A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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 this thought-provoking film 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.
Talk to your kids 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?
- In theaters: July 7, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: 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.
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