Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2007

A Scanner Darkly (2006)


Discussion Questions:

Remember, your images are ABOVE your name.

Please answer the questions below. Use paragraph form. Your answer should be around 400 words. Email me your responses in Word .doc format to: I will be posting these each week after the class. You should be prepared to deliver your answer in class -- but paraphrase, do not read it.


I am looking for specific observations about the film and the relationship to aspects of the Uncanny that we have examined. Both the filming method and the subject of the film will figure into these answers.

Information on the filming technique:
The director Richard Linklater used a method called "rotoscoping" to create the film. In this method the film is animated cel by cel (drawn frame by drawn frame), so that in the end it is an animated film, whose images are in effect traced over live action filming (therefore, drawn in 2D). So the gestures of the actors as well as the physical setting provide the information from which to create the film. This differs from motion capture which relies on "dots" to provide information to create a 3D model of the action. The action is filmed in front of a green screen. The set is often entirely animated.

Article from Wired on Scanner Darkly and the film technique. link


Adam Brady
Comment on the impact of "the suit".

The scramble suit is the uniform of an undercover narcotics agent at the sheriff’s department in Orange County. The suit is can fool the latest in voice and facial recognition technology. The suit is comprised of a million and a half fractional representations of men, women, and children of all race and colour. This allows the wearer to avoid any sort identification, while at work or out in the field.

The suit does not alter ones voice or appearance, but rather cycles through images and uses a single voice for all suits, for all wearers. Because of this there is no distinction between genders in this sense either.  No one can enter the minds of one wearing this suit. There is no visable emotion found on their person. They are equipped with a constantly changing appearance, and rather toneless voice. People within the suit appear as numb zombies to the outside world. Their thoughts have become secrets. Their true lives are known only to themselves. The suit has become the essence of this immensely paranoid atmosphere.

Bob Arctor explains that if anyone were to see him on the streets, they would think ‘there goes another dope fiend’. This is a result of the anonymity that the suit creates for the wearer. He is thrown into the life of a substance abuser. That becomes the uniform of his daily life. Fellow undercover agents do not know the real identities of their colleagues, for fear of being identified or indentifying someone else. There is a complete lack of trust between fellow agents both on and off the job.

This is a constant theme that Arctor encounters in his daily life. Because he is a narc he cannot allow himself to trust others nor can others truly trust him. He wears a suit to protect himself. He has become a substance user, thrown into the culture or paranoia, wearing a metaphorical suit out of fear. Arctor’s life has become the very vague blur that is a infinite scramble suit.



Cassandra Cautius
The house and the homely or unhomely?

Our first introduction to any character’s dwelling is when Barris and Freck reach Bob Arctor’s house. I found the use of the rotoscoping to act differently on the portrayal of persons than to their settings. The animation of the backgrounds was much more subtle in its rendering; the house looked almost real, but dilapidated. I found the animation to have the ability to exaggerate the look and the feel of the settings throughout the film. So there would be moments in the film where Arctor’s house would look perfectly homely and comfortable, and other times it would emit feelings of cramped, dirty, cluttered uncomfortable spaces.  Often times in the film this play would be based on the state of mind of the occupants in the dwelling.

Freck is the most principle example of this, he simply cannot be comfortable in his own apartment and this is chiefly a device of the drug. It seemed to be constant that the characters most often tripped out while at home and that it often brought them discomfort. A long discussion took place on the need to defend the home, search upon arrival claiming that the home might bring them doom. In both cases of Arctor’s home and Freck’s apartment the bugs (real or not) contribute greatly to the unhomely, as nothing seems quite so unhomely as insect infestations. Freck’s suicide attempt leads to a horrible experience while on the safety of his own bed, a similar experience happens to Arctor. A person’s bed is their one sacred place; you can be safe from anything, tucked in your own bed, except it seems, from your own mind. And generally it appears that all of these contributing factors of the unhomely feel are devices of the drug, mental state of the occupants. This then is the creation of the unhomely space. Arctor comments on his ‘run-down rubble filled house’ calls it a waste, comments that something dark resides here, something big. He says a family could have been happy in this house. But he only meant happy in the way that he had been happy, in his description of his past life. In this statement he manages to convey that it is not the house, the building itself that causes the unhomely, it is the occupants, the people who reside there and what it is they choose to invite into their home, and allow to breed there.


Alexander Chan 
The significance of the bugs.

Jim Barris is a despicable, self-seeking and treacherous character in A Scanner Darkly. In one of the scenes where he is bumming at Arctor’s house doing drugs, he is seen as an aphid. Aphids are minute parasitic insects that feed off plants like lice. To see a giant aphid with a human head is a repulsive sight on par to the vile nature of Barris. In Arctor’s mind, due to the fact that he is taking in questionable amounts of Substance D, he is meshing the two images together into a sub-human amalgamation. Barris is theoretically unsettling because of his altered physical state and the uncanny valley is relevant but not in an extreme case. Aphid Barris would rank as a humanoid robot, gaining empathy from viewers because he is an entity that as a whole seems non-human but possess a distinctive humanoid bust. The bust is enough to garner some familiarity and Barris begins to be understood more as a cartoon than a monster. Also, as in the same case with Sin City, the stylistic rendering of the film makes bizarre imagery easier to digest because everything look comic or cartoon-like. Barris has no presence in the physical reality. If he was rendered in real time with real actors in a real environment he would very uncanny but as he is now he is just a caricature.

