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Jones Report

A Scanner Darkly Provokes with Moody Rotoscoped Look and Gritty Police State, Surveillance Society

Aaron Dykes/ | April 28, 2006

Side by side, the absolutely innovative rotoscoped complexities of Richard Linklater's floating Waking Life (2001) appear now almost primitive next to the exponential possibilities presented by the evolved rotoscoped images seen so far (in the trailer) of Richard Linklater's latest film A Scanner Darkly (2006).

If Waking Life is the drifting narrative of minds, A Scanner Darkly promises to be the binding reality of a mind regulated and befuddled by the imposing and domineering physical world.

Waking Life is a masterpiece of 'spiritual communion' that champions complete expression. It is, in a sense, about getting free-- snapping out of the constraints of society, expectation, laws, etc-- at least distanced enough to see those constraints for what they are. Scanner, then, describes the very struggle for the continuation of man's autonomy-- of any observable sovereignty from the government which is directly and totally threatened by both the surveillance and policing accurately displayed in the film.

Alex Jones in Waking Life






For instance, Waking Life makes a concerted effort to take its audience through an examination of human thought itself-- the power and certain limitation of language as well as the connectivity of minds themselves. A daring portrait of the 'dynamic human spirit that refuses to submit,' states Alex Jones during his scene in the film.

A Scanner Darkly picks up where the exploration of philosophy leaves off-- to take developed considerations of humanity and lay them against the desperate backdrop of the world at work to 'destroy all rational thought' (or, at best, severely limit) . That phrase is taken from the tag line for the film version of the disjointed masterpiece Naked Lunch, which explores drug abuse as a dehumanizing phenomenon, a control mechanism and a disturbing opiate distracting from the corrupt politics of economy that shadow behind its ugly facade.

The same themes and basic concepts emerge in A Scanner Darkly, which author Philip K. Dick wrote, in part, about a number of his friends who were assaulted from both directions of the drug war. Victim of the drug war were first deluded into the abuse and depravity that slavish drug addiction delivers while being simultaneously threatened by law enforcement and a strictly hypocritical damning perception of the drug problem. Literally the brutally of the pusher-- both open and behind the veil-- on the organism itself for allowing itself to be pushed.

That world will take any measures necessary to twist human thinking into a self-regulating subject of control. This concept takes a visible incarnation in the story, as A Scanner Darkly's protagonist Bob Arctor-- a dealer of the lethally addictive drug 'Substance D'-- is pursued by a police agent, Fred, who seeks to tail and subsequently bust Bob Arctor by assuming his identity. Symbolically, this goes farther than informing on your neighbor-- as in 1984 and other dystopic literature, by informing on and ultimately controlling one's self. Thus, the police state has become so invasive that it penetrates the previously protected free mind.

In A Scanner Darkly, the government, corporations and the elite conspire together to keep free thinking, free expression, freedom itself on the outside-- to facilitate a perceptive wall confining individuality itself to a realm doomed to the fringes.


The shorthand version of the liberated human spirit is twisted, exploited and pushed by those who seek to control the shepherded masses with manipulating and consequential incarceration, slaughter, lock down, etc.

The type of world Scanner presents places characters in a frantic state that cannot be reconciled with that which is 'right' or 'real.' The threatened characters of A Scanner Darkly experience a choking duality-- a grasping for rational harmony that is never reached-- they are endlessly unable to escape the overbearing police state but also unable to comfortably join its ranks as an unthreatened equal. An absolute nightmare without resolution...

The themes of the film are-- as in Waking Life-- only supported by the artistic innovations in the process of rotoscoping. A sense of representation-- Socratic shadow-figure imitations, perhaps-- is not far-fetched. In a world unreal yet surreal-- life deplete of all humanity-- the moody animation derived from live action does not go without a weighted meaning. Dualistic consciousness goes hand in hand with the tortured and split mind of Bob Arctor/Fred (played by The Matrix's Keanu Reeves). The true crisis of loss of identity, invasion of the human individual and the desolate waste of alienation is overshadowed by the phony and manipulative war on drugs-- the crisis of focus featured in the film.


A Scanner Darkly 's critical and horrifying view of society is not only abstract and vaguely detached-- which was very appropriate for the philosophical approach of Waking Life. Instead, the director of both projects, Richard Linklater, based the images in the film on years of research regarding the means and methods developing in our own surveillance society and our own police state.

Real emerging technology is presented in the film-- it is horrifying and is only removed from 'reality' by the distance of 'near-future.' Total surveillance of society is encroaching on our world at an every-increasing pace. Police are policing for policing's sake; authority is becoming its own end-- the means become its own justification: control.

Will the audience again be glazed over by the facade of entertainment when faced with real issues in our society-- real nightmares they have seen foreshadowing evidence of-- as they did with the considerably more fantastical V for Vendetta? Or will they see the critique for what it is and really begin to face the problem of our failing freedom?

Obviously, the hope is for the latter. The bold filmmakers, actors and others involved in this project have taken great risk and personal sacrifice (Reeves, for instance, worked for only $70,000 instead of his typical $20 million) to present a sobering and true look at our world in crisis. The world will be wise to take note, react and spread word of this empowering and innovative a-Hollywood Hollywood film.

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