A Scanner Darkly

1. Analysis of the book

Philip K. Dick’s book, A Scanner Darkly, is a unique piece of literature because it was written during a time of widespread drug abuse and anti-government hysteria, but most of all, Dick himself was a drug addict, having experimented with myriad drugs. The book explores many themes including the interdependency of law enforcement and criminals, government surveillance and privacy issues, drug abuse and addiction and mental illness. Perhaps the most interesting aspects in Dick’s writing are the prevalence of paranoia and schizophrenia and reality as an ideological construct. Paranoid schizophrenics are interchangeable in A Scanner Darkly because they are figures of hybridity that are associated with unstable boundaries between the self and the world. Ultimately, the boundary between the self and the world is exposed at the end when Bob, now Bruce, is a vegetable working at New Path. Thus, the story ends on a sad and depressing note, although black comedy is sprinkled throughout the novel.

2. Analysis of the film

Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly reflects a surveillance society and drug paranoia in the not too distant future. Watching this film, the first thing that immediately stands out is Linklater’s use of rotoscoping, which, according to lecture, gives the impression that the characters’ skin is crawling upon their bodies. The rotoscoping is also visually appealing so the film doesn’t lose anything from not being shot live and it boosts the projection of the scramble suit, which is quite stunning. The actors, Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder, all play their roles very well, making it easy to follow the story and how humans are humanized and dehumanized by schizophrenia.

3. Analysis of the adaptation

As mentioned in lecture, Linklater’s version of A Scanner Darkly is considered a faithful adaptation of the book because it follows the story so closely. In this case, you would think it might be hard to adapt the book, as it was largely influenced by Dick’s former drug use and the drug and anti-government hysteria going on at the time when the novel was written. However, Linklater does a fantastic job of capturing the tone and essence of the book, even making the issues contemporary. In particular, Linklater’s skill is on full display with Bob Arctor’s descent into identity confusion and crisis. Dick would’ve been happy with that and also the ending of the movie, which was the same sad, depressing ending of the book—Arctor is essentially turned into a “slave” working for New Path, when he stumbles upon the Substance D flower.

4. Online research on the film


This paper, titled, “Rotoscopy-Handwriting Interface for Children with Dyspraxia” is an interesting paper on the use of rotoscoping in A Scanner Darkly and also an introspective look at the general technique of rotoscoping and its application for children.


This article on wired.com, titled, “Trouble in Toontown” isn’t a review, but is instead a look at the making of the movie and has a lot of good information, such as Linklater’s unfamiliarity with rotoscoping, as well as issues with scenes.


This website, which is devoted to Philip K. Dick is, according to the home page, “An online community for fans of Philip K. Dick, old and new, along with the promotion of his work and the sharing of information, text, audio or visual that pertains to his life, his work and his legacy.” This website is useful because it provides news, criticisms of Dick’s work, interviews, biography, reviews, links and more. Users of this website even produce a newsletter. One of the problems with these types of websites is that they often fall by the wayside, as websites are a chore to maintain and update, however, this website is consistently managed, with the last post on May 24, 2012.

5. Critical analysis paragraph

To adapt A Scanner Darkly to film, the director Richard Linklater uses the “interpolated rotoscope” animation technique. What are the effects on the viewer of such a technique? Was it an appropriate technique for the film, in terms of its themes and story?

Richard Linklater’s decision to use the interpolated rotoscope animation technique instead of regular live filming was unconventional, maybe bordering risky, but it paid off and it enhanced the film’s meaning and aesthetic appeal. First, it’s important to note that the rotoscoping is efficient because it’s very well done. I have seen other products of the rotoscoping technique without nearly the amount of detail and accurate framing of A Scanner Darkly. That’s what makes it truly great and a marvel to watch. Next, the rotoscoping works because it fits the narrative and mood of the film, which is a sad depiction of someone’s descent into identity confusion through schizophrenia and a loose grasp on reality. Also, Linklater ingeniously uses the rotoscoping to convey a crazy web of drug-induced, or governmentally imposed illusion hovering on the surface of everybody’s appearance. For these reasons, rotoscoping was the right filming technique for A Scanner Darkly, which improved the film overall and connected it to Dick’s voice and themes in the book.

One response to “A Scanner Darkly

  1. Effective and insightful analysis. Your argument that rotoscoping was a good fit for the film was convincing. 9/10. JB.

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