The use of aphids as a caricature or symbol, nothing more than a sign, has very little impact over our state of being while watching the film. The aphids are truly scary when they manifest itself as a parasitic entity during the opening sequences of the film. The fear or horror we feel is not inspired by the bugs themselves, as creep as they may be up close, but how Freck appears with the insects crawling all over him. Freck, though rendered as a normal human being looks strange and unfamiliar to us. Because of the insects he seems sub-human or a human monstrosity diseased with a supernatural infestation. You could compare Freck to a leper in a sense, a normal person we do not want to touch. This of course completely corresponds to the uncanny valley regarding our natural tendency to ostracize diseased or breeding deficit people.

The use of bugs and bug imagery in A Scanner Darkly clearly illustrates the very similar but different views about the uncanny. When a human is normal but afflicted with some horrible condition, they are more uncanny than a cartoon of a monstrosity.

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David Henderson
The impact of the time setting of the film "Seven Years from Now - Anaheim, California" - future, or is it?

Movies set in the future are generally not realistic because the future is unknown thus anything could be possible. The further in the future a movie is set, the more true this is, but when a movie is set just a few years in the future it has to be more grounded in reality. This is what makes A Scanner Darkly so uncanny.

A Scanner Darkly is basically set in present day with a few technological improvements and a very big social dilemma. Substance D, a new drug that has everyone hooked, is introduced in the movie. No one yet knows the long term effects this drug will have, they don’t even know for sure who is making it yet. In reality this drug doesn’t exist, but a new drug emerging in our world is entirely plausible. The very fact that a scenario, such as the one presented in A Scanner Darkly, is very possible is very uncanny. The world in the movie is a very grim outlook on the future, filled with fear and paranoia and we can relate to the movie very easily as it is set so close to present day, making us question its “futuristic” aspect.

At the end of the movie we are shown a list of people who were friends of the creator who died or were permanently scarred from drug use. The list is not a short one either, making the point that this movie was supposed to be a typical sci-fi movie very obvious. Drug abuse is already a very common thing in our society, and in the future it could be an even bigger problem, especially when big players begin to use addiction and fear to control the masses for their own gain.


Minwoo Lee
Rejection of family and "values".

Prior to his life as a Substance D addict or as an undercover officer Fred, was Bob Actor’s life as a family man. The portrayal of Bob’s past life corresponds with many of typical nuances of an ideal family life; a nice middleclass suburban home with a front lawn and a double garage, wife and two children happily enjoying a game of checkers in the living room. In such a picture perfect setting that many people consider ‘good’, Bob was unable to find any satisfaction. The notion of a stable life struck him as a mask for a dull life that was completely devoid of anything new. Although this sort of resentment towards everyday life is something that could be understood and is commonly seen, the factor which makes it incomprehensible and uncanny is the fact that this realization which completely alters his course of life occurs in such a random accident as bumping your head on a cabinet door.

The outcome of such personal and random decision was the complete rejection of values. The idea of familial responsibilities, the duty he has towards his wife and children is completely neglected in the rise of personal desire. The complete absence of description of how his life changed from that point on seems to reflect the complete lack of dialogue in the relationship between Bob and his family, supporting the idea that all that matters is the decision that Bob made and nothing else. This powerful claim for individualism breaks down the framework of all social values making any sort of relationships or social order impossible to maintain.        

Ironically, the change in his life that he expected would fill his life with freedom and excitement ultimately put him in a position where he was unknowingly monitored and manipulated by others, eventually turning him into a mindless zombie with less freedom than he has started off with.


Paula Lee
The "replacement" family...

The new society faces many different issues such as condensation of population in the city centres and with it the rise of property and rent costs in these regions, and fertility drop in the western world as marriage rate dropped due to the rise of different perspectives of family and human relations. In modern world, one is focused more on self development rather than developing a family and usually these developing young individuals live in the city cores where much more is available and accessible. The old city fabric designed to suit its flats for families rather than bachelors but with much to their needs the family houses were to be shared by individuals of no blood relations. Though these individuals might not be related and strangers to each other some type of mutual trust exists between them as they were forced economically to share a house/flat. But this trust is not of same definition as the trust that exists between bloodily related family members. The trust between these strangers, and the idea of such trust between these groups of strangers are uncanny. In the film, Scanner Darkly, Bob Arctor is repeated betrayed by different people in the film, even his flatmate James Barris and his girlfriend Donna. On the outer surface, it looks as though all housemates are friendly and trustworthy but in reality there is a mutual lack of trust amongst others, which makes everyone paranoid in the film. This mistrust of people, and confusion of reality plays to bring the main theme of the film- modern creation of reality through technology and medical advancement that is against reality.  The people in the film are under effect of drugs and are delirious, living under constructed reality of drugs with mutual disrespect and distrust of their neighbours and the government. The film reflects upon uncanny quality of the modern society with increased tensions of distrust between characters, their relationship with government, and themselves as they are unable to distinguish reality as is, living under constructed reality.



