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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Musing Pictures: A Scanner Darkly

I got a chance to see this, Richard Linklater's latest, in what is probably close to the best setting for it -- on a college campus. I say this is close to the best setting because I imagine it as much more of a dorm-room film, something a bunch of sophomores would excitedly watch in groups of five or six at three in the morning.

I like it when Philip K. Dick's narratives get translated to the screen ("Blade Runner" and "Minority Report" are, admittedly, the only two I've seen thus far, but I have vague memories of catching parts of "Total Recall" on TV a while back...) but I guess what I like is the noir-ish ambiguity of the future that defines "Blade Runner" and "Minority Report"... If "A Scanner Darkly" had been made in that sort of way, perhaps it would have impressed me more... As it was, though, it came across as sort of a middle-aged-hipster-meets-The-Future type of movie... sort of an answer to the question "What if the guys from 'Dazed and Confused' grew up in the future?" with weird politics and a twist ending that might have been fascinating had it been closer to the point of the film...

What was the point of the film? I can't quite tell. It might have had a pro-drug sort of message, or, at least, an anti-drug, pro-druggie message, or, perhaps an anti-drug, anti-druggie, pro-experimenting-with-drugs message, or... see, it sort of loses itself in itself. After the screening, several students commented to me that just watching the film (rendered in a weird, quasi-animation type of styling (much like Linklater's "Waking Life")) gave them the sense that they should wait an hour before driving home.

I've seen movies about drugs in the future, and I've seen them better -- 'THX1138' is, interestingly, the first to come to mind. Interestingly, both films have the drugs being provided by an overwhelmingly powerful entity that intends to weild those drugs as a method of controlling and profiting off of a large part of the population...

Another recent film, 'V for Vendetta' (which I hated, but which had elements that I loved) takes this sort of tack, but approaches it in an extraordinarily different (but frighteningly similar) way, to good effect (perhaps that's the next film I'll write about?)

Ultimately, 'A Scanner Darkly' didn't settle. Perhaps this was its purpose? The undercover police force in the film goes around in pattern-shifting suits, so no officer can be identified, even by other members of the force. It's both hard to watch and fascinating (and sometimes, it's so captivating as to trump the significance of whatever the character in the suit is saying). Is that unsettlingness the point? I don't think so -- in a film where nothing is settling, somehow, even unsettlingness itself never quite solidifies as a central theme or concept, and I'm not sure why. Although "Dazed and Confused" was very similar, it got to its point much more clearly, as I recall. Perhaps there has to be clarity in order for non-clarity to be apparent, and quiet for dis-quiet. Perhaps that is at the center of what's missing. There's lots of talk about a good, clean, happy world going berserk in the film, but all we see is a film gone berserk, and it's not set far enough in the future for me to believe that between now and then there was a time of relative peacefulness and harmony. If it were set a thousand years from now, rather than maybe twenty, perhaps I might have found it compelling (and with all of that new, weird technology, perhaps I would have found my disbelief more easily suspended).


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