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A Scanner Darkly (2006)


Average Rating: 6.6/10
Reviews Counted: 180
Fresh: 124
Rotten: 56

Critics Consensus: A faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel, A Scanner Darkly takes the viewer on a visual and mind-blowing journey into the author's conception of a drug-addled and politically unstable world.

Average Rating: 6.6/10
Reviews Counted: 44
Fresh: 27
Rotten: 17

Critics Consensus: A faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel, A Scanner Darkly takes the viewer on a visual and mind-blowing journey into the author's conception of a drug-addled and politically unstable world.


Average Rating: 3.4/5
User Ratings: 138,647


Movie Info

Set in a future world where America has lost the war on drugs, an undercover cop, Fred, is one of many agents hooked on the popular drug Substance D, which causes its users to develop split personalities. Fred, for instance, is also Bob, a notorious drug dealer. Along with his superior officers, Fred sets up an elaborate scheme to catch Bob and tear down his operation.

R (for drug and sexual content, language and brief violent image)
Drama , Action & Adventure , Animation , Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By:
Written By:
Richard Linklater
In Theaters:
Dec 19, 2006
Box Office:
Warner Independent Pictures - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for A Scanner Darkly

All Critics (181) | Top Critics (44) | Fresh (124) | Rotten (56) | DVD (29)

The coolest thing about the movie version of A Scanner Darkly is how very literally it takes the scanner part of that title.

Full Review… | October 18, 2008
Top Critic

As A Scanner Darkly proves, Keanu is the Coolness -- passive blankness, leaden line delivery, and all. Let's hear it for the vague blur.

Full Review… | September 23, 2006
Top Critic

Wondrously attractive, all the more so for the avoidance (with one or two exceptions) of extrovert Waking Life-style set-pieces.

Full Review… | August 17, 2006
Time Out New York
Top Critic

Mr. Linklater emerges once again as the Austin auteur par excellence, even if A Scanner Darkly is set in a ratty precinct of Orange County.

Full Review… | July 27, 2006
New York Observer
Top Critic

Linklater's willingness to experiment ... is laudable. But I'm not sure he's reinventing animation here, or even adequately serving that older-than-children animation audience.

Full Review… | July 14, 2006
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic

The first film to capture the author's transience and his art.

Full Review… | July 14, 2006
Houston Chronicle
Top Critic

It is exhausting in its yammering, yes, but the very fact of its putting forth a vision of a future that's scented with bongwater, revolving around the axis of a sloppy living room, is enough to recommend it.

Full Review… | March 5, 2014
Stop Smiling

I got bored with the random diversions into the long-winded conversations of the drug culture.

Full Review… | January 19, 2014
7M Pictures

A Scanner Darkly is the most faithful Dick adaptation to date. Like Dick's writing, Richard Linklater's movie doesn't sweat at immersing itself in the trappings of sci-fi; it's concerned with ideas.

Full Review… | November 7, 2012
Empire Magazine Australasia

...not for everyone. It's a complicated film that requires patience and, most likely, subsequent viewings to appreciate the jigsaw view of control and paranoia.

Full Review… | April 20, 2011
Metro Times (Detroit, MI)

In the end, it offers only the slightest of answers and the slimmest of hopes, because that is often all life offers as well. Whether anyone grasps that hope it leaves open for the audience to determine.

Full Review… | March 30, 2011

Trippy rotoscoping is the perfect aqueous aesthetic. Unlike many Philip K. Dick adapters exchanging existentialism for explosions, Richard Linklater focuses on Dick's apprehensions about the trust, joy and freedoms at risk for the sake of progress.

Full Review… | September 19, 2010

Not nearly as coherent, cinematic or fulfilling as it should have been.

Full Review… | July 6, 2010
Cinema Autopsy

The message is clear and the animation creates a world unlike any other in film, making A Scanner Darkly an easy addition to the must-see list of 2006.

Full Review… | July 6, 2010
Film School Rejects

Ponders the inherent doom of Slacker transgressors

Full Review… | August 30, 2009

Such a brutally gut wrenching disappointment...

