Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Weekend Views No.10 (animating Dick)

A birthday treat for myself? Obviously it has to be a film about drug dependency and dysfunction set in a future Los Angeles where governments collude to promote addiction and identity becomes defined and fractured by surveillance and paranoia.
All presented in an hallucinatory animation style.
With Keanu Reeves.
So hurrah for Richard Linklater, who's repeated what he did with Waking Life and used a team of crack animators to turn a live action film into a strangely dislocated (and utterly beautiful) narrative.
Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly is, imho, his greatest work (and believe me, I've read nearly all of 'em). Towering above even greats such as Ubik or The Man In The High Castle (two more films waiting to fry the brains of those who thought Total Recall was the zenith of Dick adaptations). So it's up there with Solaris in terms of the 'oh god, what have they done with my favourite book?' stakes. Luckily, like Solaris (both versions) - it DOESN'T suck.
My initial response at seeing the trailers was horror. Reeves? Ryder? OMG. But amazingly they are kinda perfect for the roles of distracted, emotionally and socially stunted addicts, failing to connect. Well, duh...;-)
The crucial scene, which I loved, is the one where Keanu and Wynona - as Arctor and Donna - try to normalise their 'boyfriend/girlfriend relationship after Bob tries, unsuccessfully to even hug Donna. The camera/pen focusses on their hands disconnecting as she attempts to console him. They're a million miles apart in their own worlds.
This is a central point of the film and one which, I think, has alienated audiences. The premise being that all drug addicts are essentially selfish and closed off to the world. The world we see through Linklater's paintbox vision is a totally subjective one. As if through a scanner darkly. Yet the film manages to retain the hilarious stoner dialogue, delivered in show-stealing performances by Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson and the awesome Rory Cochrane as the hapless Freck, beset by imaginary aphids and interdimensional beings (reading his sins to him for all eternity). It's in turns funny and painfully accurate, while the final half hour is as devastating as the book's denouement. Linklater even retains Dick's postscript which is entirely apt, considering that the book's essentially autobiographical.
Drugs are (sometimes) bad, but governments are badder, boys and girls.
How's that for birthday fun?

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