A Scanner Darkly

1. A Scanner Darkly, written by Philip K. Dick explores a drug-infested, alternate-reality 1970s California, where Substance D (a mind-altering drug) has consumed the masses, and law enforcement seeks to put an end to its distribution. The story follows Bob Arctor, a man of multiple personalities – he is both a Narc (code-named Fred), and a drug dealer. Which identity truly encompasses him is unknown. From this lack of “self-knowing” comes the overall theme of questionable realities throughout the book. This questioning is sourced in drug-induced hallucinations (typically thought of as false realities) as well as the role of the government in the production of Substance D (what is typically thought of as real… it isn’t what it seems).

2. Richard Linklater’s film adaptation, A Scanner Darkly, follows the same narrative as its original source; accordingly, many of the themes remain – the questioning of reality; the subversive intent of the government; and the role drugs play with both of these subjects are all addressed throughout the film. And where the film cannot replicate Dick’s literary style completely, it makes up for it by using a unique animation style, which enhances the questioning of reality (the animation relies on real performances and then transforms them into a cartoonish appearance).

3. Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly forces its readers to question reality; throughout, the protagonist, Bob Arctor fights to find his true self amidst all of his drug use and the influence of a questionable government (whom he serves as an authority for), which ultimately turns against him to satisfy its own agenda. The film adaptation, directed by Richard Linklater, is successful in emulating this premise. However, despite this success, each version has differing affects on its audience. Although the film captures the ideas established in the novel, it does not capture the same level of internal reflection. For example, in the conclusion of the novel, Bob, now Bruce (as established through the text itself, not just the dialogue between him and the farmer) is in a field where he discovers the blue flowers, which when broken down, form Substance D (death). The dialogue between him, a farmer, and a New Path director all point him to being oblivious of what he has seen, but through the description of his thoughts, the readers learn that Bob (or Bruce) is aware of the flowers and their ability to create Substance D. With the film, this internal awareness is absent, instead Bob speaks some of the lines of internal dialogue from the book – this does not eliminate Bob’s potential awareness of what the flowers are, but it does diminish it, more so than the book, which through Bob’s internal revelation (as well his longer conversation with the New Path director) makes his awareness of Substance D and its relationship to the blue flowers certain. This is one of the primary struggles of the adaptation – how can the director capture the affect of the internal thoughts of the characters without relying too heavily on voice-over narration (something that is generally avoided in film)? There is voice-over narration present, but its absence in certain scenes ultimately creates a different tone than the novel.


A Scanner Darkly


Throughout this analysis of both the book and the film versions of A Scanner Darkly, the importance of rotoscope animation is explored: according to the author, not only does this effect illuminate the questioning of reality within Dick’s original story, but it also helps express the theme of surveillance that is more profound within the film adaptation. This article is valuable in understanding the adaptation because it provides an explanation for why the rotoscope technique is much more than a gimmick, as well as an explanation for how the book and film deviate from each other.

Neuropsychology and Psychosis in ‘A Scanner Darkly’


This article involves the psychological validity of Philip K. Dick’s story, A Scanner Darkly – it points out that the ideas within the novel are founded on psychological research on the brain.

A Scanner Darkly Video Interview


This is a short video interview explaining the animation within A Scanner Darkly, as well as Richard Linklater’s opinion on Philip K. Dick’s relevance in the world today.

5. A central teaching of postmodernism is that there is no real distinction between reality and delusion, because reality is just a social construct. How is A Scanner Darkly a postmodern film in this sense?

Through its rotoscpoe animation, A Scanner Darkly brings its viewers into the film world, and in this process—by articulating the premise of the novel—the film supports the postmodern belief that there is no reality. The rotoscope animation of A Scanner Darkly is a unique effect not often found in film; it relies on live-action performances, which are then transformed into a more comic-like artistic effect. By using this technique, a mix of “real-life” and “artifice”, Linklater supports the notion within the novel that there is no true reality. Through visual means, not just narrative means, the film expresses this. However, this effect goes beyond this initial suggestion, as it also—from the very start—establishes that the audience is watching a film (the comic effect goes against what we accept as “real”). Accordingly, viewers may expect the content to be fictional, but since the themes (especially of government surveillance) hold relevance to contemporary times, this blurs the line between film and “reality.” And since the film never deviates in its visual presentation while visualizing “hallucinations”, it is impossible to distinguish what in the film world is “real” and what is not. By playing with our notions of reality through both narrative and visual means, A Scanner Darkly follows the postmodern assertion that there is no true definition of reality.

1 thought on “A Scanner Darkly

  1. Good, you take it to the next level in your argument paragraph. Not only does the rotoscoping reinforce the themes of the book, but also expresses postmodernism. Way to make the connections! 10/10. JB.

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