Evelyn Lo
Friendship / trust?

In 'A Scanner Darkly' the ideas of friendship are continually skewed, twisted, and contorted to present an unnatural and unsettling depiction of trust and betrayal furthering the disorienting and complex plot of the film. The story of the film relies heavily on the deceptive nature of the relationships between Bob Arctor and all those around him - his good friend and housemate, Barris, his girlfriend Donna Hawthorne, and the corporation that employs him as an undercover agent.

Arctor is commissioned by his supervisor to keep watch on his own house and his friends - this act alone a type of betrayal as he is asked to pry into the lives of (himself and) his friends. Then, even more surprising and unsettling is when Barris approaches the officials denouncing Arctor as the culprit- unaware that Arctor himself is present in the office disguised within the scramble suit.   This sets up an unnatural and disturbing situation between the two characters, because Arctor is made aware that Barris has betrayed him, and yet he must keep un a natural and unknowing façade when with him so as not to arouse any suspicion, forcing Arctor to maintain two characters as the same time; the one who knows Barris has accused him, and the other completely unaware and naively maintaining a friendship with him, still.

His supervisor deludes Arctor further, when he explains that the sole purpose of Arctor as an undercover agent, was to lure Barris in through his suspicions that Arctor was an agent watching him. 

Finally, the other major breach of trust is that between Arctor and his girlfriend Donna, as she turns out to be his supervisor and part of those who have led him to his fate of addiction. In fact, Arctor had originally befriended Donna to learn who her Substance D supplier was, but ended up falling for her. However, it turns out Donna herself had been deceiving Arctor instead of it being the other war around. The false nature of Donna is alluded to when Barris and Freck are discussing the fact that Donna and Arctor had not yet been intimate together, the reason for this is later revealed as Donna was merely playing the role of his girlfriend but did not actually care for him. After she commits Arctor to New Path Recovery center, it is revealed that she had been lying when she told Arctor they were trying to arrest Barris for Substance D and that in fact the whole purpose of the ruse was to genuinely confuse Arctor and lead him into such great addiction that he would be admitted to New Path Recovery Centre and ultimately led to their farm fields where Donna and fellow officials were hoping to infiltrate the rehabilitation center.

The entire plot of the film relies on the deceptive nature of the relationship between people, and the ability of those who are supposedly trustworthy have for manipulation. The film's plot itself involved false relationship between the characters on screen but as the viewers are watching they are themselves tricked by the film, being led to certain false conclusions about the characters or about where the plot is headed. Thus, 'A Scanner Darkly' is comprised of layers upon of layer of false stories, false friends and false lovers, invoking a certain sense of unsettling skepticism in viewers of whom they can and cannot trust.




John McFarlane
Drugs and other vices? to this film and its relationship to the genre of drug films.

The use of drugs in A Scanner Darkly is both a consequence of its autobiographical relationship to its author Philip K. Dick and a device for relating the plot to themes of persecution and ontological doubt. These themes are also related to Dick’s life and recur throughout his work.

The etymology central to the story explains the Dick’s intentions regarding the use of drugs. The title, “A Scanner Darkly” refers to 1 Corinthians 13:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. Verses 9-12, King James Version

The biblical reference to Saint Paul and his mirror is translated into Fred/Bob Arctor viewing his own life through the scanner. Just as Fred and Bob Arctor don’t know that they are the same person, so does Dick express the inability to know himself and to “know” in a larger sense:

What does a scanner see? I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner … see into me — into us — clearly or darkly? I hope it does see clearly, because I can't any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone's sake, the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we'll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too. Dick, Philip K. A Scanner Darkly. Gollancz, 2006.

A Scanner Darkly is related to Substance D through the name and species of the flower it is made from: “Mors Ontologica,” meaning “ontological death” or “the death of being” or “the being of death.” The protagonist’s unsuccessful attempts to know himself are based on his addiction, which is a reflection of Philip K. Dick’s lifelong use of drugs, especially during 1970-1972 when he lived in his house with a rotating group of mostly teenage drug-users. His personal experience comes across in his writing in an attitude towards drug use that is primarily related to the consciousness expansion of the 1960s flavored with the disillusion and burnout of the 1970s. This can be contrasted with the contemporary perspective implied by the question’s use of the word “vice,” indicating an understanding of drug use as self-destruction and delusion without any notion of self-discovery.



Sava Miokovic
Life inside of the suit.

