If there was one author who could spawn some of the greatest stories ever written, it would be Philip K. Dick. This prolific writer wrote almost 50 novels and nearly three times as many short stories in his 30 year career. Even though his life was cut short at 53 due to a stroke, his influence and stories have taken on a new life on the silver screen. In fact, only a few months after his death in 1982, the most celebrated of all film adaptations of his works was released: Blade Runner. This first adaptation (of the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) paved the way for many other adaptations, even if some of them weren’t as critically acclaimed as Blade Runner. This week, we will examine two films adapted from the prolific works of Philip K. Dick, extending his legacy out decades past his untimely death.
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours
One of the many themes that we see through Dick’s writings is that of the mind. Even though we often consider our memories to be “truth”, we can usually be mistaken based off of many factors including our perception of a situation in hindsight. If our memories can be adjusted due to mere suggestion, what’s to say that memories can’t be removed or implanted? For instance, in We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, Dick writes about implanting memories of a lifestyle different from your own, dreary existence. This was adapted to Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Similarly, what if we have the ability to “remember” the future? What if knowing what will happen in the next two minutes could save your life? This is the plot of Next (2007), an adaptation loosely based on the short story, The Golden Man. Finally, the short story, Paycheck, seeks to regain erased memories.
The erased memories of Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) aren’t helping him out in the slightest. After a three-year job that was supposed to net him an obscenely large paycheck, he instead receives a smattering of random items with a total value of under $5. To add insult to injury, the payroll office tells him that he signed away his fortune to replace it with those items a few weeks ago. Furthermore, the government wants to know what he was working on, which starts a game of cat-and-mouse as Michael evades the FBI and tries to retrace his steps to regain his memories. Along the way, the items he received as payment come in handy during key events, allowing him to continue to elude the federal agents and infiltrate the company where he worked for three years. Once he finds the machine he helped build, suddenly the items he gave himself make a lot more sense.
A Scanner Darkly
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours
A few more themes often seen in the works of Philip K. Dick involve the government controlling our lives, as well as the effects of drugs on society. The adaptation of Minority Report (2002), which was a short story of the same name, shows how criminals can be controlled by a triad of psychics who can predict when and where crimes will happen, thereby allowing law enforcement to intercept the criminals before they commit the crimes. Another short story, The Adjustment Team, was adapted as The Adjustment Bureau (2011). In this story, the government is in control of our lives, and will do whatever it takes to make sure that we live out our destinies according to their plans. However, perhaps the most harrowing example of governmental control is that of A Scanner Darkly, based on the novel of the same name.
I say that A Scanner Darkly is harrowing because it involves constant governmental surveillance of American citizens. Sound familiar? Not only is this another take on the surveillance society imagined in George Orwell’s 1984, but the revelations of the NSA spying on Americans makes it almost a prophetic story. Of course, the reasons for the increased surveillance are due to the prevalent spread and use of a hallucinogenic drug known as “Substance D”. Even undercover agents, like “Fred” (Keanu Reeves), have trouble keeping clean from the drug as they try to figure out where it’s coming from. In a bit of irony, “Fred” is tasked to watch the surveillance tapes of a suspected drug lord, Bob Arctor. The irony is that “Fred” and Bob are the same person, even if the drugs have caused him to think otherwise.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous science fiction stories