A SCANNER DARKLYNOTE: This spoiler was sent in by Sonia who says... "I first watched it because I'm a big fan of Keanu Reeves. I am not at all familiar with Philip K. Dick or any of his works. But, this movie was funny in all the right parts, kind of disturbing in a psychologically attacking way and thought-provoking. It's definitely not for the faint of heart."
The movie starts with a dude named Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane) in his apartment, scratching his hair vigorously. It looks like there are bugs and lice coming out of his hair and crawling all over him and his apartment. He jumps into the shower and tries to wash off all the bugs. He comes out clean, or so he thinks. The bugs suddenly start coming out of nowhere again and he goes to a kitchen cabinet. He pulls out a spray bottle of insecticide and sprays it all over himself. He turns and notices his dog. He figures it must be fleas, so he runs his hand through his dog's fur and the bugs start crawling everywhere again. There's a shot of Freck in his tub with his dog, trying to get rid of the bugs. He calls James Barris (Robert Downey Jr.). The conversation between them is basically mumblings about hallucinations, the side effects of drugs, the bugs Freck are seeing, etc. Barris asks Freck to catch some of the bugs and bring them to him so he can figure out what's going on. Freck immediately gets a jar and picks up some of the bugs.
Meanwhile, a seminar is taking place somewhere. A man introduces someone who is sitting behind him. The person is wearing an extremely intriguing suit. It's constantly changing what the person looks like, as well as his/her voice, and the man exposits that it's a "Scramble Suit". The person wearing it is an undercover officer who must wear to evade surveillance and identification. The undercover officer, who is called Fred (Keanu Reeves), goes up to the podium to talk about something called "Substance D" (also called Death or SD). It's a highly addictive drug that is suspected of being made from a chemical that comes from a special type of blue flower. He also mentions "New Path", a rehabilitation program for Substance D users. However, Fred suddenly starts going off on a tangent from his planned speech and somebody who is on communcations with him tells him to stop fucking around and stick with the script. Fred finishes his speech and leaves.
Somewhere in between all of this, Fred goes to a room in the police station and takes off his Scramble Suit. He's walking along and calls Donna (Winona Ryder) . Surveillance people, known as "scanners", identify Donna and traces her call. The scanner identifies Fred as "Robert (Bob) Arctor".
The movie goes to Freck, driving to meet up with Barris. He looks in his rearview mirror and sees a police car behind him. He goes into a daydream for a moment and imagines that the officer stops him and arrests him. Then, the officer tries to read him his Miranda rights but forgets what they are. Frustrated, the officer just blows his head off. Freck snaps out of his daydream and watches as the car just passes by him. He looks down at the jar in which he had put some of the bugs in, but it's empty. He goes to a diner to meet up with Barris, who mumbles his way through the conversation by explaining that society is getting worse and worse. They talk a little more about drugs, money and sex. They mention Donna. They do a little trip to a store and end up at Barris's place. He says something about a procedure to purify cocaine and how Donna's weird because she won't have sex or physical contact with guys.
Later, Fred/Bob is in his Scramble Suit, talking to his superior, "Hank" (who is also in a Scramble Suit). They talk about Donna, who is apparently high up in the Substance D drug ring ladder. Fred/Bob says that he's trying to figure out who's left in the hierarchy by upping his drug requests from Donna. Hank says that they should investigate Bob Arctor, a known drug addict and possible drug dealer. Fred/Bob tries to hide his surprise and says that he'll do that. He goes for a psychological/mental evaluation by two doctors. They show him a card, which is has black and white lines across it with a white space in the middle, which forms a picture. They tell him to point to the white space and identify what it is. He does so correctly with the first one, but with the other ones, he's not sure of himself. He makes a few jokes with the doctors and leaves.
He goes home as Bob and jokes around with Donna, Barris and Luckman (Woody Harrelson). They argue jokingly about a bike Barris bought at a yard sale, saying it's a 9-speed, not 18-speed.
Sometime later, Fred/Bob goes to the police station to talk to Hank. Hank tells Fred/Bob that a new informant has come forward with information on Bob Arctor. He gives some information, but Hank dismisses it as irrelevant and asks Barris to come back with more relevant information. Hank tells Fred/Bob to get the rest of his psychological evaluation done. Fred/Bob goes to the doctors again and they do more tests on him, which he performs well on. At the end of it, they tell him that he seems more depressed than he was the last time he was there, when he was joking and funny. He doesn't say anything and leaves.
Fred/Bob, Barris and Luckman are on a trip to San Diego and are on the highway when Fred/Bob's car suddenly breaks down. Luckman has a deliciously humourous freak-out while Barris calmly decides to call a tow truck. He offers them both some red pills, which are presumed to be Substance D. The car is taken to Fred/Bob's home and on the way, Barris tells the two other guys that he left the door unlocked and booby-trapped the front-door area. He also left a note inviting anybody in. Fred/Bob gets mad for doing something to his house without permission. They get home and find that the ashtray in the living room is full of cigarettes, which are still warm. Donna comes downstairs and calls them idiots for leaving the door unlocked. Later, the three men are outside, trying to fix the car. Barris and Luckman start to argue and decide to make it physical. Freck comes, but freaks out when he sees Barris come out with a hammer. Luckman picks up a very large rock, which Barris taps with his hammer. Freck moves to his car, while Barris asks him if he's having trouble speaking and makes strange indistinguishable noises, imitating Freck. Freck drives away and the rest of them have a laugh about it all.
In between this, it's revealed that Fred/Bob had a family before. In the present, he's looking at his house (or maybe he was inside the house. I don't remember) and says that it's a nice house, made for a family. In his past daydream/memory, he's sitting in a clean living room with two little girls and a woman. He's reading the newspaper and then asks if anyone wants popcorn. The little girls say, "Yay!" as he goes into the kitchen. He hits his head on the cabinet and touches his hand to his head. His hand has blood on it when he looks at it. He has an inner monologue about how at that moment, he realized that he hated the cleanness of his life. The clean living room fades into the messy, disheveled living room it is now.