The suit shapes your outlook of the outside world.  In the most obvious sense, it is a mask you must look through, so it effects your visual perception.  The suit is a tool that gives you new abilities.  The suit informs the wearer what it is doing for them through a series of symbols on the interface.  For example, there is a symbol that indicates when the wearer is in communication with headquarters, when they are live, the volume of their projected altered voice, etc.  The suit is very interactive.  In a way it’s like viewing the world through a computer monitor.  All of us constantly take on identities when we add physical things to our bodies, whether it is a baseball cap, the logo you rock, or a car you drive.  The suit itself is a uniform so it has very strong associations.  I think the suit penetrates the self-image of its wearer very strongly for these reasons.  Thus, it also affects the way you perceive the world.

The first slide represents the detachment one feels from the outside world when wearing the suit.  The suit hides your physical identity, both the way you look and the way you sound.  When wearing the suit, you are interacting in a world where nobody ever knows who you are.  I think the suit would catalyze a strong emotional detachment, an ideal state of mind for an investigator, since they rely on rational thought.  We see this in the Bob Arctor in the scene where James Barris is called into his boss’s office.  Bob doesn't react at all to the presence of his friend.  Its as if Barris isn't the Barris Bob knows since Bob is not Bob while in the suit. 

It becomes somewhat uncanny when we see Bob Arctor in the suit interacting with other agents in a suit because it’s a world where noboby knows anybody.  Being social beings, this proposition is very uncomfortable. 



Reena Mistry
The use of banal architecture - corridors.

The use of bland banal architecture emphasizes the suburban setting of the movie. The suburbs are the context for many modern films since idealistic happy neighbourhoods produce a stark contrast with disturbing characters or plotlines. Like the Truman Show or American Beauty, A Scanner Darkly utilizes the repetitious and bland settings to produce uncanny effects.

Focussing on corridors alone, the repetitious and banal qualities are pushed to an extreme. The monotony of the common drop panel ceiling, unflattering fluorescent lighting and blank walls interrupted only by identical doors are the epitome of bland, characterless space. The forced one point perspective makes this boring space seem to continue endlessly. Unfortunately, this is also a space that most viewers can relate to, considering it is the common cheap corridor space, characteristic of many offices and motels. This dull space is utilized as the transition zone which juxtaposes with very strange places behind the doors of these corridors: the testing room, where Fred undergoes physical and mental tests, the surveillance room, where anonymous suit characters sit for hours watching live and recorded surveillance videos, the suit change room, the strange chamber where the identity of anonymous characters are revealed.

Overall, these spaces make very unsettling and unhomely atmospheres that are equally as uncomfortable as the strange settings they lead to, though in a drastically different way.


Melissa Ng 
The use of banal architecture - stores.

Scanner Darkly uses banal architecture as part of its film set to create a more believable reality in which the film takes place.  The set grounds the film in its implied location – in southern United States.  Whereas the projected futuristic, ultramodern architecture depicted in other films such as the original Metropolis and 5th Element create a detachment as spaces which we are unfamiliar with, the banal architecture used in the film has the opposite effect.  The diner and local corner store are simple – depicted as we know and are familiar with them.  These are spaces of which we can all relate to; we’ve all eaten at this diner, and we all have shopped at this local convenience store.  If there were to be a slight variance in these spaces, or if an occurrence or event were to take place which would normally not happen, this space would become uncanny.  However, in this film, it appears that the uncanny was not depicted through its banal architecture in its commercial setting, rather it gives the viewer a glimpse of the everyday regular routine of the American lifestyle.  The architecture depicted in this manner also push the idea of paranoia, delusion, and psychosis of the characters of the film and its focus of the addiction of Substance D.  The boring architecture only amplifies our perception of how delusional the characters have become through the heavy drug usage – juxtaposed to a very normal, drab world.  The use of the mundane set is able to contrast with the funky behavior and provide us with a more interesting and extreme representation of the themes running through this film.


Aisling O'Carroll

In Richard Linklater's 'A Scanner Darkly', there is clear tension between the protagonists, drug addicts, and the authority. Although in the film the authority rarely comes out as being violent, there is a serious fear of their violence among the addict characters; for example, when Freck imagines the police officer pulling him over and shooting him. In this case, as a viewer, we are not sure that the scene is not real until it switches back to Freck driving, and this again changes the idea of violence in the film. Because the story is primarily told from the place of the addicts, there are moments, like the one mentioned with Freck, when we are unsure of the reality of the situation, or the sobreity of the characters to judge when to stop - like the scene where Barris and Ernie Luckman are fighting in front of their house.

Among the characters, there is a perverse authority structure. When they are together as friends it seems Arctor has authority since they are always at his house and in his car, etc. But when they are apart, the authority and respect has no value, Barris will turn in his friend, and let Ernie die rather than involve himsel in a situation.

Most of the violence is threatened or passive - like when Barris leaves Ernie to die. Another moment of tension is in the tow truck when Barris is holding a gun, we are not really sure what he will do with it.

The most significant figure of authority really comes from Substance D - it drives the characters to their destructive ends, causes them to ruin their careers and lives, betray friends, and self destruct. Substance D, and the other drugs mentioned are the driving force behind the action of the police authority, and the actions of the addict characters. It is also the source of the most violence in the film - being self destructive violence. We can see the different characters deteriorating in the film, Freck, then Arctor, and we see the twisted mentalities addicts establish that end up having violent reprucussions.


