A SCANNER DARKLY (2006)
William F. Bouroughs once remarked, “As the world moves more toward totalitarianism, drugs are an excellent way of controlling the masses. If they are addicted, they’ll become good slaves, and are compliant to your will. You own their minds, and you have their money. But if you let too many get hooked on illegal drugs, then they turn covert –and we have a nation of outlaws.”
In the 13th chapter of the epistle of St. Paul [1 Corinthians 13], we find a verse:
“For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face! Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
I guess another way of stating this is that at present, we just do not see clearly –but at the end of time, our time or time itself, we shall do so. A wonderful projection, and a frightening one; but who wants to wait?
Philip K. Dick writing in his gargantuan journal called EXEGESIS presented his thoughts in “tractates”. He wrote, “Christ will not merely rule the universe –he will also be the universe. All that remains is for the second reincarnation [or possibly the 22nd depending on what metaphysical text one reads] to occur, for the veil to drop, and have God’s wisdom appear openly here –that all may be aware of it and acknowledge it.”
A few nights ago on the 6:oopm News, there was a report on a new movement for masses of Evangelical Christians. They have spoken out in support of Israel, who is now fighting the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, and teetering on the brink of another full scale mid-East War; which they would win –again. The atrocities and mishaps of this incident is taking some of the media heat off Bush and his boys who are still trying to hold back civil war in Iraq with one hand, and siphon off as much Iraqi crude as possible with the other. But these fervent outspoken Christians are not supporting Israel and the Jews out of love or even Christ consciousness. No, their view is that the great Islamic dragon of Jihad, which at present is swinging its lethal tail all over the holy land –is indicative of the Apocalypse of prophesy, from the Old and New Testaments –and that further this absolutely signals, even guarantees the return, the materialization of Jesus Christ on/in this plane of existence.
One minister said, “God, himself [why not herself, itself, themselves?], will save the state of Israel.”
One rabbi said, “If Jesus returned, or when Jesus returns, we will still be Jews. Jesus is a Jew that gentiles have adopted for their own religion. When Christ is standing right here in front of us, will Jews become Christians, or will Christians have to start reciting the Torah? Will he still be angry about the crucifixion? What about the Koran, and those pesky hordes of Jihadists? Will God have a solution?”
For over three years now the War for Petroleum has usurped any substantial media coverage of this country’s War on Drugs.
William Burroughs wrote, “The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer –he sells the consumer to the product.”
Philip K. Dick wrote, “Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away. The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.”
In 1982 Dick said, “We are living in a time [the Reagan era] when there is a cruel spirit across the land, and it seems to be gathering momentum. I have some very close friends who are showing symptoms of great cruelty, and interest in only their own personal welfare. These are people who at one time had been in the anti-war [Viet Nam] movement; very idealistic –and now are exhibiting a complete “me-first” type of narcissism.”
He wrote his novel, A SCANNER DARKLY, in two weeks, and then spent more than three years re-writing it. Often he would write all night and greet the dawn with weeping eyes. It was published in 1977, and in many ways it was autobiographical.
Dick once was quoted, “Everything in A SCANNER DARKLY I actually saw. I even saw worse things than I put in the book. I saw people who were reduced to a point where they couldn’t complete a sentence –and this was permanent damage for the rest of their lives; and they were 18-19 years old.”
A SCANNER DARKLY (2006) is a fascinating new film based on Philip K. Dick’s novel. The movie was directed by the Viscount of Verbosity, director Richard Linklater. For the record, I personally adore Linklater’s “talky” films. I find his dialogue for the most part intellectual, quasi-deep, socially relevant, crackling, and most always interesting.
Linklater said, “I was kind of late coming to Philip K. Dick because science fiction isn’t really my genre. I read VALIS in the ‘80s. I like UBIK, and I thought it would have made a good movie. I wrote a draft, and then Tommy (Pallotta) tried to get the film rights; no luck. Then Wiley Wiggins had been telling me that SCANNER would be the best novel to adapt. I met with (Steven) Soderbergh [who had appeared in WAKING LIFE], and two days later the book was optioned to me.”
At one point in the ‘90s, Charlie Kaufman had written a screenplay adaptation. Chris Cunningham had worked on it for a time as well. In the early ‘90s Terry Gilliam was the first director to want to make a motion picture version of the novel.
Linklater continued, “Dick always had such great ideas, but his science was not. I guess I am more motivated by his characters than his science. He somehow knew that at the core of the future, there is always going to be some schlubby guy struggling, trying to get laid, and being frustrated. Other sci-fi writers create these fantastic worlds where humans have suddenly lost all their humor, and they’ve become automatons –but Dick always granted everyone full humanity –and for me that’s his endearing appeal; his characters are flawed, and so very human. SCANNERS was probably his most personal work.”
Philip K. Dick wrote, “I want to write about people I love, and put them in a fictional world spun out of my mind, and not the world we actually have –because that would not meet my standards; and I will not revise my standards. I will always be out of step. I have never fully yielded to reality. That’s what science fiction is all about. If you wish to yield to reality –go read Philip Roth.
I suppose that’s why I love science fiction. I love to read it. I love to write it. The science fiction writer sees not just “possibilities”, but wild possibilities. It’s not just,” What if?” –it is,” My God, what if?” in complete frenzy and hysteria. For them, for me –the Martians are always coming.”
This year at the Cannes Film Festival, where Richard Linklater brought his finally finished A SCANNER DARKLY, and his newly finished FAST FOOD NATION, he said to the press, “Dick wrote about this paranoid future, and my premise with the movie is that we are living in science fiction right now. This is the paranoid future. Dick was coming out of the Nixon era, with all the wire-tapping and COINTEL PRO. There is always a time to be a little paranoid about your government –but I think it’s hit another peak today. It has spiked up again with the Bush Administration.
So I think there is a clear parallel between the era the book was written, and America’s current climate of fear. This whole movie didn’t get off the ground until after 9/11. You could see the writing on the wall when the Patriot Act came in. This whole terror thing we are living in creates a sad, suspicious atmosphere.”
A SCANNER DARKLY, the novel, was written about Dick’s personal drug experiences in 1970-72. He wrote it with great passion, sadness, and wisdom. The dialogue in the book sounded authentic. Dick had a good ear for the drug-induced meticulous meandering, the profound confusion, the paranoia and anger. From his own retelling of that period, he did clean himself up and never really had a drug problem again. Published in 1977, the story takes place “six years into the future”. Here we are almost 30 years into the future, and the Dickian premise is still very valid.
After watching the new film adapted from the novel, certain things become apparent. On the one hand, for those of us who can see through the paper-thin political ruse, we witness our government using us as pawns in their scheme and stratagems –through their blatant dishonesty and manipulation, the populace is “controlled” by fear, by misdirection, by spin, and by the media. On the other hand, the new film is a “Drug Movie”, which is a sub-genre unto itself, encompassing drama, thriller, cops and criminals, international intrigue, and even comedy; sometimes specifically comedy.
I sang the song because I loved the man.
I know that some of you won’t understand;
Milk blood to keep from running out;
I’ve seen the needle and the damage done,
A little part of it in everyone;
But every junkie’s like a setting sun.
From Neal Young’s HEART OF GOLD
J. Hoberman of the VILLAGE VOICE wrote, “A SCANNER DARLKY is a highly entertaining, challenging, and intellectual piece of cinema that will appeal to anybody looking for anything thought-provoking in the wasteland of empty summer movies. The film is a social and political warning –but it is also an elegy to all that have fallen victim to drug abuse. This is a rare anti-drug film that manages to sympathize with the drug addict, vilify the War on Drugs, and depict the price of drug abuse on those who are addicts.”
Peter Sobczynski of EFILMCRITIC.COM wrote, “Richard Linklater must have been struck with how closely Dick, writing in 1977, managed to correctly depict the state of America three decades later –today, a time when individual personal identity is becoming a thing of the past, personal freedoms are gradually being stripped away by an increasing intrusive government in the name of “fighting terrorism” –and the populace has mostly become too zombified to notice, or care. Linklater has chosen to let Dick’s work speak for itself.”
Chris Knapp on IMDb wrote, “The War on Drugs, and the War on Terrorism are both just means of exploitation and repression. Dick’s nonsensical word play, and Linklater’s current film-making are both dead-serious –world class American Art.”
Gosh, everyone enjoys a good “Drug Movie”, right? It transport we sober squares to an alien landscape, a great unknown and possible adventure, a place to witness tremendous pleasure –where possibly we can enjoy a temporary outlaw status; but usually hidden in the narrative, often hiding in plain sight, is the cost, the price one has to pay –the eventual consequences of their actions. Drugs start off, it seems, as sweet spirits and then transform into towering demons, out to destroy all stability, ready to push the world into darkness, chaos, and anarchy.
For most of us, back in the greaser days, those halcyon 1950’s, we associated “drugs” with jazz musicians, movie stars, celebrities –and of course those pitiful lowly depraved individuals, the drug addicts; but it seemed that most of them lived in the slums of New York City, or sometimes in Chicago. We heard the buzz regarding an underground cult film titled REEFER MADNESS (1936), but there were very few screenings. I saw it in 16mm in someone’s basement near the University of Washington in 1963. The little film wised us up to the fact that those folks who start puffing marijuana quickly are led into complete depravity, and quite probably heroin use. One of those Hollywood scandal magazines had run a story in 1960 about Robert Mitchum serving jail time in the late ‘40s for possessing grass. In short we knew next to nothing about drugs or drug abuse.
In 1955 we were all shocked watching Frank Sinatra writhe on the floor, dealing with his heroin habit in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, directed by a brave Otto Preminger. We were still shocked in 1957 when Don Murray played a pitiful drug addict in A HATFUL OF RAIN. He played a soldier who had been wounded severely in Korea, and had been hooked on morphine. Ben Gazzara played the part on Broadway. Perhaps film director Fred Zinneman should have taken a box office chance on a “little-known actor”, because Gazzara would have torn the skin off that part. The bland less-talented Don Murray did not rise to the occasion.
One of the sections of this sub-genre is The Celebrity Drug Experience. These were the folks that we had little pity for, other than being sad that their careers and lives were swirled down a rat hole. After all, besides all their fame and wealth, they just had too much leisure time on their hands. They did not really have to “work” for a living, and they could afford all those designer and exotic drugs. They might just have been victims of peer pressure, and often it seemed that they had sad wretched childhoods.
Mick Jagger played an exotic stoned criminal cross-dresser in PERFORMANCE (1970). One of the first big celebrity drug films had singer Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday in LADY SINGS THE BLUES (1972); even Oscar took notice. Dustin Hoffman played Lenny Bruce in Bob Fosse’s LENNY (1974) –and Oscar was stirred up again. We had Bill Murray, fresh-faced from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, playing Hunter S. Thompson in WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (1980) –but for my money the true Thompson zaniness did not appear on the screen until Johnny Depp played him in Terry Gilliam’s FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1996). It was written that Johnny Depp actually moved in with Thompson for a week or so, to study the man. There was Gary Oldman playing Sid Vicious in SID AND NANCY (1986). Forest Whitaker broke our hearts playing Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood’s BIRD (1988). Chet Baker played what was left of himself in the documentary LET’S GET LOST (1988). Dexter Gordon, when he still had a semblance of a voice, was masterful and manipulating playing Dale
Turner, a compilation of two jazz stars, in Bertrand Tavernier’s ROUND MIDNIGHT (1986). Dennis Quaid banged the ivories and Winona Ryder as Jerry Lee Lewis in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE (1989). Val Kilmer seemed to morph into Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s THE DOORS (1991). There was Wood Harris playing Jimi in HENDRIX (2000); THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY (1991), and the fabulous Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? (1993). We had Ewan McGregor playing a David Bowie-like character in VELVET GOLDMINE (1998); Lili Taylor popping a cap into Jared Harris’ butt in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996). Recently Jamie Foxx produced a dynamite Oscar-winning portrayal of Ray Charles in RAY (2004), and the talented Joaquin Pheonix worked hard playing Johnny Cash in WALK THE LINE (2005).