Sometime later, Hank tells Fred/Bob that they've covertly installed surveillance cameras in the house. Hank says that he can move the cameras and can edit himself out of the video. But, Hank advises Fred/Bob to leave himself in the video from time to time since they don't know his identity and he can be any of the people living in the house, even Bob Arctor himself. Fred/Bob is clearly a little uncomfortable, but says that he'll do his job. One day while he's watching the video, he notices Luckman suddenly choking and going limp in his kitchen. He panics a little, but then sees Barris call the paramedics. Fortunately, Luckman starts coughing and Barris tells the paramedics that the guy is alright. Fred/Bob has a sigh of relief.
At night, Fred/Bob is walking down the street without his Scramble Suit and sees a man protesting Substance D. Suddenly, a black van comes out nowhere, SWAT guys jump out and grab the man, leaving his megaphone on the ground. Donna pulls up beside Fred/Bob and asks if he wants to go to her place and get high. They do and Fred/Bob tries to get physical with her. However, she resists and Fred/Bob is disappointed and hurt. She apologizes and tells him that she wants to go live on a farm with a mountain view with him, but he leaves anyways. He goes home with a young blonde woman. She asks if the guys outside live with him and if he's gay. They kiss and the woman suggestively says that they'll find out if he's gay or not. During the night, Fred/Bob wakes up and looks over at the woman. He hallucinates and thinks it's Donna. He thinks she's passed out and tries to reach over her for the phone. He looks back at her and she's the young blonde woman again. He sighs in relief and falls back in his bed.
The next day, Fred/Bob is in his Scramble Suit, watching the recorded video from his own house the day before. He fast-forwards through the entire video and then stops at the part where he woke up and thought the woman was Donna. But, he still sees the woman as Donna, even on the video. He's thoroughly confused and bewildered. Sometime later, Freb/Bob is told by the doctors that one side of his brain is failing and the other side of his brain is attempting to compensate for it. In essence, the two sides of his brain are competing and that's a result of Substance D.
Meanwhile, Freck is in his dark dingy apartment. He switches radio stations and an announcer starts talking about Freck. He narrates as Freck does the things the narrator talks about. The announcer tells us that Freck has decided to kill himself using pills and cheap wine. But, he decides to get a better wine and buys a more sophisticated one. He writes a letter to some company, protesting something. He lies in bed, trying to think of something more profound to write, but fails. He downs all the pills and drinks the wine. Instead of suffocating, he begins to hallucinate. A grotesque-looking green alien-like creature with eyes covering its entire head in a suit appears at Freck's bed. The creature tells Freck that he is doomed to have all of the sins he has committed read to him for eternity. The narrator says that a thousand years later, they reach the sixth grade and that's when Freck discovered masturbation. Freck just lies in bed, appreciating the fact that at least he had a good wine.
At the police station, Barris is at Hank's office, playing a recorded incriminating conversation between Donna and Bob. Barris also has some notes that Bob apparently wrote, describing his drug workings, etc. Hank takes the book and asks Barris to stay while they evaluate the evidence. Once Barris is removed, Hank bluntly tells Fred/Bob that the conversation is a fake and can be done by anyone with a computer. They talk a bit about Bob Arctor and Hank looks through a file. Fred/Bob asks if that's his medical file and Hank says it is. Fred/Bob asks what's in it and Hank replies that it says that he's bonkers. Then, Hank shockingly reveals that he knows that Fred is Bob Arctor and that he was never the subject of investigation. They were investigating Barris, who they had hoped would come here voluntarily and he did. Hank tells Fred/Bob that he's going to have to go New Path to get rehabilitation because he's failed as a narcotics officer. Hank calls Donna and asks her if she can take Fred/Bob to New Path and then dismisses Fred/Bob. Hank leaves his office and goes to the same room where Fred/Bob went to take off his Scramble Suit. Hank takes off his Scramble Suit and it's revealed that he is actually Donna.
We cut to Donna driving Fred/Bob to New Path. He's shaking and sweating from Substance D withdrawal. He throws up in the lobby of the New Path building and she sadly leaves him there as two workers come and put a blanket over him.
Fred/Bob is now at New Path, clean shaven and in a uniform. He's sitting in a circle as other Substance D addicts share their philosophical thoughts. Later, he's pushing a mop and bucket around when a man tells him that he's being transferred to the New Path farms, where he can work and help grow things. He's taken to a farm area that has mountains in the distance, like Donna had told him. Fred/Bob introduces himself as "Bruce" and is shown by another guy where he'll be living.
Then we see Donna and another man in a diner. Donna feels terrible about having Bruce taken to the farm commune. The man replies that it's the only way that they can prove the source of New Path's funding. Donna counters by saying that Bruce isn't an officer anymore, but the man says that maybe that police instinct will kick in. Donna says that "to sacrifice someone without them ever knowing" is truly disturbing. So, the entire thing was a huge elaborate operation to get Bruce/Fred/Bob into New Path so they can bring down and infiltrate New Path.
We cut to Bruce/Fred/Bob at the farming commune, walking in between stalks of tall plants. He's wearing a pack and is watering the plants. Suddenly, he sees all these blue flowers in between the plants, where he's walking. He leans over to look at them closely and is interrupted by some men, who tell him that he can't see the flowers anymore. They leave, but when he looks back, the blue flowers are back. He picks one and puts it in his boot as he realizes that New Path is funded by the sales of Substance D itself and is the main manufacturer and distributer of it. He says a very eloquent line about death itself rising from the ground and the screen fades to black.