Shannon Ross
The influence of the general colour scheme of this film.

The use of colors in Scanner Darkly enhances the uncanny feeling of the movie.  The film is mostly about the abuse of hallucinatory drugs.  The vision that occurs when one is on hallucinatory drugs is squewed and often cartoon like.  The colors are matte and reflect the hallucinatory effect of substance D by not showing any textures simply solid colors.


Terry Sin
Surveillance by Fred.

Aside from the sense of the uncanny created by the rotoscoping technique, another uncanny aspect of A Scanner Darkly is the dual lives of Agent Fred and Substance D addict Robert Arctor, and the conflict between hemispheres. In this duality creates an ambiguous sense of time between when Arctor is Fred or Bob. This sense of time can be observed in Fred’s surveillance of his own house. Due to the nature of his job, he must observe mostly recorded surveillance tapes rather than witness streaming live feeds, preventing his identity from being deduced from process of elimination. Furthermore, the surveillance tapes also shed light on Arctor’s confusion between his hemispheres and we are able to observe his decay from Substance D.

When watching Fred observe his housemates, it is difficult to tell whether it is streaming or recorded. Especially in the scene where Ernie Luckamn chokes and almost dies it is unclear whether Fred is witnessing a death or whether the death has already occurred. Fred almost begins to dial 911 right before Luckman comes back to life. However, whether or not it would have helped becomes the question.

Furthermore, when Fred observes Bob, we are provided with an insight into the difficulties associated with the conflict between Arctor’s hemispheres. In one scene, Fred observes Arctor almost slipping out his police identity in a drug induced trip out. At this point we see the two halves begin to fight.

In another scene, Fred reexamines the footage of waking up with “Donna”. During the live sequence, Arctor believes he hallucinates and sees Donna sleeping beside him in the morning. When Fred looks at the footage again, he apparently witnesses the same situation again. This is, of course, a very eerie phenomenon as we, as well as Arctor, are unsure whether it is still a hallucination or an actually development in the plot. Given that the scramble suits have the ability to project images, we may consider the scene to have actually happened. However, it is more likely that we observing Arctor fall into the full extent of addiction.

Throughout these scenes, we are able to observe the uncanny in a variety of ways. In Fred’s viewing of Luckman’s near death experience, the relation of time to the actual events and the general sense of surveillance create an unnerving experience. When Arctor observes himself, the uncanny aspect becomes his struggle between his hemispheres. Overall, Fred’s viewings create unease due to the nature of truth and time presented.


Helen Tout
Surveillance of Fred/Arctor.

The police are asking Fred to survey Arctor because they believe he is involved with large amounts of Substance D. Fred started out as an undercover agent but quickly became allured by Substance D and became addicted. He now still works for the police but he is also an addict. The drug enables him to split up both parts of his life, so he can’t put together that he is living both of these lives.

Arctor and his friends are always suspicious that they are being watched, and it turns out that they are being monitored. The police realize that Fred is undercover as a person in Arctors group, but they don’t know who. They are watching the group with two undercover agents so that they can figure out who the supplier of Substance D is. This is more important to them than losing cops to addiction.

Surveillance at this time is advanced. Everyone is on the system and can be identified anywhere in the world via satellite cameras. There is high surveillance because of high addiction rates. The government wants to get the users under control and in order to do that they have invented a ‘big brother’ type of society, which runs on deceit and hidden identities. All agents where scramble suits so that people won’t know who they actually are, and therefore what case they are working. This leads to a lot of trust issues between people. Barris gives Arctor away to the cops and ignores his friend when he OD’s, clearly he does not care or trust anybody in this time of high surveillance and paranoia.

Arctor knows on some level that he is being watched, but because he can no longer see who he is, he hopes that the scanners can see him clearly. It is clear that this form of government is not concerned with the life of individuals but for the overall freedom of the collective from substance abuse, hence the title, a scanner darkly.

You have to wander what percentage of the police force has become addicted to Substance D because of the way the government is doing surveillance. Is this method effective in controlling the amount of Substance D in use or is this corrupting otherwise healthy peoples lives?


Jamie Usas
Testing Fred.

