Analysis of the Book
Published in 1977, A Scanner Darkly is a science fiction novel that centers around Substance D, a highly addictive drug that approximately 40% of the American population consumes. Robert Arctor/Fred is working undercover to take down a Substance D drug ring and in the process gets himself addicted to the drug, which causes him to be shipped off to New Path rehab centers that exploit severe addicts in order to grow more of the plant that produces Substance D. The novel mirrors Dick’s life as at the time of its writing Dick was highly addicted to speed and tranquilizers and living among other addicts as Bob does. Dick increasingly experienced feelings of paranoia against figures of authority and the government as his habit progressed. This paranoia translates over to the novel in his characters, who constantly think that someone is out to exploit them in some way, including the government and ordinary people in the street. Dick also explores the cause and effects of addiction through his characters as they all experience their addictions in different ways and are at different stages of addiction. This novel at the time also captured the pulse of the American people who were still reeling from shady government happenings and a culture that was heavily saturated with rampant drug use.
Analysis of the Film
Richard Linklater’s 2006 adaptation of A Scanner Darkly adopts the use of interpolated rotoscope animation to achieve a more surreal and trippy world as Dick imagines in his novel. Through this, reality is a little blurry. Lines, objects, people and their expressions seem more fluid and things seems a little more unstable as they move in weird or unnatural ways. The images float between reality and fantasy, much like users of Substance D. The music throughout the film tends to heighten the bizarre nature of character’s actions on Substance D. Time is a concept that gets lost and we see that through Bob Arctor’s character who moves in and out of hallucinations and seems to black out between being Fred and Bob. Much of the comedy is derived from the characters’ extreme paranoia and ridiculous antics while under the influence of Substance D.
Analysis of the Adaptation
Linklater accurately depicts the themes, characters, and world that Dick portrays in his novel. The film remains very faithful to the plot of the novel and the characters all turn out to be just as imagined. Rotoscope animation perfectly captures the world as seen through an addict’s eyes because it makes environments vivid with color and often made things like furniture and grass pop out more giving it an almost 3D effect. This type of animation also gave objects an almost unnatural movement that easily shows the haze that Substance D puts on the mind and demonstrates the otherworldly effects of the drug as described by Dick. Though it is based on a novel from 1977, the film doesn’t feel dated in its themes of drug abuse/addiction and paranoia of “The Man” because they are easily relatable to current events such as the questionable Patriotic Act, the war on drugs, and the rise in use/abuse/oversubscription of pharmaceutical drugs.
- Article from Wired Magazine where Linklater relays the difficulties of making a movie in rotoscope, financing of the film, and his intentions behind using the technique.
- Interview with Richard Linklater where he discusses Philip K. Dick’s work, how the paranoia in A Scanner Darkly reflects today’s society after the Bush administration, and previous versions of adaptations of the novel.
- Phillip Purser-Hallard recounts events in Philip K. Dick’s life that had an influence on his outlook on life as particularly seen in A Scanner Darkly.
A Scanner Darkly was published in 1977, but not filmed until 2005. How does the film reflect the concerns of 1977 (post-1960s)? How does it reflect the concerns of 2005 (post 9-11)? Are any of the concerns of 1977 the same as those of 2005 (or vice versa)?
In many ways the concerns of the late 70s are similar to contemporary issues with distrust of the government, the war on drugs, and privacy violations as prominent issues of the two eras. In the 70s, America was recovering from the Watergate Scandal of Nixon’s presidency, a society saturated with new drugs (where Nixon in 1971 described drug abuse as “public enemy number one” in the United States), and possible government collusions with drug distribution. Several investigations into government agencies (such as the CIA) prompted the American public to be wary of trusting the government’s actions blindly and both Dick and Linklater display this type of paranoia in each of the characters. They are aware that the government has the power to violate their privacy or manipulate the public all for the sake of a “war on drugs” and act accordingly.
In the 21st century, 9/11 was the impetus to The Patriot Act, a law that gives the government permission to monitor any person thought to be a conspirator of terrorist activities without repercussions from privacy laws. This sort of free reign has made the 21st century American public very paranoid about what the government is given power to access without an individual’s permission such as emails, phone calls, bank activity, instant messaging, and various other web activity. The scanners installed in Arctor’s home, bar code license plates, and constant government surveillance of the public shown in A Scanner Darkly reflects on this type of control over the public by government officials. It shows contemporary audiences a vision of what could become of our society if the government is given free reign over our privacy without consequence. Each of the characters are consumed with paranoia against any government establishment, always jumping to the conclusion that authorities will abuse their power to frame them for crimes or to kill them in the street. It is this abuse of power and paranoia that resonates with problems of the 1970s to today.
Another big concern of contemporary audiences is big corporation takeover. People are becoming more and more concerned that Walmart, Disney, Fox, GE and several other mega corporations have too much power over too many facets of life like entertainment, news, and politics; so much so that many small businesses have no chance of competing with. Their power over the mass population is allowed and encouraged by American capitalism and this is seen through the company New Path in A Scanner Darkly. It is revealed that New Path is a corporation that manufactures, distributes, and profits from “rehabilitating” addicts of Substance D. The government and local authorities seem content to collude with New Path as all parties involved get a monetary benefit from Substance D addiction even if it’s at the expense of thousands (or even millions) of lives.