A Scanner Darkly was my first Phillip K. Dick novel, and was a surprisingly difficult read. Difficult not just to get a fix on his writing style but to get my head around what Dick was trying to say. In the end though, it was worth it, being one of those experiences where the moment the last page turns, the realisation comes of how profoundly brilliant and unexpected the entire thing has been.
The film strays very little from the book; in fact, `straying' is the wrong word, as Linklater has really gone all out to be faithful to the original story here, with an obvious and unflagging respect. In the name of continuity one can appreciate that some changes were necessary, for example, the complete omission of the character of Jerry Fabin, instead coalescing he and Charles Freck into the one body, but none that will permit anyone to moan. Most of the big scenes from the book are here, gloriously visual, and the ones that while missing, are not missed (for example, Arctor's visit to an abusive drug dealer's girl).
The film, while by no means short, does seem to be truncated in a way that hampers the progression of the story. Arctor's mental descent was a huge part of the novel, with many mind-boggling pages spent following the slow death of his brain cells and the gradual division of his brain from his mind and his mind from his ability to live. The film doesn't give a different version of events, but how quickly it all occurs gives a feeling of slight uneasiness and all seems just a little off-kilter. Perhaps this is a blessing after all, as Linklater could easily have decided to go down the time-ignorant route and spent a good fifteen minutes devoted to artistic shots and meaningless, predictable, endless prose as Arctor's world unravels.
A Scanner Darkly is about a number of things, namely drug addiction, relationships and their ensuing fragility, state control, corruption, ends justifying the means and personal hell, but comes nowhere close to being a lecture in morality. It is one of Dick's most personal pieces of writing, and I don't believe he was really trying to say anything, just to tell a story; people's stories that, while packaged in a box that screams the colours of science-fiction, are far from complete works of fiction.