Blog Writing Assignment-A Scanner Darkly

1. Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly is about drug addict Bob Arctor, who is living a double life as Agent Fred, an undercover police officer spying on the very house he is living in. The novel’s ideas are supposedly taken from Dick’s life as a drug user in the early 1970s. In the novel, Arctor becomes addicted to new drug Substance D while living in the house, which eventually cripples his mental facilities and forces Donna, a supposed drug dealer he is in love with (but is actually an undercover agent herself) to take him to New Path, a rehab center. There he is assigned to a farming commune owned by the clinic after a serious withdrawal from the substance, but is still able to realize the blue flowers he finds growing are the source of Substance D. As the novel ends Arctor tucks a flower into his shoe to give to his friends when he returns to the clinic–fulfilling his unwitting goal as an undercover agent in the clinic.

2. In the film version of A Scanner Darkly, the setting is updated from a 1970s-style counterculture era to a modern one where the War on Drugs has ended in a failure. In this world Bob Arctor is an undercover agent like in the book, living with his addict friends in a run-down apartment. The film follows the same plot as the book–Arctor, as Fred, is assigned to spy on himself, who police believe to be the ringleader, but are completely unaware it is him in the scramble suit. A combination of spying on himself and his addiction to Substance D lead his mental state to decline rapidly. This seemingly forces Donna to bring him to the rehab center like in the novel, but we later find out the reason is exactly like it was in the book–Arctor is an unwitting undercover agent for Donna and the police.

3. Linklater’s film has been called the most faithful adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel. Instead of films like Minority Report or Total Recall, which cannibalize Dick’s story and only uses select parts of it, Linklater sticks to the text as much as he can. The film retains the addicts’ pattern of dialogue and the dry, drug-related humor Dick gives each character in that dialogue. It also uses rotoscoping to effectively show the scramble suit Dick writes about in the book, using the technique to show the suit always cycling through different appearances to give the film a surreal, hallucinogenic feel.


The author of this post had the same idea that I had with the rotoscoping technique: it brought life to the scramble suit Arctor wears in the film. The rotoscoping allows for the suit to quickly and continually morph and change, creating a blurring effect as the features of each part of the suit are cycled. That blurring, the author says, is an important allusion to Arctor’s state, as his continued drug use causes his life to blur to the point where he can’t remember his personal life or function at his job, because it consists of watching himself, something that causes his reality to blur even further.

Since A Scanner Darkly’s film setting is in a world where the U.S. has lost the War on Drugs, the author compares the film world to the real world, comparing the totalitarian techniques (like their manufacture of the debilitating drug) the film world uses and the military actions the real world does (border actions, drug raids, arrests).

The author brings up the idea that the atmosphere of the film, combined with the hallucinations the characters have and the rotoscoping technique, may mean the film is meant to be interpreted that the story all takes place in Arctor’s drug-addled head.

5. A Scanner Darkly is postmodern film because the main character, Bob Arctor, is unable to tell his reality from his delusion after his two separate social constructs begin to merge. In one social construct he is Bob Arctor, living in a run-down house with his friends and addicted to Substance D. In the other he is Agent Fred, an “undercover” narcotics agent spying on users of Substance D for the police. Both of those are completely different social constructs and by extension, two separate realities. Within each reality his other life is the delusion, but Arctor is able to function because the two are separate from each other; once Arctor is told to spy on himself and his two “realities” merge, he becomes unstable and his social constructs decay. A Scanner Darkly is a postmodern film because Arctor, who starts out with distinct social constructs, is unable to tell the distinction between his reality and his delusion by the end of the film; Arctor cannot distinguish the reality from the delusion because his two worlds weren’t meant to collide.


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