I've just been reading about the new Keanu Reeve's film: A Scanner Darkly. It's an adaption of a Philip K Dick novel set in the not too distant future where “we have lost the war on drugs” and Keanu plays an undercover cop/addict in a junkie squat on the track of “Substance D”.
It’s Keanu Reeves in one of author Philip K. Dick’s greatest novels. Whoa!
Even though Philip K. Dick’s work inspired some of the best-known and most beloved sci-fi movies there are (such as Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall) the truth is that the true Dick-ian (don’t snigger you!) movie — reflecting the author’s metaphysical obsession with what reality is and what makes one human — has yet to be made.
The movie version of A Scanner Darkly might just be that movie.
For starters, it is based on one of Dick’s best works, one informed by Dick’s own painful experiences in the drug culture of California in the 1970s. It neatly balances Dick’s own autobiographical experiences, the narrative’s plot requirements and infuses it with Dick’s customary black humour. Yes, despite its bleak subject matter it is also quite funny.
What makes it particularly interesting to me is that it extends Keanu's sci-fi/metaphysical hero journey begun with Johnny Mnemonic and continued into the Matrix and Constantine. But not only that, like the Matrix it also extends the mythology of technology in and of film-making with its innovative techniques.
It has been written and directed by Richard Linklater with his trademark combo of live acting overlaid with animation. Linklater used this technique in his 2001 feature Waking Life which was also a metaphysical tale about dream and reality. The trailer looks startling translating what I take to be the character's hallucinatory engagement with reality into realistic images that have a literal fluidity on the screen. This combination of new high-tech method to translate a vision of the future is an interesting example of what I am calling a “multi-media mythic cluster” where the lineage, the medium(s) and the narrative all combine to proclaim a mythic message.
Here we have an interesting lineage with the ouvres of Dick, Linklater and Reeves all contributing to the underlying discourse about technology, the future and the hallucinatory self. The filmic technique - which of course is always integral to any cinematic narrative - also foregrounds notions of technology and “the new”. The official site describes it like this:
Like a graphic novel come to life, “A Scanner Darkly” will use live action photography overlaid with an advanced animation process (interpolated rotoscoping) to create a haunting, highly stylized vision of the future. The technology, first employed in Richard Linklater’s 2001 film “Waking Life,” has evolved to produce even more emotional impact and detail.
In an interview with the Austin Chronicle one of main animators talks about the task as following the actor's elasticity:
“With A Scanner Darkly, we're trying to be much more cohesive, because we've got A-list actors and those guys need to be recognizable. If you've got somebody like Robert Downey Jr., who is made of elastic – there is nothing on him that is stationary at any time – capturing all of his expressions and doing justice to someone that great an actor is a real challenge. It's interesting to see him in particular, because you never really notice how much goes into acting until you see a guy who is going into the scene that way and you see every little nuance that goes into each little piece of his performance. It's incredibly complex and detailed, and we've really got to capture that in the animation.”
There is clearly a fascinating multilayered construction going on here and from the little that I have seen on the trailer the mirroring that occurs back and forth between texts - script/actor/animator/viewer - is quite powerful.