Laced within this Drug Genre was the prolific “stoner comedy”. Countless films had characters that were hopeless tongue-tied, confused, and ineffectual secondary to their particular substance abuse. Slapstick is based in part on stupidity and naiveté, and Hollywood found a way to make druggies funny; or in the case of Cheech Marin and Thomas Chong, they just had to stand back and film the mayhem. Cheech and Chong, at their best, were like the Marx brothers on coke. My favorites of their many stoner films were UP IN SMOKE (1978), NEXT MOVIE (1980), and STILL SMOKIN (1983).
There is a scene in UP IN SMOKE:
Cheech: This is really good shit man! It is far out!
Chong: Fucking A.
Cheech: What kind of shit is this, man?
Cheech: What? Are we smoking dog shit, man?
Chong: Yeah, man, like my German shepherd ate my stash –so I had to follow him around to reclaim it.
[After a few more tokes.]
Cheech: Actually, it ain’t too bad.
Drug films have been with us a long time. Robert Lansing played a cop hot on the trail of drug lords in the black and white “B” film, THE PUSHER (1960). Alex Cord played a way cool addict named Zanky Albo in SYNANON (1965), with Chuck Conners. LSD became a designer drug for Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern in PSYCH-OUT (1968). Earlier Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern gave us the acid “primer” in Roger Corman’s THE TRIP (1967). Al Pacino’s film debut was playing the loser drug addict thief in PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK (1971). Gene Hackman became a super star playing cop Popeye Doyle in THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), followed by the smart sequel FRENCH CONNECTION II (1975). Drugs ruined lives and led to murder in LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR
(1977), with Diane Keaton, and a very young Tom Berenger. Brad Davis got his little pink tush in trouble in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978), with John Hurt.
The 1980’s gave us sterling drug films as well, staring with William Hurt in Ken Russell’s ALTERED STATES (1980). Al Pacino buried his faced in a mountain of cocaine in Brian De Palma’s SCARFACE (1983). Tom Berenger romanced a very naked and stoned Melanie Griffith in FEAR CITY (1984). Don Johnson spawned a whole sub-genre with his no-socks, 3-day beard, fancy shoulder-holster, Ferrari driving Sonny Crockett, rogue cop drug buster in Michael Mann’s landmark hip TV series, MIAMI VICE (1984). Mann is back on the scene this year with his excellent remake film, MIAMI VICE (2006), with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. Dennis Hooper took us places we didn’t want to go in David Lynch’s BLUE VELVET (1986). Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton went down hard, busted prime in THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN (1987). James Woods hurt himself and all those around him in THE BOOST (1988). Matt Dillon had his little druggie posse and they robbed pharmacies in Gus Van Sant’s DRUGSTORE COWBOY (1989).
The 1990’s coughed up plenty of blood and bile for our entertainment. We can certainly start off that decade with David Cronenberg’s NAKED LUNCH (1991), with Peter Weller, and THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991), with Bruce Willis, and Jason Patric with Jennifer Jason Leigh in RUSH (1991). There was TRUE ROMANCE (1993), with Christian Slater and Dennis Hopper; Brian De Palma’s CARLITO’S WAY (1993), with Al Pacino and Sean Penn, as well as Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993). Then we can count Woody Harrelson and Tommy Lee Jones in Oliver Stone’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994); a pensive Samuel L. Jackson in FRESH (1994); a quite good Leonardo De Caprio in THE BASKETBALL DIARIES (1995); Quentin Tarantino’s JACKIE BROWN (1997), with Robert De Niro; Al Pacino mentoring Johnny Depp in all things drugs in DONNIE BRASCO (1997), and of course everyone’s favorite stoned Dude, Jeff Bridges, in the Coen Brothers’ THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998).
The new century has already provided us with several drug movies, starting with Arnofsky’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) with Jared Leto; and the blockbuster, TRAFFIC (2000), with Michael Douglas; adding in chameleon Johnny Depp in Ted Demme’s BLOW (2001); followed by Jonas Akerlund’s SPUN (2002), with Mickey Rourke. We found the versatile Val Kilmer doing a bizarre turn as undercover cop/criminal/addict in THE SALTON SEA (2002). There was Sean Penn in the strange heart-felt drug opera, 21 GRAMS (2003).
This brings us to the present, to Philip K. Dick’s personal drug reflections as visualized by the reverent maverick film director, Richard Linklater –to A SCANNER DARKLY (2006), which is like an apex for the genre, a drug movie that is shot live-action, then animated, that is drama, comedy, socio-political satire, mystery, science fiction, dark thriller.
OPIUM AND HITLER
Bid him leap –
Opium and Hitler
Let him sleep.
A Negress with
Helped him think
He wasn’t white.
Opium and Hitler
Made him sure
The world was glass,
There was no cure.
Disarmed as this:
The state rose on
A festered kiss.
Once a dream
Nailed on the sky,
A summer sun
While it was high.
He wanted a
Blindfold of skin;
He wanted the
Afternoon to begin.
One law broken,
The world was wax,
His to mold.
No! He fumbled
For his history dose.
The sun came loose,
His woman close.
Lost in a darkness
Their bodies would reach,
The Leader started
A racial speech.
I remember when I saw the film, SYNANON in 1965. I had not been drafted yet, had not traveled to California to prep for the Summer of Love. The film really touched me, a sophomore in college who wrote poetry and dreamed of writing novels and starring in great movies. In the film, those residents, ex and recovering addicts, standing on the balcony on the roof, looking south to the Santa Monica Pier, or west to the ocean’s horizon; eating peanut butter sandwiches to mask their real cravings. It was the best acting that Alex Cord ever did; his Zanky Albo was a fascinating, dynamic loser.
So in 1967, when I was actually there in Southern California, I traveled out to the Santa Monica Pier, and walked north on the beach seeking out Synanon. The building was still standing, but the program had lost its funding, and had to shut down. So I stood transfixed staring at its boarded-up emptiness, replaying the movie in my head.
The blazing orb dove
Into the ocean
Like a great fiery waterbird,
And orange-crimson crests
Rolled hard against miles
Of white Malibu beach.
Summer dusk settled
On Santa Monica,
And the girls squealing
On the Ferris wheel
At Pacific Ocean Park
Did not hear
The soft footsteps in the deep sand,
Did not see
A solitary figure strolling
The emptiness of beach
Beneath the pier;
Walking and watching
The dark surf
Hammer the earth.
He was just a shadow
Within a shadow
Of a squat red brick building.
He touched its stone,
Rubbing the grime off
A broken basement window pane.
He was a creature
Of introspection, a traveler
His Mary-Jane/Alice craft churning
Through the red canals,
Halting only to lick
The pink pulp of his
Focused on another Naval vessel
Gliding out toward the horizon
Like a gray phantom
Loaded to the gunnels
With a precious cargo
Of cannon fodder.
He had already seen
The mystic eastern side
Of that huge wet flatness,
Had mortars for breakfast,
Swished hordes of fat flies
From severed heads,
With faces he recognized,
Stuck firmly on bamboo stakes,
With their withered testicles crammed
Into their dead mouths;
Sewed up with green vine
Laced delicately through torn blackened lips.
These militarist lovely memories
Added adobe-coral to his shell,
And he kept seeking more fuel
For the cold furnace
His heart had become;
And some kind of substance,
Any kind to fill
The terrible void inside.
He was lost,
Completely without bearings,
Dropping fast into darkness,
Only to find his feet
In a strange land
Where he needed to chase
The black-hooded monks
Who had no faces, as they
Wandered in the fog.
He heard a voice announcing
That he, too, could find the light,
That he, too, could refocus
But goddamn it,
The purple scars of war
Do not fade easily,
And shrapnel does not fade
And neither the soft California nights
Nor the medicine from Mexico
Could ease the terrible ache
So, for Christ’s sake,
Come down, young man,
Try and come down;
Even though now you know
That you can’t, because
There are rough brown planks
Nailed over the window arches,
And shit-stained FOR LEASE signs
On all the doors.
The heroin ghosts rule over no one,
For no one stands
Now on that rod iron-trussed balcony,
And stares out to sea,
Chewing peanut butter sandwiches
While holding a comrade’s hand
The dusty reception room receives
The auditorium is silent.
Straight-backed wooden chairs are stacked
Like driftwood in the forgotten corners.
You three story red-brick bastard building;
Your strong arms are no longer open.
Oh my God,
Synanon is dead.
Glenn Buttkus 1968
For me it has always been strange, yet invigorating, to travel to the actual site where a movie has been filmed. I could never look at the Space Needle the same way again after viewing THE PARALLAX VIEW. My first foray into New York City was like a homecoming. Somehow, with movies as my tutor, I knew where everything was in Manhattan. I tingled with deju vu for hours. Last year when I visited the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, stood at its base, and touched it –I could hear the John Williams score from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and see the mother ship soaring up from behind it. I have shared previously how excited I was to travel to Brackettville, Texas to visit the John Wayne set for THE ALAMO, and the western set used there for LONESOME DOVE. When I visited Mt. Rushmore, there were tourist signs everywhere along the highway reminding us that this was the very spot where Hitchcock filmed NORTH BY NORTHWEST. This summer I swung past the Grand Canyon, through the Monument Valley and Arches National Park where over 123 movies and commercials have been filmed. My cortical projector nearly came off the sprockets as those films rattled through my mind, reinforced by the actual sites. I even rented a motel room in Montrose, Colorado where John Wayne had stayed while filming TRUE GRIT there. The room had John Wayne western movie posters on all the walls, and there were a stack of the Duke’s DVD’s to view. I felt right at home.
Harlan Ellison wrote, “Philip K. Dick has been casting illumination by the klieg lights of his imagination on a terra incognita of staggering dimensions.”
Philip Kindred Dick was born in Chicago in 1928. Tragedy struck him right out of the chute. He had a twin sister, Jane. She died at 8 weeks old; allegedly from an allergy to her mother’s milk. The truth was that his mother, Dorothy, was emotionally “unable” to properly feed and care for her newborns. Little Jane had been badly burned by an electric blanket. An insurance nurse who was visiting the home saw a malnourished Philip and the injured Jane, and she rushed both babies to the hospital –but baby Jane died on the way there. In Dick’s writings there was a recurrent theme regarding his “phantom twin”.
When Dick was 5 years old, his parents divorced. His father moved to Colorado, and he with his mother moved to Southern California –where he lived most of his life. Starting in the 7th grade he suffered several vertigo attacks. In his late teens, he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. In later years, other doctors found him to be quite “sane”. He dropped out of UC Berkeley in 1949. Throughout his life he suffered from what were called “nervous breakdowns”.
In 1952, he published his first short story, ROOG. He was 24 years old. In the next few years he published dozens of short stories. His compeers convinced him that there was more money in writing and publishing novels. So he published his first novel, SOLAR LOTTERY in 1955. During those beginning years, he also wrote and published under the names Richard Philips and Jack Dowland. By 1970 he had published 100 short stories and two dozen novels. He enjoyed some
success with DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, TIME OUT OF JOINT, and the Hugo-winning THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.
