Movie Review: A Scanner Darkly

Disclaimer: spoilers follow my garbled account of what the movie's about.

Normally, I'm not a weird movie kind of girl. Really not. I'm very much a blow 'em up, shoot 'em down, someone's ass better get kicked in this movie kind of girl.

I blame my dad.

Anyway, my cousin rented this movie and with the liberal return policy of the video stores now, he left it for me to watch. I… rather liked it. It was kind of weird, I swear it's supposed to have some kind of plot (though there wasn't a discernible one that I could comprehend) and while there were actors, they were re-done with animation.

I still liked it. Maybe I'm getting more eclectic with my old age.

From what I could glean, the movie is supposedly about a narcotics cop, send undercover to find out who's distribution a new, highly addictive drug called Protein D (I think. I know it's Something D). Keanu Reeves plays Bob Arctor the narc, Winona Ryder is Donna his coke-snorting girlfriend who won't have sex with him, Robert Downey Jr. (I'm restraining myself from making a joke about type-casting) and Woody Harrelson (ditto) play Barris and Luckman his druggie friends/marks.

It seems Protein D is addictive from the first use (kind of like crystal meth — seriously, don't get me started on this) and creates a divide between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, basically frying the user's brain.  So… really bad shit that people are still taking.

That's my first complaint about the movie. It doesn't explain why people take this drug. It doesn't seem to give them the typical high that is normally associated with drug-use, at least it's not shown in the actions of the drug users. It's not as easily available like cocaine and pot since, as the movie goes on, it's revealed that there is only one distributor of Protein D. So, why would you take it? What about it is better than the drugs out there?

The movie follows the actions of various characters but from the beginning, it seems that Arctor and Barris are the most important to the story. Arctor is trying to find the source of Protein D from Barris while taking the drug himself. They're holed up, with Luckman, in what appears to be Arctor's home that he either shared with a wife and 2 children, unless he's hallucinated them since his drug use.

That's the other thing that isn't explained. Does he actually have a family? If he does and used to work in an office, how did he become an undercover cop? It's not the typical career projectory.

Anyway, throughout the movie Arctor is examined by doctors to see how far his addiction has taken him, to see whether he'd begun to use so much that he needed to be taken out of the field and put in New Path Rehab, seemingly the only rehab clinic who deals with Protein D addiction.

Just a quick aside, maybe it's just me, but doesn't calling something "New Path" make it sound creepier than pretty much anything else?

By the end of the movie, his addiction has gone so far as to erode the control of the left hemisphere of his brain, leading his right to over-compensate, causing a competition between both hemispheres when sending him signals. He's removed from his position by "Hank" his boss who is actually (SPOILER) "Donna" who's name is actually something different and sent to New Path to begin his rehab.

After a little while at New Path, they send him to their farm up north, perverting the dream that Donna had told him post coke-snorting: a little farm in the north, by the mountains, surrounded by plants and clean air. We find that the agency Arctor belonged to actually set him up to become addicted to Protein D in order to infiltrate New Path's farm where they are growing and processing Protein D. The only way he would have been allowed on the farm is in his brain-fried state. Their hopes? That he might still have some control in order to let them know what is going on.

The End.

Seriously, that's it. Two hours and that's basically all that happens. Well, that and a list of people who have either died or been seriously damaged mentally because of drug use.

The movie is bleak, the idea that this war on drugs will only be a slight blip in history even though it takes the lives of so many who will never be named. The animation is amazing, even going so far as to animate how fucked up Keanu's bottom teeth are (or, you know, some way of saying that that isn't as mean).

Would I recommend it? Sure, probably not at Christmas time unless you're as fucked in the head about this season as I am (Die Hard is my Christmas movie). Is it a great movie that makes complete and utter sense? No, not really. It's a pretty good movie that does make you think about whether our efforts in quelling drug use is actually working, if perhaps we should re-think the whole strategy.

And if you're like me, it gives you a little window in what it's actually like to be on drugs. It's scary and I finally understand why artists worry about their ability to keep creating art if they stop taking drugs.

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