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Q: How does Katie's character in The Scribbler (2014) have supernatural abilities, or, anyone who uses her machine for that matter?

D: There seems to me to be no good explanation in the movie about how that machine is granting people supernatural abilities such as strength, telekinesis, some limited form of omnipresence (for lack of a better term), and possibly others. I could have accepted the explanation that for some reason Katie's character had the abilities to begin with, tied to The Scribbler persona, and the machine worked by stripping away excess personalities to allow her to exhibit that one, and thus powers, more often. The movie does sort of go along that line. But then how two other characters without her condition receive abilities from usage of the machine confuses me. I mean okay, Katie's character says "The machine shows you who (or possibly what) you really are", and her male friend (I forget his name) comments that she's improved the machine by modifying various equipment from his room. The base-machine is only a shock-device, maybe we're left to assume that The Scribbler is just so intelligent and it was possible for her to legitimately create a machine using that stuff that will grant anybody supernatural abilities. I just want to know if anyone else decided on a more reasonable explanation.

  • To me, both the machine and Suki's special powers are macguffins. – user20221 Apr 4 '15 at 18:38
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TL;DR:

We don't know how Suki/The Scribbler got her powers. It's suggested she, like a few others, just had them. She changed the machine, which led to others becoming stronger.

Long Answer

The Scribbler was based off a graphic novel written by Daniel Schaffer:

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Usually we could go to the source material for some detailed information on it, but it's actually a very short comic - a one-off story of 96 pages. I think the best explanation I've seen of it comes from IGN's review of it, where they commented:

At less than a hundred pages, The Scribbler doesn't give much of a background story on any of its characters. The book starts in the middle of one of Suki's sessions, as she recalls her first check-up, where hints of her insanity emerge, then jumps to the story. Some more information on how she and the others ended up in the asylum would've been welcome.

You can view a seven page preview of the comic online and see for yourself how quickly it jumps into the story (treatment begins on the second page!). Given this, it can be difficult to work out exactly what is going on. As the story itself says:

Female Officer: Why don’t you tell me what happened, from the beginning

Suki: That’s not always the best way to tell a story

However, Daniel Schaffer has this information on his website:

Meet Suki. She has multiple personalities. She hears voices. She's crazy... but not for long. Suki is almost ready rejoin society thanks to the Siamese Burn, an experimental machine which is burning those voices away one by one. All except for THE SCRIBBLER; that one is getting louder. For a voice, it doesn't talk much - instead, its messages come in the form of backwards scribbles.

And what it's scribbling is "Let me out!"

That is the premise behind THE SCRIBBLER, a 96-page original graphic novel by writer/artist Dan Schaffer (INDIGO VERTIGO, DOGWITCH) out this November from Image Comics.

"THE SCRIBBLER is not a superhero story, but it might be superhero story in negative," explains Schaffer. "The heroes are all nutters, characters with secret identities so secret, even they don't know about them! And they're engaged in a fight between good and evil that might not even exist. It's not so much a dissection of superheroes themselves, because this is really not a superhero book, but it is an exploration of archetypes, the reasons we invent them, and how we use them to create and fight invisible wars."

Using this, and our knowledge from the novel and movie, we can piece some things together. Suki has got multiple personalities and The Siamese Burn effectively destroys the extra personalities one at a time, via an electroshock-esque treatment - but what are the extra personalities? That's effectively the question that permeates throughout the entire story. Is The Scribbler the real her, or is it something else? Throughout her treatments, The Scribbler takes control as she doesn't want to be erased. As The Scribbler, she modifiers the machine (we don't know how) to perform the opposite effect. Rather than erasing them, it brings them to life. This is what helps the other patients.

This means that someone like Hogan, who just wants to help people, develops incredible powers such as the ability to float, see the truth. Similarly Alice (i.e. Michelle Trachtenburg) becomes a darker, evil being. Ultimately, this is about as much context as we are given. To give some information on the metaphorical why behind how the machine works, we can look at this interview with Dan Schaffer:

Beckett: I would think creating a book dealing with psychological disorders would be a daunting task. How much research did you do for The Scribbler, and is the technique used for rehabilitating Suki’s multiple personalities something created by you whole-cloth, or did you come across it in your research?

Schaffer: The Siamese Burn Therapy is a metaphor for the machine-like nature of authority or the general rigidity of the modern world. Seems like the more free we get and the more enlightened we become, the more we tie ourselves up with rules and regulations. The idea of a machine that resets you back to normal mental health displays a certain arrogant assumption that the people who made the machine know what mental health is. I’ve spent a lot of time researching various forms of psychology, I live in a house with psychologists so the place is filled with text books, but The Scribbler isn’t really about that stuff. It’s all just a metaphor for life in the twenty-first century where everyone is expected to think in a particular way or do their jobs by the book without question, and this kind of spreadsheet-mentality leaves no room for personal style. Individuality is slowly becoming outlawed. To me, that’s insanity. Surely we don’t want to live like ants, right? The Scribbler is basically saying that the more you suppress people’s creativity, the more creative they will become. It’s an optimistic book looking towards a world where the people with all the answers finally realise they don’t know shit and stop hassling the rest of us with their theories.