In 1981, he wrote, “Actually I am a fictionalizing philosopher –not a novelist. My novel and story writing ability is employed as a means to formulate my perception. The core of my writing is not art but truth. Thus what I tell is the truth, yet I can do nothing to alleviate it, either by deed or explanation. Yet this seems somehow to help a certain kind of sensitive troubled person, for whom I speak. I think I understand the common ingredient in those whom my writing helps –they cannot, or will not blunt their own intimations about the irrational mysterious nature of reality; and for them, my corpus is one long ratiocination of this inexplicable reality, an integration and presentation, analysis and response and personal history.”
Homer wrote, “To reach the truth from the appearances, it is necessary to interpret –to guess the riddle.”
Yeats wrote, “I am an immortal soul tied to the body of a dying animal.”
Dick’s Polish colleague, Stanislav Lem wrote, “Phil is less a writer than a man cursed with prophetic sight –who does not so much play the part of a guide through his phantasmagoric worlds, as he gives the distinct impression of one lost in those labyrinths.”
Dick had a chaotic personal life. He was married 5 times. His response was, “The reason all my marriages broke up is that I’m so autocratic when I’m writing. I become like Beethoven, completely bellicose and defensive in terms of guarding my privacy. So it is very hard to live with when I am writing –and I am writing all the time.”
After one of his failed marriages, drug experimentations sidetracked his career for several years in the early 1970’s. By early 1974 he had pulled himself up out of his doldrums, and he wrote FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID –and it won a Campbell Award. But later that year, he fell ill and he had a “profound religious experience” that would forever alter his life. He felt that he was visited by “God”, or a god-like being he later called many things; VALIS, UBIK, ZEBRA, and others.
Dick wrote, “The voice identified itself as ‘Ruah’, which is the Old Testament word for the Spirit of God. It speaks to me in a feminine voice, and it tends to express statements regarding the messianic expectation. It hasn’t spoke to me since I wrote DIVINE INVASION. It is very economical in what it says. It limits itself to a few terse succinct sentences. I only hear the voice when I’m falling asleep or waking up. It sounds like it’s coming from millions of miles away. I have to be very receptive to hear it.”
Dick referred to this channeling, these visitations as 2/3/74 for the nine weeks during February and March of that year. He spent the next 8 years, all the rest of his life, writing copious journals regarding these visitations. He would stay up for days, writing and typing through the night –not even stopping to eat. He called this interpretation of his experiences EXEGESIS. Those journals ended up being more than 8,000 pages and one million words. One of Dick’s wives found him of a morning speaking Koine Greek, an ancient dialect used to write the Old Testament –a language he had never heard or studied. On another occasion, he was warned to look to his young son. He did so, taking the boy to the hospital –and it saved his son’s life. Many have asked was it divine intervention or just an intricate part of the schizophrenic process?
Dick wrote, “My writing deals with hallucinated worlds, intoxicating and deluding drugs and psychosis. But my writing acts as an antidote –a detoxifying, not intoxicating antidote. I understand the common ingredient in those whom my writing helps.”
One unknown critic on the IMDb wrote, “Philip K. Dick, in his writing, mixes anthropological, epistemological, ethical preoccupations with the nature of reality, appearances, knowledge, and perception, the authentically human and the artificial, the everyday and the political, the existential and the transcendent, the hopeful and the dystopian, the affirmative and entropic.”
His final four novels, especially VALIS (1981), were all heavily influenced by his spiritual state. VALIS stood for Vast Active Living Intelligence System. He had his title character be an extraterrestrial God-like machine that “chooses” to make contact with a “hopelessly schizophrenic drug-addled mixed-up Sci-Fi writer named Philip K. Dick.” But to complicate things somewhat, he seemed to portray himself as the character, Horselover Fat. He wrote, “Fat must have come up with more theories than there are stars in the universe. Every day he developed a new one, more cunning, more exciting, and more fucked up.”
On February 3, 1974, Dick wrote, “I had a visitation by ‘The Restorer of What Was Lost’, or perhaps, ‘The Mender of What Was Before’. It appeared in vivid fire, with shining colors and balanced patterns –and released me from every thrall; inner and outer. It seized me entirely, lifting me from the limitations of the space-time matrix. It mastered me, and yet at the same time I knew that the world around me was cardboard, a fake, through its power of perception. I saw what really existed –and through its power of no-thought decision –I acted to free myself. It took on in battle, as a champion of all human spirits in thrall, every evil and every iron imprisoning thing.”
Lawrence Sutton wrote, “The truth or falsehood of Dick’s 2/3/74 experiences is irrelevant. The central point of those experiences provided him with a means to explore with integrity and insight, and humility, the difficulties of making sense
of any spiritual path in a relentlessly secular and cynical Western culture –in which even apparent revelations can be instantly repackaged as popular entertainment.”
One central hypothesis extant within EXEGESIS was that history actually stopped in the First Century. The Roman Empire never ended. Rome, after forcing the Gnostics underground 1900 years earlier, kept the population of Earth as slaves to their worldly possessions. American presidents like Nixon and Reagan were considered Emperors incarnate.
After viewing Eugene Jarecki’s film, WHY WE FIGHT (2005), one begins to see the eternal wisdom and truth existing within VALIS, and much of the EXEGESIS; as the military-industrial complex that Ike warned us about at the end of his second term, has firmly entrenched itself, and through its trillion-dollar coffers create the means to pull most all of the strings attached firmly to our duly-elected politicians. The scene in that film where a much younger Donald Rumsfeld is warmly shaking the hand of a grinning Sadam Hussein, as Rumsfeld personally delivered weapons to him so that he could get the upper hand in his war with Iran –really stirred me up. Similarly it was stomach churning to watch George Bush Sr. as President, being such a gracious host with the Saudis. I felt like three years ago just before our preemptive strike on Iraq, when Rumsfeld held a news conference and he smugly stated, “Of course Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. We know this to be a matter of fact.” What was left out was the subtext, “Because we have the receipts for them.”
Several times in WHY WE FIGHT, prominent individuals referred to America’s intense exercise in Bush Imperialism as they stated flatly, “We are the new Rome. We straddle the globe and our bayonets are everywhere.”
Many of the tractates within EXEGESIS have been labeled as “Phildickian Gnosticism.”
In 1977 Dick wrote, “I am getting more and more into metaphysical areas. The word “metaphysics” dates back to the Middle Ages. Its meaning passes over the normal concept of physical laws, and includes philosophies and theologies. I would define something as metaphysical if it is anything which being observed by more then one person, those observers do not agree on what they’ve seen and experienced. It is rather phenomenon that has an elusive character.
During 2/3/74, apparently I got ‘rephrased’ in terms of linear time in such a way, that instead of linear time flashing by me like the frames in a movie projector flash by –I got past the progressiveness of linear time outside of its temporal progressions. It’s like the New Age theory of simultaneous time, where everything is acting together, all at once on things of the past.”
Entry 35: The phenomenal world does not exist. It is a hypostasis of the information processed by the mind. The mind is not talking to us, but by means of us. Its narrative passes through us and its sorrow infuses us irrationally.
Entry 48: It is proper to say, we appear to be memory coils (DNA carriers capable of experience) in a computer-like thinking system which although we have correctly recorded and stored thousands of years of experiential information, and each of us possesses somewhat different deposits from all the other life forms, there is a malfunction, a failure, of memory retrieval; and there lies the trouble in our particular sub-circuit. There is salvation only through Gnosis –more properly “anamnesis” –the loss of amnesia.”
Perhaps in Entry 48, Dick was referring to the well know Zen concept of “the veil of forgetfulness”. He entitled all of his thousands of entries, “Tractates Cryptica Scriptures”. Many of them were reproduced in VALIS. In the world according to Dick, Rome was the “eternal paragon of this new Empire.” Further he felt that we all existed in the “Black Iron Prison”, which he defined as, “the demiurges worldly forces of political tyranny and oppressive social control.”
Eric Davis wrote, “The EXEGESIS is an alternately incandescent, boring, and disturbing document, where sparkling metaphysical jewels and inspiring chunks of garbage swim together in a turgid and depressing sea of speculative indulgence and self-obsession.”
Joshua Glenn of HERMENANT wrote, “Dick is a prophet of hyper-reality, a beleaguered and heroic humanist, a Gnostic visionary of the suburbs. What passes for Dick’s ‘philosophy’ is nothing but a fragmented and entirely personal collection of theories, which he arranges and rearranges obsessively, without however ever really believing they will all some day fit together.”
Dick said, “What I write doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I certainly see the randomness in my work, and I also see how this fast shuffling of possibility after possibility might eventually, given enough time, juxtapose and disclose something important –and was automatically overlooked in more orderly thinking. Anyone with my attitude might just stumble onto, by sheer chance and
luck, the authentic camouflaged God –might catch him by surprise by poking somewhere unexpectedly.”
That brings to mind some lyrics from popular songs:
What if God
Were one of us?
Just a slob
Like one of us;
Just a random face
On the bus,
Trying to find
His way home?
Or that old Blues tune once recorded by Texas rockers, ZZ Top:
Jesus done left Chicago,
Bound for New Orleans.
You may not see him
But you will see him
Just the same.
You don’t have to worry;
Taking care of business
Is his name.
Oddly, and perhaps sadly, despite Philip K. Dick’s many publications, and several prestigious awards –he never considered himself financially successful. He wrote like a man on fire, burning the midnight oil ad infinitum –yet he had to really struggle to “make a living’. He seemed to work a lot for several Science Fiction publishers that were low-paying, publishing only in their magazines and paperbacks. They were always quick with the advance payment to him, to keep him writing –but all too often he never seemed to receive the appropriate royalties as his many stories and novels were reprinted countless times; often in several languages.
In 1980 he was quoted to say, “You would have to kill me and prop me up in the front seat of my car with a fake smile painted on my face to get me near Hollywood.” Ironically, it is Hollywood, in its way, that has done more to pump up his image and notoriety, then all the publishing houses combined ever did. Of course the true irony is that the majority of his “new” reputation was created and nourished posthumously. The cash he received from the sale of BLADE RUNNER (1982), both the film rights and reprints of his novel, only gave him a few months fiscal stability. Shortly after the film premiered, he died.
Philip K. Dick died on March 2, 1982 from recurrent strokes and the resulting heart failure. He was only 53 years old. His father brought his body to Fort Morgan, Colorado –and he was buried next to his twin sister, Jane.
Hollywood realized it had a problem. How could it sell and market the ethereal analytical metaphysical socio-political prose and plots of PDK to John Q. Public?
How could they just use the “essence” of several complex Dick novels, and still make them more accessible to the mass vapid audiences that infest the malls? Simple, some high-paid executive said, we just take the bare bones of one of Dick’s themes, and toss in several elaborate action scenes, and lots of futuristic gismos and tons of CGI, matte paintings, and techno-speak, and audiences will love it; and they did. It did not seem to matter to anyone that a narrative like that would have been a polar opposite of Dick’s mind games and political satires, and that it would leave no room for his intelligent dialogue.
