Directed by Richard Linklater. USA. 2006.

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The latest offering from Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock  - which has an excellent Picasso guitar joke!)) displays a revolution in film style. This reworking of the conventional approach to comic book style animation results in an equally impressive and innovative style as witnessed by the comparable Sin City, two years ago. However the point of departure between the two works is that where Sin City took the comic book aesthetic and brought it to life, A Scanner Darkly does the opposite in taking real looking scenes and images and giving them a jolted, dreamlike, artificial quality, which sufficiently compliments the protagonists psyche.  

With the initial uneasiness this style brings to the spectator, with numerous shots looking like they are of real, actual places and others very cemented in the cartoon-like mould, the uneasiness soon comes to a tangible awe at the technical accomplishments of the film. One of the most pleasurable aspects which the film adapts in its style is that the cast of the film do not merely do voice-overs for fictional characters; their characters are themselves - in a physical way at least (Note also the awareness of the star presence of each of the cast; Keanu Reeve's in Matrix mode in his constant uncertainty, Woody Harrelson in a Cheers reprise role as the dim-witted blonde, and Winona Ryder ironically even gets to condemn someone for stealing!!) 

The story begins with the excellently cryptic "7 years from now" inter-title (when this "now" is, is evidently non-distinct). The narrative follows the effects of a drug known as 'Substance D,' which is linked to thought control and is apparently taken by 20% of America's population at this time. Keanu Reeve's is of this 20%. The effects that this drug has on him and his inner security are the discourse which the film closely scrutinizes, and in this is A Scanner Darkly's greatest strength. As through the Substance D drug also being discussed alongside other drugs (ecstasy, cannabis, etc.), it avoids escaping into the realm of futuristic farce, and has a gripping hold on contemporary drug reality - a hold it does not vanquish easily. The effects these drugs have had on the character's lives are shown brutally and clinically through paranoia (which sometimes is dealt with by means of humorous undertones, though from a rather sardonic sense of humour), brain damage and ultimately death - which are referred to explicitly in the closing titles of the film where a quote from Phillip K Dick's source novel precedes a sombre list of drug casualties. 

For its departure from genre normalities, A Scanner Darkly proves to be among the new wave of experimental animation features pushing the boundaries of the potential which the combination of comic books and cinema can bring. So say good riddance to Superman - we don't need a saviour!!!

Sites like www.centers.org as well as various films, documentaries and books are great resources for anyone who wants more information about the dangers of drug addiction.

Shaun McDonald
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