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->This has been a novel about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did. They wanted to have a good time, but they were like children playing in the street; they could see one after another of them being killed - run over, maimed, destroyed - but they continued to play anyhow. We really all were very happy for a while, sitting around not toiling but just bullshitting and playing, but it was for such a terrible brief time, and then the punishment was beyond belief: even when we could see it, we could not believe it...
-->--'''A Scanner Darkly''', afterword, ''Creator/PhilipKDick''

A classic 1977 [[BlackComedy darkly comic]] [[{{Dystopia}} dystopian]] ScienceFiction novel by Creator/PhilipKDick. Dick dedicated the book to numerous people he personally knew that died, became insane or irreversibly ruined their health because of drugs. Among that list he placed himself, as his own early 70's drug use had destroyed his pancreas and eventually caused his premature death in 1982.

Bob Arctor, the protagonist, is an undercover narc in the war on [[FantasticDrug Substance D]], a drug which gradually destroys a person's ability to think or perceive reality. Substance D deteriorates a person's mind, until they are obsessed only with the drug, and endanger themselves and others going after it. It seems to be made in only one place, but the narcs just can't seem to find that place or stop the flow.

When Arctor appears in public, doing anti-drug talks or comparing notes with other narcs, he wears a special suit that hides his features completely by changing how he looks every second and removes the affect from his voice. His supervisor and colleagues simply know him as "Fred". This is supposed to be to protect the narcs from internal corruption; not knowing what your fellow undercover agents look like makes it much harder for a crooked cop to sell out to the cartels.

Bob only wears this suit when he's in straight society. In the world he's infiltrating, a world of poverty and crime, he uses no disguise. As Bob, he blends in well, fitting in more with the people he scopes out than with the straights. He even uses Substance D, the better to blend in. The narcs are aiming for the big dealers, and they hope that Arctor will lead them to the people they're hunting for by hanging out with the small fish.

But Arctor's drug use is starting to impair his thinking. His current case, strongly suspected of being a major Substance D dealer, slips out of his grasp by entering a rehab center. The rehab centers give the people who enter completely fresh starts, and our protagonist's attempt to get confidential info from the one that suspect entered simply wrecks the chance of his using it again, either for info or for rehab.

So Bob talks, in disguise as "Fred", with his superior, also in disguise, to get his next case. The boss seems understanding about his losing his quarry. So they discuss all the Substance D users in the neighborhood; this requires him to talk about "Arctor" as if he were someone else, since doing otherwise would make it clear who he was and make him a direct target for corrupt cops. His boss determines that the "Arctor" he reports on is behaving suspiciously and getting large amounts of money at irregular intervals; it's actually reward money from Bob's successful tips, but, not knowing "Arctor" is a narc, the boss thinks he might be a dealer... and so "Fred" is given the assignment of ''spying on himself''. Which doesn't make things easier on his drug-addled brain.

In 2006, it was [[AnimatedAdaptation adapted]] into a [[TheFilmOfTheBook movie]] by RichardLinklater, starring Creator/KeanuReeves, Woody Harrelson, Creator/RobertDowneyJr, and WinonaRyder. Neither a traditional live-action nor animated feature, the movie was recorded on digital video and then [[{{Rotoscoping}} rotoscoped]] to create a graphic novel-like visual effect. Both versions of the story are well-loved, although some significant elements of the film are different from the novel.

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!! This book provides examples of:

* AsTheGoodBookSays: The title is a modern spin on the famous quote by St Paul in 1 Corinthians, (to see imperfectly) "through a glass, darkly".
* ArcWords: If I had known it was harmless, I would have killed it myself.
* AreYouPonderingWhatImPondering: Invoked by Luckman and Arctor to irritate Barris, who's working on the car, and to terminally confuse Freck.
* BecomingTheMask:
** So much so, Bob forgets that he's also Fred, while Fred forgets he ever used to be Bob...
** Also in a secondary sense, the mask of "Bob" the druggie and "Fred" the narc also become solely his identity as he loses who he was before. His brain becomes so dissociated from who he has become that it speaks to him in German.
* BittersweetEnding: Going almost into DownerEnding territory. [[spoiler: By the end of the book, Bob/Fred's Substance D addiction has caused him such catastrophic brain damage that he completely loses his sanity and sense of self, and he's shipped off to the only rehab center for Substance D in existence. Only it turns out that the people running the rehab center are the ones growing the flowers that Substance D is distilled from, and that Donna was really an undercover cop who purposely pushed Bob/Fred into his breakdown so she'd have a mole in their organization. The only thing keeping the book from looking too down is that Bob/Fred retains enough presence of mind to bring the evidence back home to his superiors...]]
* BlackAndGrayMorality:
** the cops are using questionable means, the drug dealers are pushing a drug that kills people, and the [[spoiler: rehab clinic is growing the drug it claims it's trying to stop]]. No real good guys here...
** The rehab clinic and the people who run it are pretty much the only side in the entire book that have the word "BAD" ''clearly'' written over them in big black letters.
* BungledSuicide: Freck's attempt, in the movie. In the book, the suicide attempt is his last appearance in the story, so it may have actually worked.
* CastAsAMask: In the movie, Mark Turner plays "Hank", who is later revealed to be [[spoiler:Winona Ryder's character, Donna]].
* CastingGag: Creator/RobertDowneyJr, who's infamous for his highly publicized drug problems (which he was just recovering from at the time the movie came out) is cast as a drug addict living in a household full of them.
* ChekhovsGun: [[spoiler: Bob's psychiatric evaluators keep dropping hints that he should give Donna some flowers to help kindle romance. It's a ploy to plant the idea of retrieving flowers from New Path's farms once he's been turned into a ManchurianAgent]].
* ComedicSociopathy: Barris, both as written but especially as played by Robert Downey Jr.
* TheConspiracy:
** [[spoiler: Evil Plan - New Path are the ones making and distributing Substance D. Given their size and power they have had the laws changed so they can't be investigated by the police and are thus verging on a GovernmentConspiracy]].
** [[spoiler: CovertGroup - A number of the police force are certain that New Path are the ones responsible for Substance D and are working undercover to bring them to justice. Doing so requires... [[IDidWhatIHadToDo questionable methods]] however]].
* CorruptCorporateExecutive: [[spoiler:Given that their business plan appears to be "manufacture enough Substance D to get the majority of the US hooked on it, so that the government will grant us even more power" it's safe to say that the bosses at New Path are all this]].
* CreatorCameo: In and out of universe, both in regard to the scramble suit. The suit works by mixing and matching facial and body features constantly, but very very randomly, the face of the inventor will pop up complete on the face of the suit. In the movie, at one point, Philip K. Dick's face makes its way onto the suit.
* DatingCatwoman: Subverted. Bob/Fred says he loves Donna and would love to date her, but never ultimately does. She claims she doesn't date. He does have sex with someone and hallucinates that its Donna, though...
* TheDeadHaveNames: The epigraph to both the novel and the film.
* DeepCoverAgent:
** [[spoiler: Donna is actually Hank who is actually Audrey, part of a cabal of police officers covertly investigating New Path]].
** [[spoiler: Mike is Audrey's colleague and although he's been successfully infiltrating New Path for years he's been unable to get access to the farms where he suspects Substance D is being manufactured]].
* DerangedAnimation: One of the greatest benefits of rotoscoping the film was that it became easy to seamlessly blend realistic imagery into ThisIsYourPremiseOnDrugs. Freck's "aphids" freakout is the first example and it only gets worse from there...
* DrivenToMadness: Arctor by the dichotomy of spying on himself, which slowly cleaves away his sanity... and then [[TheFourthWallWillNotProtectYou eventually the reader]].
* DrugsAreBad:
** The whole point behind the anvils it drops.
** However, what was different in this book it that through it clearly shows that the drugs are destructive, it asks the question: if the reality without drugs isn't a world you want to live in, what's the point? It shows the pay off: a brief life of dark instability where wonderful moments can still happen, terminated quickly by damage, psychosis and death; or a world of straight living where nothing changes and routine just whiles away the interminable time of your long life. That entire struggle is manifest in Arctor's decision to become an undercover cop, and then in the identity split between Fred and Arctor. Par the course, really, for PKD's dystopian view of reality, the question is discussed vigorously and never answered.
*** Well, until the afterward anyway, where the long list of Dick's now dead, dying or incurably insane addict friends essentially screams "NOT WORTH IT".
* EmptyShell: [[spoiler: Arctor]] becomes this by the end of the story.
* {{Foreshadowing}}: "Hank", Bob/Fred's superior in the police force, drops some subtle foreshadowing about {{the reveal}} at the end when he's telling "Fred" how his investigation will work. He says "No one in the police force will know who you are. You could be Jim Barris, Ernie Luckman, or even Arctor himself. Hell, you could be ''Donna'' for all we know..." [[spoiler: At the end, it turns out that "Hank" was a disguised Donna all along]].
** Contemplating his neighborhood, Bob/Fred speculates that at the rate [=McDonald's=] sales tally is going, everyone will wind up selling the same hamburgers back and forth to one another. [[spoiler: Because Donna is actually Hank, the drugs she's been selling Bob/Fred are most likely the same ones he's been turning in to his superiors, over and over.]]
* FullBodyDisguise: The scramble-suits.
* FutureSlang: Subverted. Dick used the language of the Berkley drug culture, the language his friends spoke with. But to those out of the know, and anyone reading nowadays, it sounds like Dick is trying to pull ''Literature/AClockworkOrange''.
* {{Hallucinations}}: Another side-effect of Substance D. The opening scene details a character who is convinced he's surrounded by aphids, to the point where he thinks they're crawling over him and has to scour his skin off. He's eventually committed into an asylum.
* HiredToHuntYourself: Bob being instructed to spy on Fred, with the catch that Bob starts to ''forget'' that he's Fred and at one point considers him the prime suspect.
* HollywoodSilencer: Subverted. It's badly made, and actually amplifies the sound.
* IfYouCanReadThis: In the film, a surveillance console displaying a lot of scrolling small text is actually scrolling through ''Film/BladeRunner'''s screenplay.
* TheInfiltration: Bob/Fred is trying to find the source of Substance D by associating with junkies and dealers.
* InsaneTrollLogic: Everything that goes through Barris' head, ever.
* ImagineSpot: On his way to meet Barris, Freck spots a police car following him and has a [[ParanoiaFuel paranoid sequence]] where he's pulled over and [[BoomHeadshot shot]] because he can't remember his name.
* JekyllAndHyde:
** Arctor's druggie persona and his narc persona separate more and more as the story goes on. [[spoiler:Ultimately, he forgets he's narcing on himself, until a psychiatrist [[TomatoInTheMirror reminds him]].]]
** Donna warns Bob that he acts like a crazy person whenever [[PoisonousFriend Barris]] is around.
* ListOfTransgressions: To quote the film version --
-->'''Narrator:''' The next thing he knew, a creature from between dimensions was standing at his bed, looking down at him disapprovingly.
-->'''Freck:''' You gonna read me my sins? Eh, it's gonna take a hundred thousand hours.
-->'''Creature:''' '''''Your sins will be read to you ceaselessly, in shifts... throughout eternity. The list will never end.'''''
-->'''Creature:''' ''(begins reading) "The Sins of Freck."''
-->'''Narrator:''' Charles Freck wished he could take back the last half hour of his life.
-->'''Creature:''' ''"... theft of fingernail clippers..." "... you did knowingly and with malice..." "... punched your baby sister, Evelyn..." "... December, theft of Christmas presents..." "...one billion lies..."''
-->'''Narrator:''' One thousand years later, they had reached the sixth grade, the year he had [[ADateWithRosiePalms discovered masturbation.]]
-->'''Creature:''' ''"... November fourteenth, Percodan... Vicodin... Cocaine..."''
* LiteraryAllusionTitle: It's a reference to a bit about "a mirror, darkly" in Literature/TheBible. There's also a {{Title Drop}}.
* MagicBrakes: Borderline example. It's the ''accelerator'' pedal that's broken, and won't come up from the depressed position, causing the car to keep accelerating until the protagonist rips the key out of the ignition.
* ManchurianAgent: [[spoiler: Bob Arctor is turned into one by way of drug addiction]].
