Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Through the Scary Door, Darkly
I went to see the new film version of the Phillip K Dick book, A Scanner Darkly, at the weekend with some friends (I'm on hols at the moment, whoo hoo!).
The film features a burned out cast of Hollywood thirty-somethings, so it had a suitably sleazy look (the Aha-esque cartoon design also adds to the aura of trippiness and creeping dread, watch for some subtle but effective halucinogenic touches).
It stars Keanu Reeves... Don't let that put you off! I know he has only two characters, Ted from Bill and Ted and himself, but he just about manages to shoehorn into the role of undercover narcotics agent Bob Arctor. He hits only a few bum notes, particularly in the scene where he and his friends become convinced the house has been broken into and prepared for a raid. The dialogue spirals out into ever more insane and stupid second-guesses and Albert Jarry solutions.
In terms of performance though he is outshone by Winonna Ryder, as Donna Hawthorne (the only character truly in control throughout the story, watch her 'til the very end), and Robert Downey Jnr, who seems to have a ball as Jim Barris.
From a dangerously Dave Spart perspective, one of the interesting things Phillip K Dick said about A Scanner Darkly was that it wasn't a "bourgeois" novel. The novel is, of course, the most fundementally bourgeois artform, both in its creation, its historical development and its consumption.
A non-bourgeois novel is a tricky thing to pull off. PKD (I'm not calling him "Dick", by the way) avoids this by denying the story a satisfactory ending, i.e going from balance to imbalance back to a new, improved balance with a customary moral at the end. For what was (then) and attempt at near-future sci-fi, PKD goes much further back, using the Greek literary device of nemesis.
It's interesting to note, but the majority of attempts to go beyond the confines of the traditional novel, has quite often led authors back to pre-bourgeois forms of storytelling. Pick a few at random, Kerouac's spontanism (the epic poem) or Joyce's mythological method.
The film is, of course, an exploration of drug use and its effects upon society and long term consciousness. Central to the story and its conclusion is the similarity between the underworld and the bureaucracy, shadowy, deceptive places where "order" and the expectations of civil society breakdown. Ultimately they act upon each other in every symbiosis.