initially works to keep a safe distance despite the dynamics of her with the other men. The common denominator among the men is their dealings andor usage involving the substance D. The film is set in California which helps a viewer understand why the characters were placed in the type of neighborhood and home setting related to the plot.
One person found this helpful
Jonah EwellReviewed in the United States on September 26, 2020
1.0 out of 5 stars
Boring and stupid
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hey guys, what if we got our druggie actor friends together and just let them act REALLY CRAZAY???!?!?!!! hahahaha omg that would be so cool, and we'll put this cartoon filter on the whole thing, so if a scene is dragging we can just add some cool special effects, and here's the thing: EVERYONE IS ON DRUGS! so it really takes the whole concept of an unreliable narrator to a new level!!!

Story? No, that doesn't matter so much. There's something about social engineering and spying and there's an invisibility cloak but really what we want to do is get mutherfreakin woody harrelson and goshdarned robert downey junior together and let them act TOTALLY CRAZAY!!! hahahahahah omg this movie is gonna be so good.
One person found this helpful
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