It is generally felt that Hollywood did produce one masterwork from amidst the marketing spin, Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER (1982); the first and still the best –until now, until A SCANNER DARKLY (2006). Dick, himself, came to accept Ridley Scott’s vision of his novel. He was allowed to visit the set and talk with the director. Dick loved the sets and the new concept, but I remember that he was particularly unimpressed with the taciturn introverted Harrison Ford –not being sure that this quiet actor could bring his character, Rick Deckard, to life.
Two other worthy films rose up from out of the Holly-froth as well –Paul Verhoven’s TOTAL RECALL (1990), and Steven Spielberg’s MINORITY REPORT (2002). Less exciting, but still enjoyable to us Dickian fans, were SCANNERS (1995), with Peter Weller, and IMPOSTER (2002), with Gary Sinese. Heck, I even liked the limp PAYCHECK (2003), with the “dynamic” Ben Affleck.
Richard Linklater wrote, “It’s always been frustrating to the Dick fans that there is so much more to his novels and stories that what ends up on the screen. Hollywood has this history of grabbing the central premise, and then just making a traditional genre film; an action movie. I thought Dick deserved a full adaptation of one of his stories, and what I have always thought was missing was his humor, and the full range of his characters.”
An interesting tidbit of information I stumbled into with my research was that Philip K. Dick was resurrected by his fans in the form of a remote controlled android designed in his likeness. The android was impaneled in a San Diego Comic Con presentation of the film adaptation of A SCANNER DARKLY.
Unfortunately, sometime in February 2006, the android was “misplaced” by an unnamed airline –and has yet to be located. How bizarre is that?
Not everyone appreciated Richard Linklater’s faithful adaptation of Dick’s novel, A SCANNER DARKLY.
Justin Chang of VARIETY wrote, “Audiences may find that there is less than meets the eye in Richard Linklater’s deeply intriguing –but almost too faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s nightmarish 1977 novel about government surveillance, fractured identity, and dope-fueled paranoia. Pic feels almost self-consciously geared toward cult status. Mainstream viewers will likely prefer their head trips less talky and more self administrated.
Dick’s cynical universe proves much more hermetic [relating to Gnostic writings], leaving surprisingly little room for the kinds of surrealist touches and visual fillips one would expect. Plot point by plot point, the film seems more concerned with achieving a lucid retelling of the novel’s events, resulting in an almost disappointing well behaved Sci-Fi noir that is mildly provocative rather than visionary. To judge by the large number of walk-outs during the pic’s Cannes press screening –the material may still be too densely convoluted for all but the most attentive.”
Peter Hartlaub of the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE wrote, “Moviemakers over the past few decades have scavenged Philip K. Dick’s science fiction the way ivory hunters approach an elephant carcass. They adopt the loose themes and action elements, and discard most of the subtleties of his writing. Richard Linklater goes in the opposite direction –and his visual style and lethargic pace can be frustrating –at least if you are sober –but the animated tragedy is still a success; even though the director seems more interested in presenting a literal translation than trying for a commercial success –reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS.”
A SCANNER DARKLY is about a lot of things, big brother kinds of surveillance, the toll of drug addiction, the government as Machiavellian shadow figures inserting themselves into all phases of a citizen’s “privacy”; extreme paranoia –real and imagined, cruelty, terror, betrayal, sexual frustration, disillusionment, and even the darkest of humor.
A character by the name of Bruce became a policeman, and at some point became a detective. In the world of the very near future, over 20% of the population in this country is hooked on, addicted to some kind of new wonder “smack”, a super drug called Substance “D”, or SD, or Death, or Scanner Darkly. Many of the future’s constabulary has to lead double lives. They had to go deep undercover to infiltrate the miasma of pushers, users, addicts, and drug lords. The cops do not even know what their fellow officers look like; that might be too dangerous. So they all take an assumed cop-name. Bruce became Officer Fred. They all wore, while at work, or in public in an official capacity, a “scramble suit”, which changed their voices, and constantly changed their visage. One could not tell if the were conversing with a man, a woman, or a large child.
Dick wrote in his novel, “A scramble suit consisted of a multi-faced quartz lens hooked up to a miniaturized computer, whose memory banks held up to a million and a half physiognomic fraction representations of various people: men, women, and children, with very variant encoded and then projected outward in all directions equally on a super-thin shroud-like membrane large enough to fit around an average human. So the wearer of the scramble suit was Everyman and in every combination.”
When Officer Fred was introduced by the Dick Clarkian host at the Brown Bear Lodge:
Host: This man, who we shall call Fred, because this is the code name under which he reports the information he gathers, once within a scramble suit, cannot be identified by voice, or even by technological voice print, or by appearance. He looks, does he not, like a vague blur and nothing more? Am I right?
A bit of trivia, as Fred stood at the microphone, and his scramble suit did its thing, one of the reoccurring images was the actual face of Philip K. Dick.
Officer Fred (at the microphone): I would like to add just this. Don’t kick their asses after they’re hooked on it –the users, the addicts. Half of them, most of them, especially the girls, didn’t know what they were getting on –or even that they were getting on anything at all. So just try and keep the people, any of us, from getting on it. See, they dissolve some reds in a glass of wine, the pushers, I mean –they give the booze to a chick, an underage chick –with 8 or 10 reds in it, and she passes out. Then they inject her with a Mex hit, which is half heroin and half Substance D. I tell you the only way we can stop the pushers is to kill them; kill all of them.
Officer Fred spent a lot of shift reviewing, minute for minute, surveillance tapes of a group of drug addicts that the cops were watching. It is a home, an old rambler, in the suburbs. It is owned by one Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), and there are two stoned-out lunkheads who use the place as a crash pad; James Barris (Robert Downey Jr.) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson). A frequent visitor to the place was one Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), who was a doper buddy of theirs. He was so fried on “D”, he believed that he was infested 24/7 with bizarre insects of all sorts.
Fred’s immediate supervisor remarked that even “he” had no idea who the undercover operative was within that group. It might have been any of the four. The somewhat ambiguous lines between cop and criminal completely disappear. They no longer exist. In real life, as in DONNIE BRASCO (1997), which was based on a true story, an undercover agent, deep under, can get so caught up in the lifestyle of his criminal compeers, that his old identity becomes subjugated by the dangerous attractiveness of his own fictitious “personality”. Add a hallucinogenic drug to the mix, and we find dear Officer Fred in a real turmoil –embroiled in a war between his three personalities.
As wise and vigilant viewers, we can see that Officer Fred is, in fact, Bob Arctor. But at some point, it is suggested that Fred can no longer discriminate the true facts –that he is scanning himself as he were just another scumbag addict.
Fred (voice over): What does a scanner see? Into the head? Into the heart? Does it see into me? Into us? Clearly and darkly? I hope it sees clearly because I can’t see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better, because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I am cursed and cursed again.
Substance D also stood for dumbness, despair, and desertion, as well as death. It was distilled from a small innocent-looking blue flower that Dick called, “Mors Ontologica” –the death of knowledge of existence; like birth itself where it has been suggested that we “forget” our past lives, our past wisdom, and the answers to the plaguing questions of the universe. I remember a story of a newborn being brought home, and his three year old brother looking him carefully in the face, and saying, “Tell me about God. I am beginning to forget.”
Officer Fred’s co-workers are seeing and reading the stress, despair, and confusion in him. Several times he was called up for the Medical Deputies to do some “testing” on him. When he endures the second phase of this ordeal, the lap-top machine on which he is tested is branded as “V K Mk.1.”. VK stands for Voight Kampff, the testing machine used by Rick Deckard in BLADE RUNNER, and it was used in a similar fashion, performing a series of psychological tests.
Medical Deputy #2: Damage has taken place to the normally dormant left hemisphere, and the right hemisphere is attempting to compensate.
Fred: The two hemispheres of my brain are competing?
Deputies (in unison): Yes.
Medical Deputy #1: You know, Fred, if you keep your sense of humor, like you do, you just might make it.
Fred: Make it? Make what? The team? The chick? Make good? Make do? Make out? Make sense? Make money? Make time? Define your terms. The Latin for “make: is facere, which always reminds me of fuckere, which is Latin for to fuck –and I have been getting jack shit in that department as of late.
A SCANNER DARKLY was shot in Austin, TX. Its production schedule was 25 days. Linklater shot it, and brought it in just at 23 days. After the live action scenes were shot, the film was handed over to a team of animators, and with their computers they animated each individual frame with a technique called “interpolated Rotoscoping”.
Linklater said, “We were battling against the notion that adults don’t want to see animation. The only way we got it made was because it was considered “low budget” (6 million), and I got the cast. It was a tough sell. It might have been made earlier [he opted it in 2001], if I had been willing to shoot it as just live action –getting me to go down that tired old 20 million dollar action-movie road –which I just didn’t want to do.
Honestly, as a filmmaker, I have always visualized it animated. I always saw it with this look. The software has come a long ways since WAKING LIFE, and I had in mind a different design altogether, a very consistent graphic novel look to the whole movie [Perhaps similar to the astonishingly good Frank Miller anime done by Robert Rodriguez in SIN CITY?] I knew the animation would be beneficial when it came to the scramble suit, but on the deepest level I felt animation would work because it forces your brain into this space where you are processing the visuals both as reality and something else. I know that this mind-fuck when forced on the viewer –would work for the story –where the hemispheres in Bob Arctor’s brain are competing, and reality is shifting.
WAKING LIFE was shot all hand-held –like documentary realism [cinema verite’]. SCANNER was shot all Steadicam, very much color-coordinated, and well lit. The actors worked hard, and we had plenty of rehearsal time. I have always gone for certain ‘realism’, but in this film I pushed for the performances to be more stylized and extreme.”
The film editor was Sandra Adair. She had worked with Linklater on DAZED AND CONFUSED –so she knew how to “collaborate in the cutting room”. They shot the film in an odd 24 frames per second [fps] mode. Much of the film was
shot on the Panasonic AG-DVX100 in 24-fps, which was 23.98fps with the advanced pull-down. [Aren’t you excited to know that?].
Linklater used up to 11 cameras shooting simultaneously, so the editors had to use a system of “group clipping”. Because some of the cameras still shot in the standard 30fps, and so the cutting programs had to remove 6 frames from each second, and get the clips to blend with all the other film. They cut the film in 5 months, and then they turned it over to a team of animators who worked on it for over a year.
One sad note I encountered during my research on this film. When I checked out many of the national reviews, I found out that the sensei of the cinema, Roger Ebert, is still recuperating from (saliva) glandular cancer surgery, and so he never screened SCANNER; thus he never reviewed it. I do miss Roger’s acerbic heart-felt astonishing sensitivities and encyclopedic knowledge of film. Get well soon, Roger. We miss you.
Justin Chang of VARIETY wrote, “While it doesn’t manage the unity of form and content that WAKING LIFE did, rotoscoping –which took a painstaking 15 months –allows for the dazzling realization of set-pieces that live-action could not accommodate. Less successfully, the animation layer had a slight flattening effect on the actor’s faces, leaching them of some depth.”
Duane Byrge of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, who possibly was misinformed, wrote, “This film involved a painstaking animation process that required up to 500 hours to create one minute of screen time. And with each minute of screen time, it has delivered back all that pain to the viewer, in multiples, since the Indie Heaven cast and the hand of Richard Linklater promises so much.”
James Berardinelli of REEL VIEWS wrote, “If ever there was a movie more destined to become a cult phenomenon –I don’t know if I can name it. SCANNER will have no mainstream appeal. Director Linklater has chosen not to ‘massage’ the story –to make it more accessible. Not only has he remained largely faithful to the PKD source material, but he has distanced himself from the majority of film goers by employing ‘rotoscoping’. The need to pay rapt attention to how the story is progressing is impeded by the animation.”