A Scanner Darkly,  Directed by Richard Linklater, (Waking Life) deals with the ramifications of chronic drug abuse and the mental degeneration associated with a progressively deconstructed identity.  A faithful adaptation to Philip K Dick's novel by the same title, Linklater's cinematic vision situates the viewer into a state of perpetual disorientation, rarely allowing the stability of a static frame, or the logic of a sober or rational mind.  Linklater's visual style, rotoscoping, is characteristic of the drug induced haze the characters of the film exist in, while providing the element of the fantastic necessary to suspend the disbelief of viewers unfamiliar with the realities and behaviours of individuals amerced in drug culture.  Through the testing of Agent Fred/Bob Arctor, the view is positioned in a state of paranoia  associated with  Agent Fred/Bob Arctor's own depleting mental state.  During the first instance in which “Fred” is tested for mental instability, he (as well as the viewer) observes a card clearly depicting the image of a sheep.  However, it is immediately brought to the attention of “Fred” (and the viewer) , by the doctors, that the image is in fact not a sheep, but a dog.  It is also made clear to “Fred” (and the viewer) that the test makes no room for interpretation, and that only one correct answer exists, in this case the answer is a dog.  The viewer now understands that the perceptions of the narrator cannot be trusted, and the viewer must rely on their own judgement to make interpretations regarding the characters and situations within the film.  Later, during another testing of “Fred” with two, clearly different doctors, it becomes evident moments into the testing that the two different doctors are actually the original two doctors and that the perception of the viewer towards the reality of the film is hallucinatory, and therefore not objective.  The viewer makes the uncanny realization  that their own perceptions, and therefore judgements, are altered in the same manner as the characters under the influence of Substance D, and like the perception of the narrator, cannot be trusted. 

Other plot clues are also revealed during the testing of Agent Fred/Bob Arctor, such as initiative to place Agent Fred unknowingly into a New Path Clinic, in hopes of retrieving evidence of New Path's involvement in the manufacturing of Substance D.  During one of Fred's visits to the doctors for testing, Fred causally inquires on the best way to impress a woman who is “hard to get close to”.  The female doctor replies that he should buy her flowers, however, specifically stating that he buy her “little blue” flowers.  This is a direct reference to the blue flower from which Substance D is derived and, seemingly, an attempt by the doctors to plant this information unconsciously into the psyche of “Fred”, to be remembered when he has been committed to New Path.  The only discerning factor, is the inability as a viewer to trust perception, and concluded that the doctor actually mention “blue flowers”, or that this is simply another hallucination that the viewer experiences with “Fred”.  


Susan Varickanickal
Significance of "doubling" as a result of confusion/hallucination vs. the doubling of characters.

Doubling as a result of confusion/hallucination in the film “A Scanner Darkly”, portrays the long term affects that the drug substance D has on its user.  The mind becomes incapable of processing information correctly, and the characters in the film are unable to differentiate reality and the artificial world created by the use of substance D.  A feeling of mistrust is created as the character falls deeper in the use of the illegal drug, and its effects become more lasting.  The doubling affect causes the character to mistrust their own judgement, and perception of reality.

In the film, the doubling of characters in order to maintain the secret identities of field agents also creates a feeling of mistrust as the deceptive lives of the characters intermingle and creates a web of confusion.  Even without the use of substance D a manipulation of reality occurs as the true identities of Bob Arctor, and Donna are kept secret from each other, even though their lives in work and outside of work are interconnected. 

The creators of film successfully relate the contorted lives of the drug users and their misguided perceptions of reality (as doubling of characters occur through confusion/hallucination), with the deceptive nature and manipulated relationships created by doubling of characters to maintain secret identities.   



Chao Lun Wang
The rendering style of the face.

The creation of A Scanner Darkly was based on principal shooting followed by an animation post process, which uses interpolated rotoscope over the original footage. Thus the distinct rendering style of the face in the finished product benefits from both real time human expressions and abstract artistic representations.

For example, certain aspects of the face are better represented by the actors’ actions in front of the camera, such as short sequences depicting the vibration of the lips, the enlargement of the retina, etc. all of which are significant details to convey one’s mood. These are not the kind of details that would usually be included in an animation.

On the other hand, the overall idea of the character has gone through a successful set of abstractions in the animation process to clarify the intentions behind each character. It’s also this process of rendition that made the faces of the characters quite uncanny. For example, Earnie’s face has been rendered like a series of stop motions, seeming to miss out on certain frames in its sequence. Consequently, his facial movements does not flow, rather, they jump. This abstract rendition is coupled with the exaggerated acting of Woody Harrelson to convey a drug addict in an extremely unstable mental state of hallucination and paranoia. Similarly, the rendition of Arctor’s face is also abstracted. Heavy contrast of light and shadow are often used to represent the effect of Substance D on his character. The duality of tone correlates to the development of a split personality of Arctor and Fred and his cognitive problems due to the psychoactive drug.

For all the characters in the film, the rendition of the face occurs on two layers, a live action shot, and a post-process animation. The result is distinct portrayal of the character that is seemingly real yet abstract and uncanny.  



Benjamin Wong
The emotion of realization.

The emotion of realization is perhaps one of the hardest to convey in animation.  In contrast to the extremity of emotions portrayed in Renaissance, A Scanner Darkly attempts to animate the subtle movements of the face.  The storyline of both films differs greatly, as does the use of animation techniques.  It was perhaps more important for Linklater’s film to be able to recreate human emotions as 2D objects, simply because of the nature of the movie.