In other words, the central theme of the book is to be yourself and embrace your creativity and individuality - the how and why of the machine wasn't that important to Schaffer. It's what it makes the characters become that is.

Conclusions:

So to summarise, as best as I can see it:

  • Suki/The Scribbler is special and has the ability and knowledge to modify the machine. We don't know how. Schaffer's quotes suggest that it's her secret personality and that it's just stronger than she knows - that's all the depth we get it unfortunately. Whether the machine made it stronger, or it was strong to begin with, is also unclear.
  • By modifying the machine, she enables everyone to become who they truly are, i.e. to give power and strength to their inner personalities.
  • As a film based on a very short graphic novel, there was never a long, detailed back story to turn to.
  • The graphic novel has fairly mixed reviews (as does the film), with the biggest criticism being style over substance - i.e. everything looks pretty and the cast (in the film in particular) are great, but the plot is lacking and incomplete.
  • I guess I'm doomed to never know the answer to this question because the creator of the story didn't even care. --- I understand that it's beside the plot, but I still would like to have known. I like explanations for plot devices. --- I guess I will read that graphic novel and just be happy with the idea that The Scribbler was just really smart. – NICHOLAS MARK AMOS Nov 26 '14 at 11:39
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Just watched the movie. I think you guys are forgetting the dog. It is a good key to the machine.

Remember how the English Bulldog speaks to Suki in a British accent to start? That was a bit of a red herring, because the voice was in Suki's head, but it was to remind the audience that the "voices" are all projections of what the normal world, combined with Suki's personal expectations, expects from those around her. The Brittish voice of the dog goes away as she undergoes treatment.

Then remember that Suki actually runs the machine on the dog and he turns into a wolf-like creature? The British Bulldog was not the real core being. Also, note that when the real animal was revealed it had super strength - the essential you is amplified. Since the dog had no extra personalities to strip it had no lasting impact and the super powers fade away.

The machine's original form was intended to strip extra personalities away. It didn't work on Alice/Veronica because she was sociopathic and not dissociative and, as with the dog, there was no lasting impact. However, when they gave it to Suki/Scribbler it actually worked as intended, at first, stipping away the many personals that the normal world had imposed on her (as a means of adapting to the many homes and institutions she was housed in?).

Then Suki/Scribbler modified it during each use to make it stronger. If you recall the Psych staff noted her IQ at 168 or something, so in theory she is that smart. The machine releases the "real you" each session, at least for a short time, giving Suki amped up mental powers and some time to work. By the last use the machine was able to go all the way to the core essential being.

Apparently this personal enlightenment also enables the user to realize that reality is subjective and plastic. This allows Hogan to float and to see blind-eyed. For Alice it allowed her to jump and punch and hurt others... She was rotten and angry at her core.

For Suki we don't really even know what it would do as she only used to down to 2 personas, remember the machine's last reading of "2"? Instead Suki made peace with the Scribbler and merged without the machine. Whereas Hogan and Alice seemed to get enlightenment and super powers only briefly, for Suki it appears to be permanent, perhaps because it was gained the old fashioned way and not from the machine?

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I viewed this movie completely differently. I think the entire plot was a metaphore and entirely in her head. She was mentally trying to figure out which of her personalities was the "true" her. In order to do this she imagines a machine that can help her find her true identity. Just like Eliza D's character says, she is speaking in analogies and we have to read between the lines. This is a clue to the audience to not take everything that is happening literally. The apartment she lives in is actually her mind and all of the tenants are her various personalities. Each time she uses the machine, one oof her personalities dies. Again, i believe the machine itself isnt real, but represents the mental process that she is going through as she figures out her real identity. I think the superpowers are just manifestations of the war that is going on in her head, and the strenght it takes to determine her identity. In the end, she learns that she doesnt have to choose between her personaities, and that she can live with them together instead of one at a time ( the synthesis she mentions). I also dont believe the 2 detectives were "real", since the characters who "died" were really just her other personalities. I think the detectives were in her mind as well, and represented the guilt and confusion that she was feeling about killing off her other personalities. They represented her inner struggle.

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Actually if you listen to the explanation between Hogan and Suki it does actually tell you how the abilities were acquired. The machine is allowing the user to unlock their mind and allow full or near full access to the abilities locked within the mind. This easily goes along with various theories about how increased a brain use allows for abilities such as the various kinetic abilities (telekinesis, pyrokinesis, hydrokinesis, electrokinesis, etc.), increased strength by unblocking your mental limitations on what your body should and should not be able to do, and other similar abilities. To use the movies own words the machine "Unzips your Mind".

It also brings out the real you for better or worse as seen in the differing ways that the machine worked on Hogan and Alice. Other than being an "insatiable horn dog" Hogan was a very innocent and child-like character and that was how he was reflected. Whereas Alice was a jealous, bitter, mean spirited creature who lived to push/kill everyone who got to close to her current obsession and then finally said obsession.

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