A Scanner Darkly



Provocative animated sci-fi. Not for kids.
  • Review Date: December 19, 2006
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 2006
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Drug users and dealers, undercover cops (narcs) and organization/city officials all lie to betray one another. Police are brutal.


Addict imagines bug attack, then a shooting in the head (brief, brutal image); various falls and threats made by paranoid drug users; the central drug is said to destroy brains.


(All animated): Breasts visible, sexual activity explicit and brief; young men discuss sex with a woman.


Frequent language: multiple f-words (over 30); slightly fewer s-words; some creative permutations of obscenities ("freckle-d---").

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Frequent cigarette smoking; "drug epidemic" drives the plot (the drug severs brain hemispheres); characters sell and purchase drugs, smoke cigarettes (cigarette butts fill several ashtrays), drink liquor, discuss and name drugs (cocaine, for example).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this animated science fiction film includes frequent discussions of drugs, both real (cocaine) and not (something called Substance D). Addicts, dealers, and cops lie to each other and lament their loss of trust and community. Characters also drink and smoke cigarettes. A sex scene shows a woman's naked body (including exposed breasts) during the act, which is fairly explicit. There is rough language and some gritty images, incuding a drug addict imagining himself being shot in the head, and another throwing up while being admitted to an alleged rehab center.

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What's the story?

Set in the near future ("seven years from now"), and based on a 1977 Philip K. Dick science fiction novel, A SCANNER DARKLY concerns undercover narcotics agent Fred (Keanu Reeves), who is also a dealer named Bob. To keep his cover, he's been using, and now he's hooked on a fictional futuristic drug called Substance D. Bob is supposed to uncover some dealing kingpin, who may be himself. His roommates are Barris (a very memorable Robert Downey Jr.) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson).

Is it any good?


To the extent that A Scanner Darkly adopts any conventional form, it establishes Bob as the most sympathetic of the addicts. Examined by doctors, Bob learns that his use of D is having its inevitable effect, severing the hemispheres in his brain, such that he can no longer keep track of his multiple lives, forgetting where he is and what he's doing. Primary among Bob's confusions is his relationship with his girl, also his dealer, Donna (Winona Ryder). Like other woman characters imagined by Philip Dick, Donna is more baffling and remote than dependable, but she also pulses with a sense of grim knowledge.

One of the film's most compelling inventions is the "scramble suit," which serves partly as undercover device for Bob and his co-workers, partly as means to evade responsibility and seek revelation, and partly as metaphors for lost identities. The characters who wear them look like everyone and no one, their outward appearances shifting millions of times per minute. Scanner's unique animation is striking, and the conspiracy that begins to unravel -- through a disintegrating drug addicts perspective -- is equally seductive. Mature viewers may not always understand what is happening on screen, but they will be compelled none the less.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the animated style here. Why was it made this way? What does it do to the viewer's relationship with the characters? Does it add to the futuristic feel? Families may also want to talk about some of the common themes in science fiction -- the constant tracking of civilians, for example. How does this movie compare to other sci fi? Finally, families may want to discuss the addicts. Are they truly friends? Is anybody ultimately sympathetic?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 7, 2006
DVD release date:December 19, 2006
Cast:Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder
Director:Richard Linklater
Studio:Warner Independent
Genre:Science Fiction
Run time:100 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:some harsh profanity, brief nudity, brief strong sexuality.

This review of A Scanner Darkly was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Adult Written bywahid April 9, 2008

Not for Kids

The story and seens are definitely not for kids.
Kid, 11 years old April 9, 2008
Teen, 16 years old Written bymoviemogul 2.0;... April 9, 2008

Awesome movie, and a pretty good adaption of a great novel

Keanu is back in this awesome movie, where the use of drugs has split his brain into two conflicting hemispheres, rather than two that work together. Because of this, he has problems remembering everything that he has been doing lately. Also, another thing this movie addresses is if the government should be allowed to survey people within their homes. In a sense, "Scanner" is a bit like "1984" by George Orwell. As for the live-action animation-- that was spectacular to look at, and helped add to the feel of the movie. As for content, the worse thing to worry about is the sex, but it was rather brief. The language isn't nearly as bad as other movies, such as "Good Will Hunting", but could trouble some people. However, I think if you're thirteen or up, than the language isn't something that you haven't heard already. So overall, this movie was fantastic, and I can't wait to see again with my friends.


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