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Heroes of the Zeroes: A Scanner Darkly

by on September 19, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“A Scanner Darkly”
Rated R
2006

Feel free to tune in, turn on and drop out. Whatever it takes to keep you like a pig in its pen — calm, compliant, content.

So went the scorching satire of “A Scanner Darkly” — Richard Linklater’s animated adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel in a not-too-distant future where drug counterculture has become psychological terrorism.

The trippy, free-floating process of rotoscoping — animation layered over live-action — offered the perfect aqueous aesthetic for a story about second skins. Like watching Picasso abstractions given pop-art life, it’s easy to get lost simply staring into snaky shadows of Winona Ryder’s hair.

Undercover drug cop Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) already inhabits a disjointed reality thanks to his “scanner suit” — a uniform constantly scrambling his identity for security purposes. But when his similarly scrambled supervisor assigns Bob to investigate himself, fissures in Bob’s brain quickly become fractures.

“Scanner” retains Dick’s elegiac tone for friends decimated by drugs, interrupted only by wake-and-bake, comic stream-of-consciousness monologues from Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. (Downey is Barris, a man out on a figurative ledge either to pull Bob in, push him off or hog attention by jumping himself.)

Unlike many Dick adapters exchanging existentialism for explosions, Linklater focuses on the author’s apprehensions about the trust, joy and freedoms at risk for the sake of progress.

There, “Darkly” became one of the Zeroes’ few fictions that commented on Bush II with substance. When worshiping that which politically, socially and mentally restricts us, hallucinations aren’t the head-trip. It’s the real-world rationales.

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