The film’s success in this aspect is perhaps due in great part to its reliance on the technique of rotoscoping, as well as the actors’ abilities to play their roles compellingly.  This technique, which is basically tracing over the actors’ faces frame by frame, gives the animators the most direct way of drawing realistic human emotions.  A Scanner Darkly - unlike Renaissance, which created characters based on human creativity – transferred the actors’ faces in a very literal way.  Rather than attempting to create a moving graphic novel, the film used animation to allow freedom to manipulate every frame of the movie.  Rotoscoping then, not only allows for a stylized but realistic translation of real facial expressions, but the opportunity to exaggerate or edit out certain elements.  This careful editing and complete control of the film is certainly unique to animation. The actors in A Scanner Darkly themselves explain that they often tried to exaggerate their emotions during the filming, in order to allow the animators to more easily understand their facial expressions.  It is really just this detailed understanding that was necessary for the animation; detail that is rarely available in anyone’s imagination.  Although Sin City is an excellent example of how real actors can be combined with an animated set, there is still a lack of complete control over the actors’ expressions.  Whereas A Scanner Darkly captures the natural changes in human faces, but also alters them to be more “perfect”.

This success in portraying subtle emotions is key to eliminating the uncanny aspect of the characters.  The uncanny plays a part only with the drastic distortions of the characters, such as the scramble suit, or when Arctor hallucinates and sees his friends as giant insects with talking human heads.


Erin Corcoran

The element of the rehabilitation centre in Scanner Darkly is uncanny in its counter-intuitive relationship to the outside world.  In traditional definitions of a rehab, it is understood as a helpful human place where junkies enter, are changed through being removed from their inhuman environments and lifestyles, and then, once cured, they are re-entered into the so-called ‘real world’. 

Within the Scanner Darkly New-Path Rehab, this relationship, at least from the point of view of the viewer, is reversed.  In comparison to the outside world, the rehab seems inhuman, sterile, empty and lifeless, unlike the situation outside that is colorful, human, and feels, generally, more real.  New-Path is also considered to be a somewhat mistrustful corporation, where instead of helping junkies to eventually re-enter society, it is in fact the very source of the drug that got them into the rehab to begin with.  It treats the individuals within the centre as less than human, as both the by-product of the drug they are flooding the world with, and also the perfect, unquestioning workers they use to harvest the drug.  Instead of a circle of healing, the rehab in Scanner Darkly is a cycle of deeper and deeper addiction. 

Lastly, and perhaps the most uncanny element within rehab is the behaviour of its inhabitants.  Whether junkies or staff, the people within the New-Path system either come off as robotic brain-dead zombies or happy but evilly grinning facilitators.  It is as if by entering this rehab environment the individuals lose the very behaviours, gestures and elements that make them human at all.  Instead of regaining their forgotten humanity, the people within the rehab, both workers and patients, become uncanny and somewhat robotic in their activities, further emphasizing the inhuman elements of the Scanner Darkly rehab.


Matthias Heck
The (mis) representation of New Path.

In the drug-ridden future Richard Linklater portrays in his film adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "A Scanner Darkly", New Path is a corporation that runs a series of rehabilitation clinics which seem to be the only feasible solution to deal with the massive problems of the population's addiction to substance D. As we can tell from a discussion about New Path between Barris and Freck, people obviously don't know anything about the true machinations of this corporation. Though we, as the audience, get a small hint in the beginning of the movie, when Arctor takes a speech at the Brown Bear Lodge and we see the New Path logo, it is not until the final moment of the movie that the true identity of New Path is revealed and we understand this hint about the scheming of a shady corporation, that is ultimately the source of the whole substance D issue.

As the storyline develops, Arctor is finally brought to the rehab, and the first, superficial, glance of the recovery centre evokes the association of a normal recovery clinic. The blue and white logo of New Path that we see at the Brown Bear Lodge gathering, and then again inside the rehab centre, shows a wanly blue flower in the background. The blue flower is a very strong symbol with historical roots: it was a central, recurring symbol in German romanticism, and stood for love and desire, but also evolved into a symbol of hope. Other sources see it as "a symbol for the simultaneous end to and beginning of all things, for reinvention and reincarnation…". Given this hopeful meaning in the context of the recovery centres seems plausible and evokes the feeling of a respectable institution that is concerned about the health of people. After a period of psychological reconditioning treatment (which seems more like determining the state of mind and the aptitude for mindless drone assignments), but still suffering from serious brain damage, Arctor gets transferred to an isolated, prison-like farm, where he receives a new name, Bruce, and is supposed to do unpretentious farming work. The clean and respectable character of New Path, represented through their logo, facilities and their general image, changes gradually as it turns out to be a bogus rehab. It is not until the final scenes of the movie that we see the big picture of New Path taking advantage of the mental state of substance D users, as the corporation uses them for its own purposes, growing the flower that is used for distilling substance D.

This is uncanny and frightening in many ways: we not only have a misrepresented corporation with crooked intentions, but also one that is in fact able to fool the government, as it is more influential and powerful. New Path's intentions and actions furthermore lead to an Orwell's Big Brother-like state of government control and oppression. Also, with Arctor's tragic entanglement, we see the price the state has to pay in order to try to find out the truth. Regarding Philip K. Dick and his personal background, this dystopic scenario, misuse of power, the surveillance state, drugs & paranoia and the state of mind of his characters are recurring themes in Dick's books, and certainly notions that are supposed to lead to a personal debate on one's view of life.


