One of the most fascinating films for me was Antonioni's 1966 film "Blow Up". When a photographer goes to a park for some random shots, he gradually discovers that he has photographed a murder. As the plot moves along, the borders between reality and fantasy gradually blur and almost disappear. So it is with Richard Linklater's film of Philip Dick's book "Scanned Darkly." The main character, played by Keanu Reeves moves into at least three different manifestations, and one is never quite certain as to which manifestation one is dealing.
Aside from the human history that is being told (the book is based on Dick's own dealing with drug abuse), there are other elements that make the translation of the message difficult and obtuse. The images of the film are rotoscoped, and have a flat, and unreal quality about them, which serves the purposes of the film well. In some aspects they are almost cartoon-like, and it is initially difficult to see the film's purpose through these highly processed images until late in the film. The fascination with the images soon melts away, and one is drawn to the dialogue that becomes more coherent as the film continues.
The cartoon quality also led to a comedic sense that the audience picked up on, or clung to out of desperation. I was reminded of P.D.Q. Bach's cantata "Iphigenia in Brooklyn", and it's last lines, "only he who is running knows" In the recording, the audience only gradually recognizes the pun and begins to laugh. In this film it is the opposite with the audience only gradually beginning to recognize the tragedy that is being portrayed here the laughter slowly subsiding, until at the end, there was silence.
The roles played by Robert Downey, Jr., and Woody Harrelson also deflect us from the central struggle of the film. They are engaging comforts in the midst of a difficult scenario. At the end, just before the credits roll, the author's final notes make us look and realize. I was reminded of the time my friend Barton and I went to see "Bent" in New York City in the '70s. It took us a subway trip from Times Square, cross-town, and up into the 80s on the Lexington Ave. subway before we could find words for our despair.
So it is here. The message and the images, however, are worth it.
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