"Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come." -- Herman Melville

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August 3, 2006

A Scanner Darkly
US 2006, Written and Directed by Richard Linklater
Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick
(****) of four

A raging, ceaseless machine of paranoia and fear, Scanner thrusts the audience into a world of perpetual distrust where Big Brother is always peering over your shoulder and your best friend may be sharpening a knife to stick in your back. Filmed and animated in the Waking Life style (where they shoot the movie with live actors and then overlay animation--technically termed "interpolated rotoscoping"), Scanner looks stunning on the big screen, but the approach is more than a gimmick. Every object feels alive, but, at the same time, ephemeral and just out of reach. You're never quite sure what you're seeing or what's really there and this only feeds the nervous confusion. For much of the first hour, we're caught in a torrent of endless hyperparanoid chattering and everything's-a-conspiracy rants as Keanu and his cohorts question and overexamine everything that enters their drug-addled orbits. Robert Downey Jr., in particular, gives an, ahem, animated performance spewing out the rat-a-tat-tat dialogue. While some may be turned off or overwhelmed by the wall of noise, as Scanner develops, Linklater's intentions become clear. Just as we begin to grow numb to and dismiss the paranoid ramblings, the film's secrets begin to emerge and we're startled to discover maybe there's something to it all along. This sense of dread and impending doom intensifies in the gripping final half-hour as characters take 180° turns and the puzzle pieces are slowly locked into place. A cold vision of the near future that doesn't turn Dick's cautionary story into an action flick (see: Total Recall and Paycheck), it's another triumph in Linklater's increasingly impressive filmography.