It’s a rare movie that gets better as it goes as it goes along. That territory is more reserved for books. Perhaps its by staying true to the book that A Scanner Darkly achieves this feat. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know. What I can say is that the film is intricate and fascinating, confusing and charming.
One of the hallmarks of a good mystery film is watching how the story unfolds. The viewer is presented with a problem and as the plot progresses she follows the strands of logic that end up on a reliably good explanation for the cause of the problem. Scanner functions almost completely the opposite. The viewer starts out fully immersed in the problem so wrapped up in its intricacies that it is only at the very end does he fully understand what mystery he has been unraveling.
A lot of recent films — especially those with twists — have succumbed to the “Kaiser Sose Effect” where a twist ending is a requirement rather than an unexpected treat. Usually this leads to a predictable “shock” as the entire plot up till the revelation is turned upon its head. Though it would be hard to describe the plot of Scanner as devoid of twists the twists function less as gimics. The film is like an intricate tapestry that starts on a microscopic level and as it runs its course the audience is slowly pulled out to see the larger picture.
This is probably why the rotoscoping technique — which is getting so much of the press for the film — works so well to convey the story. The film’s plot like its texture is shaded and colored in an impressionistic vain. Shapes, persons, objects are understood more for the emotional reaction their presentation evokes than for their act of existing and re-presented as whole, fixed objects.
If you find my review confusing try watching the film.