Sitting here right now I can barely recall a thing about Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly. It was a movie that when it came out seemed intriguing. I remember watching his Waking Life on Sundance Channel one bored evening back in the late 90s and really liking it. It had this druggy, existential feel to it with the animation done over the already shot film(a process called rotoscoping.) It was a movie that after I watched it I was happy I had a channel like The Sundance Channel. Without it I would’ve never seen movies like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight, or his short Cigarettes and Coffee. I wouldn’t have seen countless amazing short films with people like Lili Taylor, Michael Imperioli, and Ian Hart. Tree’s Lounge was another one I loved that I caught on Sundance.
But let’s get back to A Scanner Darkly.
I knew it was another movie where Linklater shot it on film then went back and drew animation over the film. I knew A Scanner Darkly was based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, so that boded well for me wanting to see it. The movie also touted a pretty solid cast that included Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downy, Jr, and Winona Ryder to name a few. So when it showed up in the mail from Netflix back in early 2007 you’d think I would’ve been excited to watch it, right? Right?
My memory doesn’t serve me very well regarding this movie because when I watched it I was lying in my bed suffering from food poisoning. I’d bought a tainted jar of peanut butter and not only me, but my two youngest(ages 4 and 2) all got a heavy dose of the pukes. I was lying in bed on a Sunday afternoon trying to make sense of this trippy movie in-between trying to ignore those pre-vomit pangs in my gut. It was quite a nauseating afternoon. A Scanner Darkly didn’t go well with my Peter Pan peanut butter salmonella sufferings. I haven’t attempted a re-watch since. Not sure why, really. Maybe there’s some PTSD vibes with the movie now. Maybe not. I haven’t been willing to find out.
So fast forward to now and my recent purchase of the soundtrack to A Scanner Darkly by Graham Reynolds and the Golden Arm Trio. Maybe it’s curiosity that made me do it. Maybe it’s my attempt at making peace with a rather nasty experience. Whatever the reason may be, I’m glad I pulled the trigger on this one because it’s pretty damn special.
There’s a certain amount of paranoia that permeates Graham Reynolds soundtrack. It should come as no surprise given the film(and novel’s) story. It’s a story about a future where 20% of the population is addicted to a new drug called Substance D. Cops wear scramble suits which change their looks daily so no one knows their true identity, which is good for Keanu Reeves Bob Arctor as he’s a drug user and addict in his personal life. He was assigned to go undercover to try and bust a known Substance D dealer, a woman Donna whom Arctor has grown feelings for. There’s also Bob’s drug-addicted roommates at his rundown house in Anaheim, California where they sit around for hours and talk about conspiracy theories and how the world as we know it isn’t real.
It’s a pretty crazy story. Add to it the hallucinogenic way it was shot and you’re looking at one crazy film experience. The soundtrack plays on the paranoia, while also laying in some serious beauty. “Strawberry Pie(featuring Golden Arm Trio)” has a “Sleepwalk” vibe. It sound like Texas in a ruminating mood. “7 Years From Now” seeps in slowly like ominous smoke from some distant fire. Lilting cello mixes with vibes and low drones. It sets the mood for what’s to come. “Aphids” sounds like imaginary bugs crawling up your back. Equal parts “Peter Gunn Theme” and Eric Dolphy at his most out there. “The Dark World Where I Dwell” makes great use of strings and vibes, giving this piece a Jon Brion-meets-James Newton Howard feel. There’s equal parts sweetness and darkness here.
The great thing about this score is that Graham Reynolds and the Golden Arm Trio really capture the unmistakable paranoia that comes with drugs. You don’t know what’s real and what’s not. There are moments of ecstatic joy and moments of Hellish doom. There’s also a real jazz feel here. Early 60s beatnik stuff that brings to mind guys like Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and the smokey, dilapidated apartments where these guys created their worlds.
Philip K. Dick came from that world as well, and musically you can feel a real kinship between the story being told and the music. Dick’s work is papered with drug-fueled paranoia. But past the drugs there’s an underlying feeling of understanding what’s real and what’s not. Is this reality, or is reality located on some other plane. Technology plays a big part in his work, as it does here as well. Suits that hide our identity, surveillance, and the overall loss of privacy. Dick was a big picture writer. Look at what’s come of some of his best writing: Blade Runner, Minority Report, Paycheck, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, Next, and of course, A Scanner Darkly.
I’ve gotten over my aversion to peanut butter and have once again fell in love with its smooth and creamy pleasures. And I do believe I’ve gotten past my not wanting to watch A Scanner Darkly again. In fact, I think it’s high time to step back into Philip K. Dick’s world via the mind of Richard Linklater. Graham Reynolds’ amazing soundtrack has helped get to this point.