Linklater said, “In terms of the animation –the way the viewer takes it in is analogous to exactly what the characters are going through. It you’re looking to have an emotional impact on your audience –I think this animation is the very best way to ‘feel’ the characters and the story. There is a kind of dissonance created in your brain as it tries to process it. You think, “Is this real? It seems real.” But it is obviously not real at the same time. It is very similar to Bob Arctor’s bilateral dysfunction.”
Jason Anderson of EYE WEEKLY wrote, “The summer’s grimiest and savviest instant cult movie, A SCANNER DARKLY, is a feature-length cartoon that is more punk than Pixar. Richard Linklater’s adaptation fully captures the mind-bending properties of Philip K. Dick’s dystopic story about drug addiction and state-sponsored surveillance.”
Keanu Reeves said, “I am really pleased with how the animation feels. If you can relate to it, it can be a pretty haunting melancholic film, and the animation served the performances well.”
Pam Grady of REEL.COM wrote, “The story, with its paranoia and influences of government and overlapping corporate conspiracy, is a compelling one; and it is well suited to the rotoscope-style; particularly in those moments when psychotic delusions come to life.” [Such as Freck’s freaking out about the hordes of insects that infested his body and his apartment, or Fred and the other cops when they wore their scramble suits, and Fred in bed with a chick, who may or may not be his “girlfriend”, Donna.]
Peter Hartlaub wrote further, “The scramble suits are better in concept than execution –a distracting amount of the constantly changing faces all looked like Sean Penn. There is a moment when Winona Ryder gets naked –except she is animated, which doesn’t really count.”
One of the press releases stated that Winona had filmed that scene in a sports bra. At 5’4” height, with a 34c-22-34 figure, it doesn’t take too much imagination from the animators to create that tantalizing moment of animated nudity. For some dumb reason it reminded me of some of those old animated stag films out of the ‘40s and ‘50s, where a naked Betty Boop would be “bad”, and get down and nasty, while singing a popular song; screeching in her infantile soprano voice as barn animals and big bad wolves would nail her.
J. Hoberman of the VILLAGE VOICE wrote, “The film is brain candy, full of stoned babble and decomposing reality. A SCANNER DARKLY is the most literal of the Philip K. Dick adaptations, and also, in a way –the most literary.
What I think is extraordinary about Linklater’s animation, rotoscoping, is just how tangible the Dickian labyrinth becomes. Animation allows Linklater to efface the distinction between hallucination and reality, as well as unmeditated reality, and video-surveillance. Everything has the same somber palette and heavy outlines. Faces disintegrate into paint-by-numbers light patterns; interior planes shift and slide.”
Returning to the “plot” –Bob Arctor has a sort of girlfriend, Donna Hawthorne
(Winona Ryder), and she is also his drug contact, his pusher. She was the primary supplier to Bob and his dudes, his flat mates, with big “D”. She too has been addicted to it for too long a period. It has made her so freaky and so paranoid that she doesn’t want anyone to get close to her; further to touch her at all. This does not make Bob terribly ecstatic. She is conflicted, and seems to hate herself for her behavior but the blue flower has pushed her into a bad place, a dark corner.
The dudes –Arctor, Barris, Luckman, and Freck spend endless hours, uncounted days engaged in Stoner Speak; a kind of hip horrific pseudo-intellectual, completely paranoid, nonsensical, drug patter –peppered with epithets and fragmentary thoughts that they are supremely comfortable with; part put-down and part freak-out. Somehow as the shadow of paranoia descended upon them, they got the surreal “feeling” that someone, or something was out to get them, to waste them, to spy on them, and probably to rob them.
Barris: Gentlemen, you are about to witness for approximately 61 cents –the perfect homemade silencer.
[the gun goes off very loudly]
Freck: That sure is some silencer.
Barris: Christ, what it did was augment the sound rather than dampen it. But I almost have it right. I have it in principle anyway.
Barris had a multitude of vexing proposals to protect them –coming up with a new plan every few minutes; reminiscent of PDK’s character Horselover Fat in VALIS. Ernie Luckman could be a clown or a fool one moment and an adversary the next. He was a loose cannon who could get violent in an eye blink, or just pass out with a froth of spittle on his dumb smiling lips.
Barris: There is only one thing we can do to thwart the plot of these albino shape-shifting lizard bitches! We just let them in. So I left the front door unlocked.
Luckman: How in the fuck would they know that the front door was unlocked?
Barris: Well sir, they would know that the front door was unlocked because I put a note on the door stating that fact.
Luckman: What if they come in through the bathroom window, like that famous Beatle song?
Freck was full-time hunched over and whacked-out; totally submissive to the suggestions, to the illusions, and hallucinations of Substance D. It had kicked his skinny ass. He was leagues beyond totally fried. For him life had become a living hell, and divers demons lurked in every shadow. At one point, out of depression and desperation, he attempted suicide with sleeping pills. At first we did not know if he succeeded at his lethal ploy or not.
The boys, Bob, Jim, and Ernie –took a ride in Arctor’s Chevvy, and in route they suddenly realized that someone had sabotaged the vehicle; the gas peddle stuck down to the floor, and the GM bullet careened out of control, barely missing a lot of the other cars out there on the freeway. Luckman, in a rare moment of lucidity, reached over and pulled the keys out of the ignition –and they were “saved”.
Returning to Arctor’s crash pad, they found the front door ajar. They crept in, skulking around, with Barris holding his pistol. Donna emerged out of one of the bedrooms, rubbing her eyes. She had come over, found no one home, and had crashed for a time. She asked about the “stupid” note that had been pinned on the front door.
Of course in the “world of six years into the future”, which for PDK in 1977 would have been like 1983 –nothing was what it appeared to be. The plot twisted and untwisted. Officer Fred and his supervisor interviewed a stoner stool pigeon, a snitch who had provided valuable intel on Bob Arctor –and it turned out to be James Barris. He was inconceivably attempting to work some cool stoned-out angle, whereby he would be rewarded for ratting out his druggie posse by being offered a bone fide position on the police force. But soon thereafter we discover that Fred’s supervisor was actually Donna, the pusher girlfriend, unbeknown to Arctor. We realize that it was she who lead the Scanner Team into Arctor’s house, and then stayed behind to cover their tracks. All the double personalities’ crashed forward, heading for some kind of dangerous collision, with reality spinning on its wheels like a 500 horse power VW Bug off the line, like a dust creature spun out of an insane dervish –and we see evidence of wheels within wheels.
Bob Arctor was too far gone on Substance D, absolutely too fried, and too conflicted to any longer do his job efficiently as Officer Fred. So he ended up at NEW PATH, the major Substance D State-Sponsored Rehab Center. They called him Bruce, which was probably his real name. Someone in some office had a file that revealed the truth of his fall from constabulatorial grace; someone with a clear mind peering at a government computer, who had kept careful tabs on the Bruce/Fred/Bob transitions.
The Rehab Center was in fact a huge farm, and while there everyone worked the land. Tall fields of corn stretched out as far as the eye could see –behind towering stone walls and triple-barbed wire fences. The patients, the inmates all wore clean white coveralls, and they toiled in the fields. Stacks poked up out of mysterious warehouses or factories, spewed some strange kind of residue into the dark skies. They wandered about doing whatever they were told, directed to do; mindless manual labor like a lobotomized army of automatons.
But oddly, Bruce was different than the others. Somehow, God knows how, he had retained a shred of reason, a cup of cognition. He could see that the Rehab Centers like other forms of the penal system were the last stop for the pitiful dregs of society –that hidden place where all addicts sooner or later ended up, and where they were cheerfully cleaned up and recycled into that sanitary leaden-eyed work force. At one point another inmate strolled past Bruce. He had a shaved head, and he shuffled like a zombie. Was that Charles Freck?
It seemed to me that a man called Bruce-Fred-Bob stumbled into a state of redemption. One fine day he looked down at his feet, and right there, growing close to the ground, completely hidden by the taller corn plants –were the infamous blue flowers, beautiful but far from innocent. “Christ,” thought Bruce, “This is where they are grown! This was where Substance D starts!” And that sobering realization clicked into motion that one pair of cortical gears that was still extant in Arctor’s mind, and in that blazing fraction of a moment –it all made sense.
The infamous War on Drugs was purely a ruse, a complete sham –because it was obvious that the government itself was growing the plants, processing the substance, and then delivering it to the populace. What a tidy tight-as-a-drum conspiracy they had going. Then, of course, they would create a huge fuss, and make a big deal out of each time they caught and prosecuted addicts, who almost all, if they lived, would end up recruited to work on the New Path farms –who were too fragmented mentally to fully comprehend their crucial part in the scheme of things –or just too damned fried to care.
So the War on Drugs was all smoke and mirrors, spin and deception, lies and quarter-truths. The government was in the drug business, and in the slavery business. The paper tiger, the System was eating its own tail, controlling the people completely so that the Emperors could continue to create their clandestine plans of further conquest, have deeper penetration into the world’s natural resources, and after shackling teaming populations within all other nations, practice their naked imperialism. The American Empire was growing into a Colossus, hyper-ready to place its jack boots on foreign soil, to place a standing army within all the citadels of peace; ready to control the world’s marketplace –more than ready to control the entire world –period.
Richard Linklater at Cannes said, “This is going to sound like an American cliché, but despite everything that is fucked up about the United States –I feel kind of optimistic in some abstract–ass way. At some point in the future, hopefully, we will look back and not be able to believe what a rough time it was. That’s actually what Dick was saying in the ‘70s –but it resonates today. The characters of A SCANNER DARKLY are fighting their own war against the big, oppressive quasi-governmental corporations. There are no real bad guys in the movie. It’s just the world that we live in.”
Some folks disliked the Philip K. Dick epilogue, which was lifted directly from the novel. For the film, they labeled it as an “After word”. Why the fuss? It was very touching, albeit sobering to have Dick’s dedication presented to us at that point. For me it pulled the experience of viewing the film into a sharper focus. I think it said volumes about PKD and Linklater’s sensitivity as men, as human beings –forget their artistic side. Dick wrote the names of his friends, and he included himself, who had suffered humiliation, debilitation, and even death. It was like a mini-version of the Viet Nam Memorial, the Wall –with their names standing out boldly in white on black. The after word read, “Some people were punished entirely too much for what they did. Drug misuse is not a disease –it is a decision, like the decision to move out in front of a moving car.”
You know on the front page of the TNT this week there was a story about a staff sergeant in the Army, who had worked in Intelligence in Iraq. He was a local boy from Sumner, WA. He went to school with my three daughters. My son-in-law is still in the Army, re-enlisted and working in Intelligence. He disputes all that this young soldier has claimed, calling him a pussy-whipped commie-coward. The soldier, while stationed last year at Ft. Bragg, went AWOL, for reasons of conscience.
