A Scanner Darkly

Green College, Oxford

Antonia invited me to see the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s book this evening and, despite having watched the first twenty minutes as a free online trailer, I found it well worth paying for. Based on our discussion afterwards, I have tentatively concluded that it is a film unusually subject to people taking away more or less what they expected to find. While it will appall traditionalists to hear, I didn’t feel as though I got much out of the book, when I read it a few years ago. As such, I had modest expectations for the film which were not disappointed.

The film is odd insofar as it combines a society of total electronic surveillance with the complexities of informants and undercover agents. The combination of knowledge and secrecy that results is sometimes more perplexing than Orwellian, though it does effectively highlight the corrupting nature infiltration strategies of crime fighting can have on police forces. You are, however, frequently left wondering why any state or police force with such power would devote such attention to a group that seems pretty obviously hopeless, when it comes to posing any real danger.

The most immediately obvious thing about the film is the modification of the video stock and the addition of animated elements. The posterized faces with their bold, exaggerated edges, in particular, contribute to an ongoing visual effect with some thematic merit. All told, the visuals and the story were complementary and well integrated. Neither was simply a crutch for the other, as is so often the case in visually unusual pieces of film. As Antonia pointed out, it probably detracted from the film to have recognizable actors in the roles. There is just too much written into Keanu Reaves, for instance, for him to really be able to take on a new role.

My thanks to Antonia for a worthwhile suggestion.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

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