A Scanner Darkly


I recently got to watch the 2006 animated film A Scanner Darkly based on the Philip K. Dick novel. It was a solid adaption, and the first time I have enjoyed a movie staring Keanu Reeves since his Bill and Ted days.

Reeves plays Bob Arctor, the undercover cop addicted to Substance D, a drug which erodes the synapses between the left and right hemispheres of the brain until they operate independently, forming two consciousnesses. As a result Arctor the cop spends his days investigating Arctor the drug dealer, unaware that they are one and the same person.

A Scanner Darkly is my favorite Dick novel. His novels are driven by plot and premise; his characters, hard-boiled detectives and corporate spies, are usually not interesting for their own sake. Bob Arctor and his junkie friends are different; for all their confusion and self-destructive tendencies, they are sketched with compassion. Dick judges his characters as failed human beings, but he is a gentle judge.

The novel’s epilogue is worth reading even on its own. It is both a condemnation of and love letter to friends he lost to drugs, full of indignation, compassion and mourning. A Scanner is Dick’s most autobiographical novel, drawing on the years he spent addicted to amphetamines. There isn’t much the reader can do but mourn along with the writer.


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