He stopped at a local South Sound Peace Rally, pulled together in support of Lt. Watada, who as an officer, refused to go to Baghdad, and now is being prosecuted for his “cowardice, insolence, and insubordination”. The word “traitor” is being bantered about on many self-righteous lips. The staff sergeant then turned himself in at Ft. Lewis. At the rally he told some stories of his time in Iraq. He was a trained interrogator, as is my son-in-law, and he shared tales of cruelty and wrong-headedness. One of the stories was about a lone Iraqi citizen driving the streets of Baghdad after curfew. He drove “mistakenly” into an American road block. The sergeant could see the panic and fear in the young man’s eyes. He panicked and tried to turn his vehicle around and immediately one of our country’s finest riddled the car with a barrage of bullets –and the civilian died instantly. The quick-triggered soldier was never even reprimanded for his actions. One of his superiors said, denying it later, “The fucking raghead could have had a car load of explosives. You did the right thing, son.” The official Army release stated that the Iraqi had tried to drive his vehicle into the standing troops. Where is the truth in the bloody cauldron of war? Perhaps the Iraqi civilian, who would never return to the waiting arms of his family, certainly “was punished entirely too much for what he had done.”
How far off were Philip K. Dick’s prophetic views? We are now three years and counting with our presence in Iraq. It seems that Iran is begging for it too, as is Lebanon and Syria. Our cocky president is busily polishing the brogans and educating the bombs, and lining up the new corporations that will receive the latest government contracts. What a magnificent era George W. Bush has bequeathed us, has immersed us in, and bathed it in the innocent blood of our children. What do you think the historians of the future will have to say about those costly Bush Wars? More importantly, perhaps, will they be able to write with impunity –or will there soon be a prison camp for liberal journalists, agitators, socialists, teachers, educators, and historians set up on some barren island off the coast of South Carolina –a kind of American gulag? If I thought that Junior had ever actually read a book all the way through, then I would fear for them too. But –I digress.
Regarding his directorial style, Linklater said, “Terrence Malick is a guy who sees his movies and thinks, “I could have done that differently.” I see mine and say, “Given the specific circumstances, that are what I did, those are the choices I made –and that’s exactly what I’d do again.” So I don’t know how much of a free will guy I am. But nothing is going to knock me off my game because I have some pretty low-budget films that I still want to do.
But you know, I would have loved to have been a ‘40s studio director, like Vincente Minnelli. You ended up with a very diverse career. These days you never get that call from Daryl F. Zanuck telling you, “Hey, Dick, come do a movie on Monday.” So you just have to do it all on your own.”
Richard Linklater was born in 1960 in Houston, TX. He is considered a self-taught director. He emerged during what has been called the American Independent Film Renaissance of the 1990’s. He dropped out of Sam Houston State College, in Huntsville, in 1982. He worked for a time on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Then he relocated to Austin, TX, where he settled in. He founded a film society.
His first film was called WOODSHOCK (1985), and it was a 7 minute short about the Austin Music Festival, shot in the tradition of WOODSTOCK. His debut film feature was IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO LEARN TO PLOW BY READING BOOKS (1987) –for all the world that title sounds like a PKD title on one of his novels; a sad dreary tale about loneliness. His big break came with SLACKERS (1991), a rather plotless talky look at restless youth. It was made for under $23K, and it just took off critically. It won raves at Sundance. Linklater often cast himself in cameo roles. In SLACKERS he cast a pal, Tommy Pallotta, who later became his primary producer. In 1993, he presented us with DAZED AND CONFUSED , and it starred young soon-to-be hot shots Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, Rory Cochrane, Wiley Wiggins, and foxy Joey Lauren Adams. He released BEFORE SUNSET (1995), with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, filming in Paris. This is a sappy wonderfully sentimental film, and yet still lean and almost existential –just a few hours in one night in the wayward lives of two young people. SUBURBIA (1996) was based on a Eric Bogosian play, and it featured Parker Posey, Giavanni Ribisi, and Steve Zahn; followed by THE NEWTON BOYS (1998), with his buddies Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Skeet Ulrich, Dwight Yoakam, and Vincent D’onofrio. WAKING LIFE (2001), with its revolutionary shape-shifting interpolating rotoscoping animation burst upon the public. It starred his pal, Wiley Wiggins, and featured Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and Steven Soderbergh, with a cameo by Linklater in a scene at a pinball machine, having a dialogue about the work of Philip K. Dick. Next up was TAPE (2001), based on the Stephen Belber play, with Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman [she and Hawke became an item after this shoot]. There was SHIVA’S DANCE FLOOR (2003), a one man rant by Timothy “Speed” Levitch in and about New York City. That same year, Linklater went mainstream with his sleeper hit, SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003), with Mr. Energy himself, Jack Black. Then there was $5.15/HR (2004) –a made for television ensemble piece about some people working in a diner. He presented us with a lovely sequel, BEFORE SUNSET (2004), filmed 9 years post AFTER SUNSET, still with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. It left me with a romanticist’s misguided sense of emotional closure. Maybe it is possible for two people in this crazy world to be truly star-crossed. Wouldn’t that be great?
In 2005, Linklater ventured many bucks deep into the commercial venture, the remake of BAD NEWS BEARS, with the enigmatic Billy Bob Thornton, Marcia Gay Harden, and Greg Kinnear. In 2006, the director took two films with him out onto the film festival circuit; A SCANNER DARKLY, finally finished, and his newest film, FAST FOOD NATION (2006), with Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Luis Guzman, Greg Kinnear, and Kris Kristofferson.
In Indie circles, Linklater is often referred to as St. Richard of Austin. He is good friends with director Kevin Smith. Linklater worked on CLERKS (1994) for his pal, Kevin. Smith later cast Linklater alums Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams in CHASING AMY (1997). Linklater helped work on GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997), helping to supercharge Ben Affleck’s career. Linklater also “crewed” on HAMLET (2000), to assist his pal, Ethan Hawke. He seems to be acquainted with director Quentin Tarantino as well. He crewed on KILL BILL, Volume II (2001). God help us –do all these Indie titans know each other? Surely he has bumped into fellow Texan director Robert Rodriguez at some point. What sort of collaborations will be in the offing?
Pam Grady of REEL.COM wrote further, “This (SCANNER) is a Linklater film –which means the pacing is slack, to the detriment of the film on a whole. Most of his movies suffer from that. This movie slows in some places, nearly to a halt. It is frustrating, but wait it out –the whole is worth it. It turns out to be a grand and elegant portrait of paranoia and malfeasance set amongst society’s seedy underbelly.”
Peter Sobczynski of EFILMCRITIC.COM wrote, “With the release of Richard Linklater’s A SCANNER DARKLY, a mind-blowing adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1977 cult novel, the wait is finally over. Although visually bold and stylish, this is a film of ideas and like Dick’s best works, it offers no black and white characters, no cut-and-dried storyline, and no easy answers to the questions it raises. As a result, this is not only one of the better films to emerge this year, it is essentially the first screen adaptation of Dick’s work to legitimately capture his unique styling in cinematic terms, and like his work –it will rattle around in your head long after the end credits have stopped rolling. Linklater has resisted the urge to indulge in any flights of narrative or visual fantasy that would take away from Dick’s central storyline.”
A lot has been written and said about Richard Linklater’s pacing, and how “talky” his films mostly are, and since he usually writes the screenplays, there is no doubt that he understands the power and grace of words. Perhaps it is because I come from a Theatre background –perhaps it is because as an ex-actor and writer I focus on thick muscular dialogue, with great didactic tirades, dripping with profound symbolism, and smacking of clever wordsmithing –or perhaps it is because when the dialogue is written by a writer, say an Arthur Miller, Clifford Odetts, John Steinbeck, or Dashell Hammett –it will literally sing and soar, enlighten and instruct, delight and outrage –perhaps it is because I personally have sat through thousands of films that were written by some hack with a tin-ear, who is conversationally tone-deaf, the way people actually talk is not considered; and those films grate on my eardrums like a condor’s talons screeching across a hundred yards of aluminum roof.
The business of movies is about entertainment. The art of films is about ideas, about dialogue. Jesus help us if an audience member is challenged to think, to problem-solve, to formulate, postulate, or to conclude about progressive or sensitive issues. As my lovely wife and three daughters never tire of reminding me, “We are not all intellectuals. Our “real” life weighs us down enough. We do not come to the movies to “hold a mirror up to nature.” No, we come to the movies to forget about all that –to be entertained.” More is the pity.
What ever happened to the absurd notion that films can be the Revered Sensei, travelogues, and glimpses of the best and worst of our natures, a focused way to view the world, nature; one rock, one tree, one valley at a time? When did the idea that a great film can be “artistic” become abandoned? Have the fat cat movers and shakers, those studio shark-skin suit types, so benumbed us with mind-draining, sophomoric, milk-sopped, infantile programming, movies, and reality television that we can no longer discriminate a Jackson Pollack painting from a pool of vomit in the men’s room?
Thank the angels for Independent films, those often challenging visions from creative outlaw minds, who are not making movies with only an eye for the points in a mega-million dollar gross –and thank God for a Richard Linklater, who leaps effortlessly between mainstream and Indie with the skill of a gymnast. I suppose this mini-rant is just another way of stating that Linklater’s extended dialogues and slow pacing are just fine with me. Keep them coming, Richard.
For SCANNER, I found it interesting that nestled amongst a long list of eleven producers were the names George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh. The cinematography was done by Shane F. Kelly. He seems to be a bit of a neophyte to the tall chair. He has been head lenser on 13 fims since 1997, but the majority of them have been television projects. He shot THE YEAR OF THE HORSE (1997), URBANIA (2000), and PARADISE, TEXAS (2005). He and Linklater worked together again this year on FAST FOOD NATION (2006).
The original music score for SCANNER was done by Graham Reynolds. He is a performer, band leader, pianist, and drummer in Austin, TX. He is the leader of the GOLDEN ARM TRIO. He is musically very prolific. He composed the score for SCANNER in his bedroom. He has scored 11 films, including Linklater’s LIVE FROM SHIVA’S DANCE FLOOR (2003). In addition he has composed (4) symphonies, (2) operas, a violin concerto, and a lot of string quartet and chamber music.
Justin Chan of VARIETY wrote, “Graham Reynolds’ music is eerily evocative without quickening the pulse.”
Keanu Reeves played Bob Arctor/Officer Fred/Bruce. His performance was very watch able, full of nuances and loneliness. His wife and kids have left him. Drug buddies have moved into his home to fill the emotional void –put noise into the emptiness of the hallways and the rooms. Arctor is a man, three men actually, caught in a downward spiral, swirling like a turd headed for the bottom of the bowl. He may once have actually been a “good” cop, before the scramble suits and the mandatory undercover work. He may once have been a fairly decent husband and father –but not any more. He was a drug addict –strung out hard and long on Substance D. His two worlds began to overlap and intersect, and he could barely function in either of them.
Reeves was born in 1964, in Beirut, Lebanon; quite ironic considering the war going on there today between the forces of Israel and the thug terrorists of the Hezbollah. His father was a geologist. His mother was a show girl. At one point she was a costumer for the rock group, ALICE COOPER. Reeves dropped out of high school to become an “actor”. His father is part Chinese and part Hawaiian. His mother is English. His first name means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian. His parents split up when he was young, and his mother moved him to New York City. There she married Paul Aaron, the stage and film director. Reeves never reconnected with his biological father –who once did some prison time for cocaine possession. In high school, Keanu was an excellent hockey player, earning himself the nickname of “the Wall”. He is 6’1” tall.
As an actor, he has been adored, reviled, and grudgingly respected. What he seemed to have the most talent for, fellow actors Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez once noted, was being cast in “A” pictures. He is a very private person who considers himself a regular guy, who rides a motorcycle, plays in a band [DOGSTAR], and shows up every now and then on a movie set [earning, by the way, several million bucks a pop]. In 1995, PEOPLE magazine listed him as one of “the 50 most beautiful people in the world”. He loves ballroom dancing.