Full Review… | April 29, 2009
Cinema Crazed

Like many of Dick's parallel-mirror scenarios, this one is air-tight and diabolical. More fresh air in the form of Linklater's humor would be welcome.

Full Review… | April 23, 2009
Boston Phoenix

A Scanner Darkly is capable of inducing euphoria if viewers focus on one element of splendor--the acting, concept, dialogue or animation--per viewing.

Full Review… | November 20, 2008

The painted, slightly disorienting look is a good match for the sinister, seriocomic, drug-addled world of the book.

Full Review… | August 7, 2008
Sacramento News & Review

Too talkie to be legitimately entertaining, too dark to be wholly enjoyable and too muddled to be entirely comprehensible, A Scanner Darkly stands as a creative, if unengaging interpretation of its source materia

Full Review… | February 28, 2008

Linklater may have admired the novel -- I do, too -- but that doesn't necessarily make him the ideal director for this material.

Full Review… | August 13, 2007

a trippy movie that doesn't make it easy for the audience to follow. The story is complex and confusing and theanimation keeps the viewer from entering the tale emotionally or intellectually.

Full Review… | July 14, 2007
Murphy's Movie Reviews

Relentlessly interesting to watch if somewhat less than compelling as a film.

Full Review… | July 14, 2007
Big Picture Big Sound

this dystopian paranoid thriller tracks addiction in all its highs and lows, and offers a dignified elegy for its misguided casualties.

Full Review… | June 13, 2007

The movie isn't for those seeking a run-of-the-mill Hollywood film and it can't be viewed with a trace of passivity.

Full Review… | May 2, 2007
Bangor Daily News (Maine)

Audience Reviews for A Scanner Darkly

This film did not quite reach it's potential. Great source material, acting (casting!) and visuals but the storytelling is sluggish and muddled and there is little opportunity for the viewer to identify with any of the characters' multiple identities.

Bob Stinson

Super Reviewer

Rotoscoping is not a technique I had come across before, or since, so I have nothing to compare it to when reviewing 'A Scanner Darkly'. What can be said for certain however is that the film is beyond anything else beautifully made, and whilst a few shaky performances let it down at times, the underlying message of the film is injected right into the viewer's skulls.

Based on the book by Philip K. Dick, his most personal work, examining drug abuse and the way society treats drug addicts, 'A Scanner Darkly' tells the story of undercover cop Keanu Reeves, (hold on hasn't he done this before), as he infiltrates a 'substance D' group, a new drug everyone is addicted to. However as Reeves does so he himself becomes addicted to the drug and begins developing a split personality, forgetting who he really is. Linklater has always and will always remain an indie filmmaker, so its no surprise that 'A Scanner Darkly' did not deliver the goods at the box office, picking up little over five million pounds.

But more people need to know about this film and dig it out at their local independent dvd shop, for it is the only place you'll find it, because it is deserving of a viewing for both its visual and storytelling capabilities.

Whilst Keanu Reeves plays himself again, this time he does it quite well, whilst Robert Downey Junior and Woody Harrelson bring on the best performances to the piece. The story is difficult to follow, not of course helped by mind bending rotoscoping and confusing sci-fi items such as the suits the undercover police officers wear. However it is a terrific story, like all K. Dick material, which shocks you into considering the big questions in a dystopian yet highly relatable setting.

The issues of powerful totalitarian states, drug abuse, drug treatment and general paranoia are examined, never in too much detail, but with the right balance of black humour and seriousness.

Whilst I would perhaps like to see this story adapted in real life motion, the rotoscoping does more to add than take away from the material and viewing experience, creating an enjoyable film which hits higher than the average indie drama flick.