Suzanne Gibson
The farm.

The farm scene is significant in that it ties the sub plots of the movie together, and although it doesn’t answer the questions it poses it does clarify them.  It raises questions about the complex linkage between authority and drug commerce.  Is it acceptable to supply damaging drugs to unknowing participants in order to gain insight into larger operations. Donna, Arctor’s superior, girl friend and drug dealer, (although he is unaware that she is his superior) uses him to infiltrate New Path to find the source of their funding. But in doing so she destroys him, the drugs causing a complete mental collapse. And this makes one question if it is acceptable to have a relationship between police and criminals, has the authorities gone too far in allowing Donna to date Arctor, and should Arctor be allowed to watch over his friends, it is a weird sensation watching Arctor watching himself and his friends in his house, there is something perverse about it. And it becomes even more disturbing when Arctor metal capacity begins to collapse; there is a point when Arctor seems to become unaware that he is watching himself.  To further this weird sensation, Donna who at first the viewer is not aware that she is Arctor’s superior is over watching the whole operation.

Which raises the next question, is it justifiable to sacrifice and individual without their knowledge for the greater good. To gain access to New Path a rehab facility, the police allow and to a point encourage Arctor drug uses, he becomes an addict to Substance D, the result is the two hemispheres of his brain have become dislocated from one another, and begin to function independently creating two personas, which the characters is incapable of recognizing. He acts and functions as two different people, who are unaware of each other, couple with halogenations.  Creating a strange world where the viewers and the characters become detached from reality, and there are points in the movie where one loses track of reality.  The result of the drug use is Arctor being discharged from the police services, he is placed in rehab, and unbeknown to him he is being used. The film ends with Arctor, a shattered man working at New Paths farming community, as he walks along the rows of corn he realizes that the ground is covered in blue flowers, the source of Substance D, although the viewer does not know for certain if Arctor is aware that the flowers are the source of Substance D, or if he is just taken aback by them attracted by their color, or maybe at that moment he knows he has been used.

The farm is traditional a symbol of growth and renewal, but in this case it is not.  Those that tend the crops are incapable of recovery, the lights are on yet the individuals are unresponsive and the possibility of their recovery is slim.  And sadly the drugs are cared for and harvested by addicts who are so far gone they don’t even know that they harvesting the drugs that lead to their demise.


Kate Gould
The impact of rotoscoping on the presentation of the film in an uncanny way.

The film A Scanner Darkly is like a graphic novel come to life, presenting a haunting, highly stylized vision of our near future.  The film shows a drug-addicted individual’s journey into deep destabilizing paranoia and the animation technique of interpolated rotoscoping was essential in producing this atmosphere.

Animation Technique

Basic rotoscoping used in the past involved the exact animated duplication of a filmed sequence, one frame at a time.  As this could be very time consuming, artists would often skip frames, which resulted in a very jumpy look, such as that seen in A-ha’s 1985 music video “Take on Me”.  However, rotoscoping was brought into the digital age with software called Rotoshop (similar to Photoshop) which was developed by Bob Sabiston, a software designer and filmmaker.  This software had the ability to guess, or interpolate, what the skipped images between the drawn frames would look like.  Therefore, the interpolated lines and shapes have very smooth, fluid motion, which would have been extremely difficult to achieve with hand-drawing.  Other features of the software also cut down on the animation time such as the ability to break the drawing into different layers and freeze certain layers during the animation, as in Photoshop.  For example, this could freeze the background, such that it didn’t need to be drawn in every single frame.

Overall this form of animation allowed the animators to do extremely lifelike hand-drawn animation, with great ability to animate the facial expressions and gestures.  As there were so many artists working on each of the characters they needed to make templates of each of the characters, as seen in the second set of images, to make sure that the style remained consistent.

Uncanniness of Film

Many Hollywood movies would utilize special effects to create scenes such as those in A Scanner Darkly and in comparison to both Renaissance 2054 and Sin City this was a relatively low-budget film.  However, as the film involves a first hand depiction of drug-induced paranoia and delusions, the animation is able to remove it just one step from reality which makes it particularly uncanny.  The technique creates a really effective feeling of a drug trip or lucid dreaming, where there is a feeling of everything being just a little “off””.  For example, they use subtle effects, such the background warping and distorting around the characters, or more extreme effects, such as Jim and Ernie turning into cockroaches. The one part of the movie would have been near impossible in live-action filming would have been the depiction of “the suit”.  These scenes involved many different animators creating artificial characters and then animating each scene with each of them and then finally blending between them.

Hence, the process of rotoscoping gave this movie, a relatively low budget film, the ability to add limitless visual effects.  Anything was possible, as long as animators could draw it, which was particularly uncanny as it had the ability to question our reality.



updated 23-Dec-2007 10:39 PM

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