Tragedy has been his companion too. He understands sadness. In 1993, he was arrested in Los Angeles for “drunk driving”. In 1999, the baby girl he was expecting with his girlfriend, Jennifer Syme, was still born. In 2001, Jennifer Syme was driving her Jeep Cherokee along Highway 101 near Malibu. She lost control, hit three parked cars, and was killed instantly.
He owns three Norton Commando motorcycles. At one point he wrecked a bike, taking a “demon ride”, running without lights one night down Topanga Canyon. He broke several ribs and had a punctured spleen.
Keanu said, “I’m a meathead, man. You’ve got smart people, and you’ve got your dumb people. I just happen to be dumb. I’m sorry that my existence is not very noble or sublime. When you’re in movies, people pass judgment on you, and that can still be very surreal. It’s easy to become very self-critical when you’re an actor. You are judged by the critics, and you get no chance to present your side of it. But I am Mickey Mouse. They don’t know what’s inside the suit.”
For part of his childhood, Keanu grew up in Canada. He maintains dual citizenship, and presently lives mostly in Toronto, Canada. It is said that he deferred part of his salary on THE REPLACEMENTS (2000), so that Gene Hackman could be cast. He turned down the sequel to SPEED. He was originally offered the role of Pvt. Chris Taylor in PLATOON (1986), but he turned it down, and the role went to grateful Charlie Sheen. He originally was cast as Chris Shiherlis in Michael Mann’s HEAT (1995), but he backed out of the project and the part went to Val Kilmer. The year before, 1994, he had replaced Val Kilmer as the lead in JOHNNY MNEMONIC.
I noticed that oddly Reeves seems to play a lot of scenes in many of his films strapped to, or sitting in a chair –while “procedures” are done to him. This happened in all (3) MATRIX films, DRACULA (1992), JOHNNY MNEMONIC (1994), FEELING MINNESOTA (1996), and more recently in CONSTANTINE (2005). In January 2005 he was honored with his own “star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Reeves once said, “Here comes 40. I’m feeling my age, and I’ve ordered the Ferrari. I’m going to get the whole mid-life crisis package. It is always wonderful to get to know a woman –with the mystery and the joy and the depth they have. You know if you can make a woman laugh, you’re seeing the most beautiful thing on God’s earth.”
Keanu has had 62 film appearances since 1985. His first big part, taking advantage of his high school hockey talents, was in YOUNGBLOOD (1986), with Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze. He was good as Matt in RIVER’S EDGE (1986), interesting in THE PRINCE OF PENNSYLVANIA (1988), with Fred Ward. He did BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE in 1989. It was a whopping financial success, but it probably tarnished his reputation as an “actor” for a long while. He became that dude who found everything was “excellent”. He has a reoccurring nightmare, where he is standing looking down at his own grave, and on his tombstone it simply reads, “HE PLAYED TED.”
He was buff and tough as Johnny Utah in POINT BREAK (1991), reuniting him with Patrick Swayze; was bizarre and off-center in Gus Van Sant’s MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991), with River Phoenix; found himself a bit lost and overshadowed by his peers in Francis Ford Coppola’s DRACULA (1992), with Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins; ditto for his role in Kenneth Branaugh’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1993), with Denzel Washington. He followed those when he played the gorgeous, almost beautiful Siddhartha, Buddha as a youth in LITTLE BUDDHA (1993). SPEED burst upon an unsuspecting public in 1994, with Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper; and this film kick-started all three performers into the limelight, and gave them instant box office clout.
He was almost interesting in JOHNNY MNEMONIC (1995), waltzed through CHAIN REACTION (1996), with Morgan Freeman; then found time to appear in two independent films, FEELING MINNESOTA (1996), with Cameron Diaz, and THE LAST TIME I COMMITED SUICIDE (1997), with Thomas Jane playing Neal Cassidy. Bone fide superstardom emerged golden after he portrayed Neo in THE MATRIX (1999). I thought he was good as the wife beater, an excellent heavy and all-around bad boy in THE GIFT (2000) with Hilary Swank, and Cate Blanchett. He moved on to give us some kind of sci-fi closure in 2003 with the two MATRIX sequels, completing one of the most magnificent science fiction trilogies ever made. He was kind of charming as Dr. Mercer, romancing Diane Keaton away from Jack Nicholson in SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE (2003). He went on to mine familiar ground in the sci-fi modest hit, CONSTANTINE (2005).
James Berardinelli of REEL VIEWS wrote, “It is difficult to gauge performances in a film like SCANNER, but Keanu Reeves does a credible job. Is it me, or has he shown some legitimate growth as an actor [after 60 films] in recent years?”
Jason Anderson of EYE WEEKLY wrote, “Keanu Reeves’ performance is grounded in anxieties that remain familiar despite the character’s increasingly bizarre circumstances. He gives the movie a much-needed emotional core, thereby preventing form from trumping content.”
Pam Grady of REEL.COM wrote, “Keanu Reeves –well, he continues to confound expectations as he takes us tumbling down the rabbit hole. Like his character, Bob Arctor, the picture he presents of himself depends a lot on the viewpoint of whoever is looking at him.”
Peter Sobczynski of EFILMCRITIC.COM wrote, “Although the notion of Keanu Reeves playing a guy transformed into the living dead before our eyes sounds like a sick joke –he actually is quite good here as an ordinary guy whose entire world is starting to fracture.”
Richard Linklater said, “Keanu is a total work horse, and he did a ton of research.”
Evan in CAMERA EYE wrote, “I was stunned by the level of performances in this film. Yes, even Keanu Reeves gives a stellar performance.”
Robert Downey Jr. played James Barris. Downey, who has always been a glib intelligent actor with excellent comic timing, really cranks up the amps on his dialogue delivery here. Barris probably once had been a very intelligent, albeit arrogant, useful member of society. He might have been a young engineer or a teacher. We never really find out; only Downey knows the complete back story. Brilliant non-sequitors cascade from his lips, all disjointed, off the rim, clanking about like vibrant pieces of a great puzzle, like shreds from the pages of a philosophy book. Substance D has reduced any past semblance of order into throbbing cognitive chaos –and Downey plays it brilliantly.
Barris is not very likeable, but he is quite fascinating. Downey completely steals every scene of the picture that he is in. His performance will be what many recall from SCANNER a decade or two from now. His rapid dialogue delivery is reminiscent of a young Jeff Goldblum, who as the brilliant scientist in THE FLY (1986), finding that his mind was transitioning to that of a monster insect, spewed brilliant disconnected discourse and touching tirades.
Robert Downey Jr. has now appeared in 63 films since he appeared as a child in his father’s film, POUND (1970). I have loved his work in several films, his incredible take as the lead in Richard Attenborough’s CHAPLIN (1992), the lethal serial psychic killer IN DREAMS (1999), with Annette Bening, the outlandish aned brash gay agent in WONDER BOYS (2000), with Toby McGuire. I adored his manic energy, cynical tongue, and stinging line delivery in THE SINGING DETECTIVE (2003). He was excellent and off-the-wall in Shane Black’s KISS, KISS, BANG-BANG (2005), with Val Kilmer. A richer and more detailed biography and history of Downey was included in my review of GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (2005). Presently, he has (4) films to be released, two are completed, and two are still in post-production.
J. Hoberman of THE VILLAGE VOICE wrote, “Robert Downey Jr. plays the conceited Barris, his mind in perpetual overdrive –and he has grasped that he is playing a cartoon character, and then delivers the most animated performance. Midway through 2006, this supporting turn is the performance to beat.”
Evan in THE CAMERA EYE wrote further, “Robert Downey Jr. steals the movie as the crazed Barris; funny, fidgety, and frightening. You get the feeling that his real-life experiences give him an innate knowledge of the world of the film. After reading the book twice, and seeing the film –I can imagine no other actor who could be a better Barris.”
Peter Sobczynski wrote, “Robert Downey Jr., a man whose quicksilver personality changes, and ability to rattle off the most bizarre-sounding dialogue as if it were the most natural thing in the world to say (not the mention the psychic weight of his well-known past struggles with substance abuse) make him the perfect embodiment of Philip K. Dick’s world gone wrong.”
Winona Ryder played Donna Hawthorne –played her burned out but still sizzling and sexy; with the worst kind of sex appeal, because even though she was still very desirable, whenever Bob Arctor, her almost-boyfriend, made a pass at her –she would freeze up and shrink back instantly, like a hot house orchid reacting to a blast of arctic wind. I don’t think that she intended to tease –she just could no longer tolerate being “touched”. She was deep undercover too, like Officer Fred. As his scramble suited supervisor, when at the Cop Shop, we not only do not recognize her, we don’t even know, at first, that the supervisor is a woman; a master stroke of Dickian plotting.
Donna seems to genuinely care for Arctor, and of course, she knew that he also was Officer Fred. When he was finally fired, or demoted, and taken out of the field of operations, and sent to New Path to be in a different kind of field, we can only hope that she fully understood the sacrifice he was making. Would she contact Arctor at the rehab center? I would hope so –but probably not. She would have been reassigned to someone else. Bob was on his own out there.
Winona Laura Horowitz, aka Winona Ryder was born in Winona, Minnesota in 1971, and in a hippy-sort of way was named after the city. She grew up on a ranch commune in Northern California. Her nickname is “Noni”. When she was 7 years old, her mother rigged up a ramshackle movie theater in a barn on the place, and she would screen classic movies all day. She sometimes would let Winona skip school to stay home and watch some of them with her. Timothy Leary was her godfather. Her parents were friends with Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg. They moved to San Francisco when she was ten. She actually entered the American Conservatory Theater as a young girl. Later they gave her an “honorary” Masters of Arts degree. She is a smart girl. She graduated from Petaluma High School with a 4.0 grade point average.
Winona Ryder said, “My father was an atheist. My mother is a Buddhist. They encourage their children to make our own belief system. I still practice Buddhism to a certain extent, and I do believe in karma.”
Her first film was LUCAS (1986), when she was 13 years old. She was slated to play Mary Corleone in THE GODFATHER, PART III (1990), but she had to drop out. She caught the “flu” from the stress and strain of doing WELCOME HOME, ROXY CARMICHAEL (1990), and MERMAIDS (1990) –back to back. Her real hair color is blond. She dyed it black for LUCAS, and left it that way. Jim Jarmusch wrote her part in NIGHT ON EARTH (1991) with her in mind.
At age 20 she checked herself into a hospital. She suffered from depression, anxiety attacks, and exhaustion –resulting from constantly working on films. She was engaged to Matt Damon in 2000.
Ryder said, “For a long time I was almost ashamed of being an actress. I felt like it was a shallow occupation. People watch your every move.”
She had auditioned for the part of Marla in FIGHT CLUB (1999), losing the part to Helena Bonham Carter. Also in 1999, she started her own music company, ROUSTABOUT STUDIOS. She had Johnny Depp for a boyfriend for a time in the late ‘80s. He had a tattoo with her name on it, spelling out WINONA FOREVER. After they broke up, he had the text reduced to say WINO FOREVER.
She almost drown at age 12, so even today she suffers from aqua phobia. This caused her no end of problems while filming ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997).
Her underwater scenes had to be re-shot endless times. She said later, “I couldn’t hold my own against Sigourney Weaver, and all those special effects. I still don’t know what I was doing in that movie. I didn’t belong. I’m just this little girl running around.”
