You have to take it all in context — the seemingly philosophical rants, the overly drawn sense of paranoia, even the hallucinogenic environment. Such a euphoric state is usually the result of large doses of some mind-altering substance formally known as a narcotic.
While in such a state, we are easily swept into an alternate version of our own reality. It allows us the opportunity to do things we would not normally imagine ourselves doing. A similar euphoric state is created during the viewing of Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, which coincidentally is an intended effect.
Right off the bat we are hurled into a unique world of the future where the nation’s drug problem is more than just a problem; it has become a plague. We are focused in on Orange County, where an undercover detective (Keanu Reeves) has assimilated himself into a small group of what he hopes to be people of importance in the dealing of a drug named Substance D.
This group is made up of the philosophical and melodramatic Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), the spacey Ernie (Woody Harrelson), the completely over the edge druggy Freck (Rory Cochrane) and his lovely but frigid girlfriend, Donna (Winona Ryder), all of whom seem to be mysteriously involved in something potentially big.
As he follows his orders and dives deeper into the dark and unforgiving world of drugs, he realizes he is beginning to change along with those around him. He must find a way to break through his own addictions and find his way to the root of the Substance D network.
We are sent spinning into the depths of a film that feels almost like a hallucination. In a rehashing of the technique that Director Linklater used in the previously acclaimed film Waking Life, he uses live action that has been animated over with the use of a technique called interpolated rotoscoping (try that on for size.)
Basically the movie has a very unique look, which creates, in many instances, the feeling of being under the influence. To say that such a style is new and revolutionary would be overkill, as Linklater used it in 2001, but it is the first time he has put it to use for such a mainstream project. The film itself is absolutely beautiful as a work of art. It cannot be ignored that, without the animated effect of being high, this film may not have been as alluring.
Once you get past the allure of such a delightful visual experience, you are greeted by a few very solid, if not great performances, the first of which is the very cynical and intelligent mind of Robert Downey Jr. personified in the character of Barris.