A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly: Published 1977 By The Doubleday Publishing Group

Film Released July 7, 2006 By Warner Brothers Screenplay / Directed By Richark Linklater


Synopsis: In the near future, as America virtually loses the war on drugs, Robert Arctor, a narcotics cop in Orange County, Calif., becomes an addict when he goes undercover. He is wooing Donna, a dealer, to ferret out her supplier. At the same time, he receives orders to spy on his housemates, one of whom is suspected of being Donna’s biggest customer.


Since the birth of film, Hollywood has adapted countless books into movies and television series. Our goal here is to highlight adapted novels worthy of your attention.

We are very pleased to present our guest writer for this analysis of the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel ‘A Scanner Darkly

Contributing here is Brian Eggert of the film review site Deep Focus Review, owned and operated by Brian since 2007.  His site contains hundreds of reviews and essays from films of every era, a treasure trove of cinema pontifications every movie lover should explore.

From his biography pageBrian earned his BA in 2006 from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where he studied Art History, Studies in Cinema & Media Culture, and Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature. Brian received a Master’s degree in Film Studies from Tiffin University, where he was the 2018 winner of the Award of Excellence in Graduate Education. Brian belongs to the Society For Cinema and Media Studies, the Minnesota Film Critics Alliance, the National Coalition of Independent Scholars, and the Large Association of Movie Blogs

Philip Kindred Dick (December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982)

With more than 40 novels and 121 short stories in a career of only 30 years, the writings of Philip K. Dick have become a permanent part of our pop culture. Oppressive paranoia, urban isolationism, fantastic futuristic worlds, alternate universes, and mental illness are just a few of the themes presented by this prolific, complicated, and troubled novelist often celebrated as one of the world’s greatest writers of science fiction.

The work of Philip K. Dick has become an enduring part of our cultural history, with 1982’s Blade Runner acting as the perfect conduit for unleashing his themes of dystopic world-building, immersive technology, and de-humanizing desolation to an unsuspecting mainstream public of the early 1980s. While the movie’s release was unfortunately timed with the release of the film that would completely dominate theaters that year (Steven Spielberg’s E.T., The Extraterrestrial), Blade Runner, and many of the writer’s adaptations that would follow it are important and relevant contributions to our culture and history.

Presenting:  A Scanner Darkly.



Read and watch all of the films and books of this remarkable writer’s work via Amazon’s large library of physical and digital releases.


Text by Brian Eggert:

” A Scanner Darkly was one of my first experiences with Philip K. Dick. As a teenager, I discovered him after seeking out his books and stories that inspired Blade RunnerTotal Recall, and Screamers. But this book was different. It deals with psychology, identity, and drug addiction in complex ways, weaving them together not only with a fascinating science-fiction conspiracy but with a profound empathy toward addicts. 

The film, while admittedly not for everyone, is brilliantly assembled. Richard Linklater directs in a similar visual style to his Waking Life, which features rotoscoped animation over live-action footage. Although the animation here is comparatively straightforward compared to the earlier film, it’s no less disorienting, intentionally so. The effect is dizzying and almost psychedelic. Also, it’s Linklater, so it’s a hangout film, albeit set in a Dickian world of paranoia and futuristic technologies. 

The highlight of Linklater’s animation approach and Dick’s inventiveness is a “scramble suit” that constantly morphs its appearance to avoid revealing the wearer’s identity to any surveillance technology.

Keanu Reeves plays a cop who goes undercover in a community where a drug called Substance D is causing neurological problems. As a user himself, Reeves’ character faces a unique kind of identity crisis. Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder also star, making it a who’s who of Hollywood users. And it’s a thought-provoking work of science-fiction that questions what role the government has in causing the drug problem. 

Profoundly underrated, the film is a faithful adaptation of Dick’s book. Usually, his source material is the launchpad for a film that doesn’t resemble the text. But Linklater considers Dick’s characters with all their humanity and flaws intact. 

Needless to say, A Scanner Darkly boasts a strange convergence of styles, both in narrative and form, that makes it entirely unique.