In December 2001, she was arrested for “allegedly” shoplifting. Her lawyer denied the accusations. It was said that she remained very friendly and polite to the police. She has an apartment in New York City, but she lives in San Francisco.
She once said, “The focus should be on the art of film, not the business of film.”
She worked hard while filming A SCANNER DARKLY. Richard Linklater said at Cannes, “Winona Ryder’s dad knew Philip K. Dick. She had letters from him, and she brought a lot of knowledge to the table.”
Ms. Ryder has appeared in 36 films since her career start as a tweenager in LUCAS (1986). She was very perky as Lydia in BEETLE JUICE (1988), with Michael Keaton; intriguing as the young wife/cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE (1989), with Dennis Quaid; was OK as Kim in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990), with Johnny Depp; well cast in Jim Jarmusch’s NIGHT ON EARTH (1991), with Gena Rowlands; excellent in Martin Scorsese’s AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993), with Daniel Day Lewis; kind of excluded in Francis Ford Coppola’s DRACULA (1992), with Anthony Hopkins; good in the ensemble piece HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT (1995), with Ellen Burstyn; frenetic and frantic in THE CRUCIBLE (1996), with Daniel Day Lewis; empty as an android in ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997); included in Woody Allen’s CELEBRITY (1998), with Leonardo Di Capri0; wonderful in GIRL, INTERRUPTED (1999), with Angelina Jolie; pretty good in LOST SOULS , made in 1998, shelved and then released in 2000; and she seemed kind of uncomfortable working with Adam Sandler in MR. DEEDS (2002).
She has been close friends with Anthony Hopkins for years. She used to be very good friends with Gwyneth Paltrow, but they “grew apart”. She suffers from chronic insomnia, and she talks on the phone all night with Al Pacino, who also suffers from insomnia. She plays guitar, and loves Tom Waits. She collects all kinds of Hollywood memorabilia. She has Louis Armstrong’s bongo drums, Russ Tamblyn’s jacket from WEST SIDE STORY, Leslie Caron’s dress from AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, Claudette Colbert’s gown from Capra’s IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, Olivia De Havilland’s blouse from GONE WITH THE WIND, and Sandra Dee’s bikini from the later TAMMY movies.
James Berardinelli of REEL VIEWS wrote, “Winona Ryder, a rare screen presence since her shoplifting experience, offers the most compelling performance, although that’s partially because Donna is the film’s most interesting character. If this was film noir, she would have been the femme fatale.”
Peter Sobczynski wrote further, “Winona Ryder turns in her best screen work in quite a while –as one of those who has always admired her work, since the glory days of HEATHERS and BEETLE JUICE –I can only hope this marks the beginning of her long overdue come back.”
Woody Harrelson played Ernie Luckman. His long blond wig put me off for a bit, until I got used to it. It’s like when one sees a fake beard on the screen –it always grabs your focus. His Luckman, although manic, ranting and confused, sometimes violent, and deeply paranoid –remained somehow “realistic” for me. Woody always reminds me of some old high school buddy, a goofy, dim-witted, fun-loving, usually stoned or drunk dude who somehow always managed to show up at every picnic or party you ever attended.
Harrelson in real life has a much more interesting past. He is an avowed Vegan, and liberal political activist. He moonlights as a lead singer in the band MANLY MOONDOO and the THREE KOOL HATS. [Wouldn’t it be a dynamic shindig concert for WORLD VISION, or one of those reputable charities, and all the celebrities brought their own bands –Woody and KOOL HATS, Keanu Reeves and his band DOGSTAR, Kevin Bacon with his brother and their band, Russell Crowe and his pals and their band, along with Bruce Willis, his harmonica and band?]
Woody Harrelson once romanced Carol Kane, Ally Sheedy, and Moon Unit Zappa. He admits to being a “sex addict”. [Didn’t Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen have similar confessions?] Presently, Woody lives with his girlfriend, Laura Louie, and their (3) children in Costa Rica. He is the co-owner of an O2 bar in San Francisco. I wonder if Winona hangs out there?
Woody once said, “You know, when I let up from the weed, and the drinking too –I cried every day; and I liked that. I like crying. And wow, I want to show my crying to other people. I wanna just split myself down the middle, and open up my guts –and just throw everything out there.” What a lovely thought, Woody. An actor who can emote on cue is a joy to work with in turgid tear-jerker dramas though, right?
Woody’s father, Charles Voyce Harrelson, has been convicted twice for committing paid murders; in 1968 and 1978. He is believed to have been one of the “hobos” taken away from the area known as the “grassy knoll” right after the shooting of JFK on November 22, 1963. I wonder if Oliver Stone was fully aware of this. Wouldn’t it be grand to know the rest of the story?
Woody has had 49 film appearances since 1978. He was an uncredited extra in HARPER VALLEY PTA (1978). He landed his landmark career building role as “Woody” in the TV series CHEERS in 1985, and that gig lasted until 1993. He completed 112 episodes. He had a nice part in WILDCATS (1986), with Goldie Hawn. I liked him as Billy Hoyle in WHITE MAN CAN’T JUMP (1992), with Wesley Snipes. He was energetic as Pepper Lewis in THE COWBOY WAY (1994), with Kiefer Sutherland. He was dangerous and manic as Mickey in Oliver Stone’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994), with Juliette Lewis. He tried to keep up with the superbly sculpted Wesley Snipes in MONEY TRAIN (1995), with the cigar-chomping Robert Blake, who was still “working” at that time. Woody was excellent in the Indie SUNCHASER (1996), and even better s Flynn in WELCOME TO SARAJEVO (1997). He put on his noir-face for PALMETTO (1998), with a very sexy Elizabeth Shue. He barely stood out as one of the troops in Terrence Malick’s remake of THE THIN RED LINE (1998). I thought he was very good as Big Boy Matson in the sleeper hit, THE HI-LO COUNTRY (1998), with Patricia Arquette. He was buff and almost tuff as one of the comedic pugilists in PLAY IT TO THE BONE (1999), with Antonio Banderas. He held his own with Charlize Theron in NORTH COUNTRY (2005), and he was down-home randy and charming as the foul-mouthed singer Dusty in Robert Altman’s PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (2006).
Rory Cochrane portrayed Charles Freck, played him way over the edge, beyond paranoid, bughouse, twitchy, cranky, depressed, stupid beyond measure, and finally suicidal. Cochrane was born in New York City in 1972, and spent is childhood in England. Returning to NYC as a teenager, he attended the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts.
He has racked up 22 film appearances since 1990; most of them were TV roles. He did play Jeff Goldblum’s son in FATHERS AND SONS (1991). He worked earlier with director Richard Linklater on DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993). I think he was quite good as amoral Billy Mack Black in LOVE AND A .45 (1994), where he met co-star Renee Zellwegger. They then lived together for (4) years. He had a small role as one of the troops in HART’S WAR (2002), with Bruce Willis. He picked up his landmark career-building role as Tom Speedle, called “Speed” by co-star David Caruso, on CSI: MIAMI in 2002. He then appeared in both CSI and CSI: NEW YORK in cross-over roles. In 2004, he tired of his role and asked to get out of this contract. The producers obliged and his character was killed off in a tense episode. His neglected sidearm pistol misfired.
The critics sounded off very divergently on this film.
James Berardinelli of REEL VIEWS wrote further, “Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of A SCANNER DARKLY is its inability to draw in the viewer. The film is not involving on an emotional level, and its message, which may have been fresh when Dick published the novel in 1977, traverses a well-trodden pathway. What’s “new” about a culture benumbed by drugs, with a government that engages in covert surveillance of its citizens, and cops that employ the phrase, “by any means necessary”?
In the final analysis, SCANNER feels like an experimental film –an earnest effort by the director to stretch the stylish envelope –at the expense of plot and character. The film is always interesting, but it is not always involving –and it’s even less often entertaining. See what I mean –a cult film.”
J. Hoberman of the VILLAGE VOICE wrote further, “People will complain that A SCANNER DARKLY is hard to follow. True, there’s no use in dropping bread crumbs in this maze. Just remember that everything in this grimly amusing world is its opposite –except, that is, when it’s not.”
Peter Sobczynski wrote further to the muffled sounds of my cheers, “Once upon a time there used to be a place in the film industry for something like A SCANNER DARKLY –a film that tells a complex story in a visually stunning manner, without worrying about how such a film will go over with the mall audiences. But its release at the height of the summer blockbuster season seems like a quixotic attempt at counter-programming that is almost certainly doomed to failure. For those who pass on SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 2 (2006), and plan on seeing SCANNER –make sure you don’t have any plans immediately afterwards, for it is the kind of film that inspires long thoughtful and passionate discussions; but of course that is another Linklater film entirely.”
Glenn Buttkus of the TACOMA FILM CLUB.COM wrote, “Those of us who can peer over our shoulders and witness ‘daily’ proofs of Philip K. Dick’s dystopian visions, can make out the machinations of our government’s Black Iron Prison, can clearly comprehend the specific extent to which our very own American Imperialist Empire has placed its lethal iron heel on the necks of several have-not nations –we find A SCANNER DARKLY to be much more, incredibly more than an modestly interesting weird creative entertainment. Viewing SCANNER for us is like witnessing 10,000 people marching and waving banners, with those ever present black-suited Hessian storm troopers standing ten deep for miles all long the street; the embodiment of those android police from THX-1138 (1971) –like sitting in our favorite coffee bar with Philip K. Dick and personally hearing him rant, vent, and share his metaphysical intellectual wisdom. For we seem at present to inhabit that very “world” that he feared would materialize when he wrote SCANNER nearly 30 years ago. Consider that for most of us, similar to the lifestyle choices we all need to make to stem the volition of global warming, we need to make decisions regarding our dangerous apathy vs. activism responses to the neo-totalitarianism police state we are forcibly in bed with.
In SCANNER, I certainly do applaud Dick’s messages within the framework of the plot, but like many others I did have some reservations regarding the structure of the film. I liked the interpolating rotoscoping, but it might have been even more effective if it had been used intermittingly. Charles Freck, squirming in the shower, in live action would have bare skin, and he would have been fighting against imaginary insects. Then shifting suddenly into rotoscoping, we actually could see the bugs; like he did. I did love the concept of the scramble suits, but I think that some CGI animation would have given the suit a more realistic and credible look. With the rotoscoping animation, the ever-changing faces and forms seem a bit too cartoonish for my tastes. Perhaps like in Robert Zemeckis’ WHO KILLED ROGER RABBIT? Linklater could have mixed some live action with animation, and then the rotoscoping could have more pointedly illustrated the bizarre perceptual transitions, and made those moments more dramatic, rather than sinking them all into lame anime. Then again even if the film had been done precisely as I have “envisioned” –I probably would have found something else to fuss about.”
I found A SCANNER DARKLY to be challenging, interesting, deep philosophically, and vivid in its visuals. I found the PDK salvaged dialogue refreshing and very un-Hollywood sounding. I actually liked all the performances. I feel that Keanu has found a character that is much more interesting and intriguing than his cardboard pulp hero Neo in the MATRIX trilogy. I loved him in those films, but he is being more of an “actor” in this film. Winona Ryder found some depth of characterization that tremendously enhanced the quality of the narrative and the overall resonance of the film. I both lusted after her, and felt sorry for her at the same time. Woody Harrelson found many colors to play as Luckman, and they were all outside the lines. Robert Downey Jr. was flat out brilliant, and has added another excellent performance to his growing lexicon of films, and his movie resume. I would rate this film at 4.5 stars.
Glenn A. Buttkus 2006