Friday, December 12, 2014

Radio Free Dick

Now, for something right out of left field: Radio Free Albemuth (2014). I know I've mentioned that I am a Philip K. Dick fan. Since Bladerunner, lots of his science fiction stories have been made into movies. But he really has three periods (not counting his attempts at straight fiction):

  • Pulps: His early output is mainly slight, sometimes goofy, sci-fi, like The Zap Gun.
  • The Good Stuff: Later, and mixed in with this are some fine literary science fiction novels like The Man in the High Castle and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  • Speculative Autobiography: His last 3-6 novels were just as weird or weirder than his most surreal novels, but based on real events that really happened to him - or so he thinks - like Valis or Radio Free Albemuth
Only true Dickheads are even aware of the last type. You see, for many years, Dick believed that a vast intelligent machine was beaming ideas into his head from orbit with a pink laserbeam. Ideas like, time had stopped during the late Roman Empire, and contemporary reality was an illusion. It sounds crazy, but he did suddenly start speaking colloquial Vulgate Latin, without studying.

In the novel, he attributes these experiences to a friend, Nicholas Brady. Brady is played by Jonathan Scarfe, while Dick is played by Shea Whigham. Yes, Dick is a character in his own novel, but he's really both characters, since Brady is just his alter-ego. But Whigham is basically amazing here, totally Dickish. It really makes the movie for me, to see one of my literary heroes so well portrayed.

Of course, this isn't much of a movie. There is kind of a plot, especially towards the end when Alanis Morisette (!) shows up as a folk singer with the same delusions insights as Brady. But mostly it is a lightly fictionalized record of Dick's real-life experiences. There is drama, insight, psychedelic special-effect weirdness, and none of it really seems to go anywhere, like the sweet scene where Brady secretly baptizes his son. It isn't explained and it doesn't go anywhere - but it is something Dick really did, and it means something to him.

Will it mean anything to you? Unless you've read one of Dick's later works, probably not. I can't really imagine coming into this cold, but if I had to guess, you wouldn't make it to the end (and it's under 2 hours). But if there are any brave Dick neophytes who are willing to try, please report.


mr. schprock said...

Somehow I have never read any of his stuff, yet I've loved movies based on his stories. Gotta fix that soon.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Start with Man in the High Castle or The Three Stigmata of Eldritch Palmer. Leave Valis and Radio Free Albemuth for later.