Dir. Richard Linklater
This is an object that demands to be seen in motion, as evidenced by my use of a .gif above. For a video, see here. Based off the novel of the same name by the great sci-fi author Philip K.Dick, author of works that would be adapted (very loosely) into Minority Report, Blade Runner, and Total Recall, among others, A Scanner Darkly is probably the most faithful adaption of all Dick's work. I've read the book, and the script is faithful to a tee, with Linklater's choice to rotoscope the entire film going a long way to capture the hazy, drug-induced feel of Dick's prose. The prose remains here in the script, so the effect is twofold.
The scanner suits add to this effect as a whole. We are introduced to them very early in the film, following an initial scene which acts as our anchor to the rotoscope effect, as the effect of the scramble suit would confuse the audience initially atop the unusual rotoscope. In the universe of the film, set 'seven years from now' (a great way to set it-up by the way, always implying this future could be around the corner), the police are outfitted with scramble suits, which cast a shimmering hodge-podge of appearances over their own body. Faces of different ethnicities, with different bone structures and hairstyles flash and blend into one another, with the body changing cloth colour, type, and shape. The reason is that the officers are acting undercover, and so this protects their identities from the general public, as well as their fellow officers.
'Fred' (Keanu Reeves), as he is codenamed, is undercover as Bob Arctor, a drug-addict to substance-D, a revolutionary new drug overtaking the city, with 20% addicted. He goes about his days with other addicts, such as Robert Downey Jr's Barris. His goal while undercover is to incriminate Donna (Winona Ryder), a substance-D supplier. The problem is, he's taking substance-D himself as part of being undercover, and so falls into the same paranoia of his addict friends, however he has more of an identity crisis as he seems to forget whether he is 'Fred' or Bob Arctor.
It's worth noting the obvious here, the name Arctor resembling 'actor' and the irony of a cop taking drugs in order to stop others illegally taking drugs. With the scramble suit on, he can't reveal to his colleagues who he even is undercover as in the house. Bob Arctor then becomes his 'true' self, as that is who he is all-time when off-duty. When in the police station he is this faceless person within the suit. It's alienating, and hammers home the duality of an undercover cop so well. No, in fact, it makes it something more, it flips the tables completely. Chuck drugs into the matter and the whole thing becomes even more confusing - just like being on drugs. The script, animation-style, and objects of the film inform us of 'Fred''s experience, atop showing us.
Also on top of this is the fact that his colleagues are spying on Arctor, in other words, 'Fred' himself. They know that 'Fred' may be Arctor, yet they continue regardless, as they believe Arctor to be the head of the whole gang (gang, as in gang of people, not thugs). So 'Fred' has to deal with the drug-users thinking he's Arctor while being an undercover cop, and the police knowing he's undercover, but he has to hide that he is Arctor.
Let's go deeper down the rabbit hole. Add Barris, who comes to 'Fred''s place of work, willing to snitch on Arctor, who Barris believes to be a terrorist due to the shiftiness of his actions around them. Isn't it just hilarious that by the act of being an undercover cop, 'Fred' is accused of being a terrorist? The two opposing elements of cop vs. traditional 'bad-guy', seen in the drug-user vs. cop, is even seen among the drug addled, with drug-user (in reality, an undercover cop) vs. terrorist.
There's another scene where a person in a scramble suit watches the tapes of the household with Arctor and co., with some events happening live, and some recorded. For a minute or so we are unsure if this is 'Fred' himself, or his handler 'Hank'. It turns out to be 'Fred' but again, isn't that great? We the audience can't tell who is who, again hammering home the difficulty 'Fred' lives with in his workplace, and in the house when he forgets who he is.
To add to all this, we are given a twist. It turns out that 'Fred''s handler, 'Hank', who has had a predominantly male-synthesised voice throughout by the suit, is in fact Donna, the person 'Fred' has been spying on and been romantically involved with. It transpires that the real-target was Barris all along, who they successfully incriminate.
Hold on to your hats folks, we're going even deeper. It turns out that the whole spying act was all a ruse, with Barris as a cherry on top, as the main goal was to have 'Fred' get so addicted to substance-D, that he can be sent to New-Path, a rehab clinic. Why go to a rehab clinic? Well, so that he can be undercover as Hank/Donna (with Donna not even being that person's real name), and other officer Mike (Dameon Clarke), suspect that New-Path are the actual suppliers of substance-D. Confused? You likely are.
What we have here is the deepest layers, and combination of inter-twining layers, of 'undercoverness' that I've ever seen! There's double crossings, and even triple-crossings, it's crazy! Crazy. Now there's the crux. What does substance-D do? It makes you hallucinate, lose sense of reality, forget who you are. 'Fred' is truly addicted and so goes to New-Path honestly, 'Donna' and Mike only hope that he'll hold on to his inner-sense of being a lawman to expose New-Path as the originaters of substance-D.
Let's look at New-Path. They act as a rehab clinic, yet they use their inmate substance-D suffers as tenders to the fields that grow the flower that becomes substance-D, for the reason that the sufferers can't comprehend what they are doing. 'Fred' seems to have an understanding in the last scene of the film, however we are unsure if he can retain this thought, or even if he can return to sanity. Frankly, with all the events of the film and the drugs combined I wouldn't be surprised if he never does. It shows however that even the rehab clinics are the complete opposite of what they seem, supplying the drug they treat, for experimental purposes.
The scramble suits then act as a symbol of everything the film is trying to thematically display. Paranoia, changing identities, psychedelia, and a lack of humanity. 'Donna' asks herself if it was ethically right to addict 'Fred' to substance-D for the greater good, as they are no better than New-Path. What it goes to show is that the authority figures, even when righting wrongs, have to subvert rights into wrongs to do so. Mike reassures her, video here, that all the subterfuge they used will be worth it in the end, as the details will be forgotten, but the positive effects will be felt. Maybe there is some humanity in there afterall? But like being under a drug, it's all so hazy.