Monday, April 25, 2016
PHILIP K. DICK – A DAY IN THE AFTERLIFE
Starring Philip K. Dick,
Thomas M. Disch,
Directed by Nicola Roberts
Excellent documentary about the visionary writer.
Insightful commentary from interviewees including friends, ex-wives, and a variety of artists livens this unique 1994 production from BBC’s “Arena.”
According to science fiction writer Brian Aldiss, “Like many a good man, Philip K. Dick went round the bend. Religion got him in the end, and so did all those drugs.”
PKD, as he is known, brought to sci-fi a sense of excitement coupled with serious metaphysical questions about the nature of reality. If you’ve seen the movies Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, or The Adjustment Bureau, then you have some familiarity with his work adapted into film.
He blurred the lines between people and machines. As the narrator says, “Your toaster just might have an opinion of its own.”
“My stories are attempts at reception, at listening to voices from another place, far away.”
Born in 1928, PKD’s twin sister died after less than eight weeks from an allergy to mother’s milk. All his life, PKD felt a strange sense of guilt about that. “I’m two people,” he said. “I’m on two sides of the fence.”
None of the forty-two novels he wrote were taken seriously until late in his life, briefly. He wrote for about thirty years, living in poverty. When he was writing in the 1950s, Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein were popular optimists. As Aldiss notes, “Now they seem like dinosaurs” and PKD seems “immensely contemporary.”
The documentary seamlessly integrates elements from his stories into the production. Filmmaker Terry Gilliam addresses us from within a TV set holding an aerosol container—referencing God in a spray can from the novel Ubik—with the letters PKD prominently displayed on it. “I use PKD to unclog my brains. Why don’t you?”
Many of his stories feature tiny figures in universal rubble, loser heroes in a mundane world. This vision was formed, according to narration, by “the changing landscape of California, a rural paradise that he saw bulldozed into submission.” This is why PKD, who died of heart failure after a stroke in 1982 at the age of fifty-three, had mixed feelings about Blade Runner. Visually, director Ridley Scott captured the atmosphere of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? with stunning skill. But the dialogue and Harrison Ford as the hero Hollywood-ized the film, and PKD was disappointed.
In exploring what makes a human being through writing that Thomas M. Disch calls “the prose equivalent of a drug trip,” PKD could be bitter about what was not human. Disch also notes that regarding PKD’s possible mental imbalance…he loved it. “If you’ve got a sort of paranoid side to you, best use it to write thrillers.”
“The police once told me that I was a crusader, and they had no use for crusaders,” said PKD with a relishing air. “But unfortunately they didn’t tell me what I was crusading for.”
Freely available online.
Stewart Kirby writes for