Movie Spree

The past four days, our family has watched four movies: A Scanner Darkly, Pirates 2, The Philadelphia Story, and High Society. (To be exact, the boys and I went out Friday night, while Margaret and Pip opted out of Scanner and stayed home to watch Spies Like Us.)

The classic movies were part of a family tradition, to which we were introducing Si’s girlfriend Laura. Whenever conversation lags in the Adam household, you can stir it up by suggesting that Katherine Hepburn is as beautiful as Grace Kelly, or that the addition of Louis Armstrong and Cole Porter makes up for the absence of Cary Grant. And, of course, when someone feels groggy in the morning, they always say, “This is one of those days that the pages of history teach us are best spent lying in bed.”

About Pirates 2, I don’t have much to say; it’s still a very slick movie about an amusement park ride. The animation of the doomed sailors worked very well; I enjoyed watching Bill Nighy, whose face came through clearly under the Chthulesque make-up. Johnny Depp was Johnny Depp, and Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom ran around and buckled swashes. The lack of even a shade of resolution at the end of this installment annoyed me, but I’ll still go to Pirates 3.

I was deeply impressed by A Scanner Darkly, though I understand why some people might not be. I loved the novel (one of P K Dick’s better-realized books) for the same reason: Dick writes about people I knew and cared for, with sympathy and honesty and sadness. Viewers who don’t recognize anyone they know or love among the characters of the movie will have reason to wonder why they should care about a hundred minutes of awkwardly-animated, drug-addled paranoia. David wasn’t convinced by the animation; I’d argue that the rotoscoping contributes to the movie’s ambiguous sense of reality. If the film were presented straight (so to speak), it would seem to assert the reality of everything it showed; by presenting everything in a way that raises the question “is this a hallucination, or is this what’s actually happening?” the rotoscoping underlines the novel’s challenges to what counts for reality.

David’s daughter thought that the movie’s affecting afterword cut against the plot’s grain. The afterword mourns the fate of souls who suffered disproportionately for their playing; the movie depicts the world of drug use as an abyss of vacuous, destructive, exploitive selfishness. Dick and Linklater don’t soften the movie’s judgment on drug use by presenting us with an attractive version of drug experience; I think that’s both politically and cinematically the right decision, but it leaves viewers without a convincing reason anyone would take Substance D in the first place. Still, I admired the movie and it touched me as the novel did; I understand why some viewers won’t like it, but anyone who might like it should give it a chance.

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. [SPOILER!!!]

    Our daughter’s point, which I tiptoed around so as not to spoil anything, was that the movie seemed to blame society (as we used to say) and evil corporations, while the afterword seemed to put the responsibility on the individuals. Of course this isn’t an either/or, but the movie stressed the either and the afterword was all about the or.

    But I agree that the movie is worth seeing. And I like your point about the effect of the rotoscoping.

  2. My reservations in seeing A Scanner Darkly all surround the rotoscoping technique. I found it intensely distracting in Waking Life, and am hesitant to buy into an apparent gimmick. A recent review of the film by Manolha Darghis said that the movie would be better if we could see the actual shadows that no doubt exist on Robert Downey Jr.’s face. At any rate, we will go see it.

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