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A Scanner Darkly

Everything Is Not Going To Be OK 

Year: 2006 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from A Scanner Darkly

Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Keanu Reeves Winona Ryder Robert Downey Jr. Woody Harrelson

Bob Arctor (Reeves) is an undercover cop – a narc. He's in amongst the drug-dealers, on the front line of the war against the deadly, hyper-addictive “Substance D”. He's fighting the good fight - even if it does mean betraying everyone around him. There are shot-up paranoids in his kitchen, but he's only doing what's necessary, right? He doesn't need to take the pills, he just has to... right? He's still in control.


When your mind's coming unglued, when your work is so undercover you don't even know who you're working for, and when the guy you're spying on might just be yourself... one more pill can't hurt. Right?

It's not often a movie comes along that you can call a drug-trip. Fear and Loathing is the big one – but whilst Depp's drug-addled journalist took you on a surreal, fantasy ride, Reeves' burnt-out tweaked-up undercover cop is all too real – and every bit as compelling. Reeves is excellent as the paranoid, slowly degenerating Arctor, and the other characters in the tale are manic spikes of personality – conspiracy nuts, junkies and schizos.

The world here is strange but still familiar – Substance D extends the reach of drug culture, holographic cameras are the height of surveillance technology, but there's nothing you didn't think of the last time you felt the paranoia setting in. Combine this with bold art direction, catapulting the film into a strange, half-real and half-cartoon dream, and the result is a setting that is compelling and true-to-life, yet utterly fantastic.

Phillip K. Dick's story is obtuse, strange, and unexpected. The twisting plot will have you guessing in all directions, but it's as murky as the inside of a stoner's head and when the conclusion comes, you won't have seen it coming. The characters' misadventures are bizarre, their reasoning tweaked and their aims sadly self-deluding – mixed together with a pervading melancholy and a dark sense of humour, this is a twisted tale of paranoia, betrayal, and lots and lots of drugs.

Timothy Franklin

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Screenings of this film:

2006/2007 Spring Term (35mm)