* MandatoryTwistEnding: Well, it ''is'' Philip K. Dick. Read the spoiler under BittersweetEnding if you really want to know.
* ManufacturingVictims: [[spoiler: New Path, the company that runs the only existing rehab centers for Substance D addicts, is the organization that's been manufacturing Substance D all along. It's implied that they created the drug specifically to destroy addicts' minds so that they'd have an easy source of slave labor.]]
* MindScrew: Welcome to the universe of PKD's writing, will you want to pay for your insanity with cash, check, or credit card? We have a special discount on dissociative identity disorders, if you're interested?
* MoodWhiplash:
** On the one hand, the movie shows the utter destruction of a man's life because of drugs. On the other, watching the stoners fool around can be hilarious.
** Also: Charles Freck's suicide attempt!
* NoodleIncident: In the movie, one of the characters makes a vague reference to LeonardoDiCaprio hitting an "[[ElvisPresley Elvis]] phase", hinting that he has a career-ending breakdown some time in [[TwentyMinutesIntoTheFuture the near future]].
* PoisonousFriend: Barris, though Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance is so funny one often loses sight of this -- which only makes it more frightening. Donna notes his [[ToxicFriendInfluence influence on Arctor's behavior]].
* PowerTrio: Arctor, Barris and Luckman.
* TheReveal: [[spoiler: The leaders of New Path have been manufacturing Substance D at their rehab clinics all along, and "Hank" is actually a disguised Donna.]]
* ReverseMole: [[spoiler: Donna, technically, since as a drug dealer that puts her into villain territory]]
* SanitySlippage: Bob/Fred as Substance D takes its toll on him.
* ShoutOut: The movie contains a reference to an unnamed LeonardoDiCaprio movie about [=DiCaprio's=] character [[Film/CatchMeIfYouCan "pretending to be other people"]], as well as a brief reference to Leo going through an [[NoodleIncident "Elvis phase"]].
* SinisterSurveillance: A keystone of the plot, and shown ostentatiously at the start of the film when Bob phones Donna to buy some drugs. We cut to an operative at one of a hundred surveillance consoles where the phone conversation is voice-[=IDed=] to Donna, and then cycles through half a dozen CCTV cameras to pin down Bob Arctor as he walks down the street.
* SplitPersonality: Bob/Fred (obviously)
* TheSociopath: Barris displays a complete lack of empathy for the people around him, completely ignoring Luckman while he chokes almost to death. Comes off a lot funnier in the film due to Downey Jr.
* StrawNihilist: Inverted ''and'' subverted with Bob/Fred. His bleak outlook on life is a reflection of the events he perceives happening.
* ThroughTheEyesOfMadness: The more drugs Arctor takes, the less sense everything makes. The few brief times reality is seen through Freck's eyes, all sanity takes a leave of absence.
* TitleDrop
-->"What does a scanner see? I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner? See into me? Into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it does see clearly, because I can't any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone's sake, the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we'll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too."
* TwentyMinutesIntoTheFuture- 1994 or 1995 in the book (Luckman was born in 1962 and is said to be 32), "seven years from now" in the movie.
* WellIntentionedExtremist: [[spoiler: Mike, Donna/Audrey and Bob's psych evaluators intentionally get fellow officer Bob hooked and [[EmptyShell completely nuked]] on Substance D so he can be used as a sleeper agent to unknowingly infiltrate New Path's farms]].
* WithFriendsLikeThese: Barris. Barris, Barris, Barris. Let's look at some of the ways he conducts himself:
** He not-so-subtly implied to Freck that he's tried to come on to Donna and been repeatedly rebuffed.
** Provides Freck with some cocaine so as to get into Donna's pants. Even CloudCuckoolander Freck is surprised at this as he's got no interest in her sexually and just wants to buy D from her.
** He forges recordings to try and rat out Bob and Donna as being terrorists plotting murderous rampages.
** He wires up Bob's house with surveillance cameras (without asking Bob first of course) and then to make sure they're tested leaves the front door unlocked with a note on it to tell prospective burglars to come on in.
** He stands idly watching Luckman is choking to death and makes the least effective emergency call ''ever''... and then has the balls to blame Luckman.
-->'''Barris''': I swear to ''god'' that a toddler has a better understanding of the intricacies of chew-swallow-digest-don't-kill-yourself-on-your-TV-dinner! And yet you've managed to turn this near death fuckup of yours into a moral referendum on me!
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