Adam Kelly
Adam Kelly

Super Reviewer


In 2002, director Richard Linklater delivered a, little-seen, gem of a film called "Waking Life". In this, he used an animation technique called 'rotoscoping'. Basically it was animation added over live actors. The results were highly effective and he decided to use the technique here, on this adaptation of Philip K. Dick's paranoid science fiction novel. Once again, the results are superb.
In the near future, Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) an undercover cop, is given the assignment to bring down a vast network of drug distribution dealing in "Substance D" - which is highly addictive and mind altering. He fully immerses himself in the lifestyle, to the point were he has become an addict himself and even his superiors don't know his cover story. As a result, they order him to spy on himself. Being under the influence regularly, it causes him to lose his grip on reality where nothing is clear anymore.
This was a film that had gained interest from a couple of notable players in the film business. Director Terry Gilliam ("The Fisher King", "12 Monkeys") was interested at one point and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich", "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind") had actually drafted a screenplay that was eventually unused. One can only wonder at what might have came of this adaptation had they been involved but that doesn't lessen the fact that Linklater has done a sterling job here. For a start, his decision to implement the "interpolated rotoscoping" animation again was a stroke of genius. On "Waking Life" it complimented the existential dream-like story and it is used similarly on this film. It's a technique that could be in danger of overuse but when the story and characters themselves are operating from an occasional surreal point of view, rotoscoping is perfectly fitting. It serves as a metaphor for the characters' drug induced alternate realities and allows us to identify with their paranoia and personal identity. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it might take away from the actors' performances but it doesn't. In some ways it enhances them. Reeves is an actor that has came in for some criticism throughout his career but he's really rather good here and the support, from Harrelson and especially Downey Jr, is excellent. Who better to be included in a film of substance abuse than a couple of actors who have dabbled in their time? The script is also very faithful to Philip K. Dick's writing. You can tell Linklater has invested a lot of his time in adapting, what is essentially, some of Dick's own paranoid thoughts - he was heavily involved in the abuse of amphetamines and psychedelics - and explores the usual themes involved in his novels; the sociological and political aspects of human society under the control of an authoritarian government. If your a fan of Dick's musings then you'll find them all here. The only fault with the film could be found in it's slightly lethargic pace but the visuals and thought provoking content are so astounding that the pace is forgiven. Sometimes Philip K. Dick's stories are not given the proper treatment in movies. There are stinkers like "Next" and "Paycheck" but this ranks very highly alongside the successful ones like "Total Recall" and especially "Blade Runner".
A thought-provoking head-trip of a film that delivers both intellectually and visually.

Mark Walker

Super Reviewer


While I do not recommend this film to everyone, it is a must see. "A Scanner Darkly" follows drug addicts who are hiding from society, after the war on drugs was lost. This film takes place years into the future, while staying true to the fact that the future will not be much different than it is now. I really enjoyed the converted animation, which truly expressed the story even more. I must say that it can become a little hard to follow at times and the story can become a little disjointed, but the heart of the story is what truly matters and director Richard Linklater knows what and why he is making (this movie). The performances are witty and loveable, the script is very well written, and the conclusion really tells the audience how much of an impact drugs can have on someones life. I really enjoyed "A Scanner Darkly," and even though it will not appeal to everyone, I give it a solid recommendation!

KJ Proulx
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

A Scanner Darkly Quotes

Bob Arctor:
I saw death rising from the earth...from the ground one blue field.
– Submitted by Ram C (5 months ago)
Charles Freck:
What do you think about the New Path?
James 'Jim' Barris:
While it doesn't matter what I think, I kinda have to tip my hat to any entity that can bring so much integrity to evil.
– Submitted by Ram C (18 months ago)
James 'Jim' Barris:
In this day and age, the type of society we find ourselves living in, every person of worth needs to have a gun at all times to protect themselves.
– Submitted by Dann M (2 years ago)
James 'Jim' Barris:
This is a world getting progressively worse. Can we not agree on that?
– Submitted by Dann M (2 years ago)
Ernie Luckman:
Let's just go rescue the orphan gears, Dude!
– Submitted by William L (2 years ago)
Bob Arctor:
Everywhere else can be monitored, but no not at New Path.
Donna Hawthorn:
[in the scramble suit] Hey, that's their contract with the gonernment.
– Submitted by Miles B (3 years ago)

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