Sunday, March 22, 2020

"The Golden Man" (1954)

This long 1954 story by Philip K. Dick makes an interesting comparison with the movie made in 2007 based on it, Next. The story has all of Dick's paranoia, with a government agency out systematically hunting radiation mutants, but a lot of time is spent on setups and revelations, as we watch one of the operations at work. In the story, the mutant Cris Johnson is barely even socialized—he's never even spoken. Mutants are categorized into 87 types but he's not one of them. A lot of time is spent defining his power, which is being able to see into the future. In the movie, mutants are a non-issue. Cris (played by Nicolas Cage) is a stage magician in Las Vegas, and he can see two minutes into the future—with some exceptions. It's quite a bit different from the story, which more works through how a consciousness or brain would function with that kind of information coming in. In fact, the movie could have stood a bit more of that. It was directed by Lee Tamahori, who also directed Once Were Warriors, a movie I liked a lot. Next has star power and some indie cred, with Cage, Julianne Moore, and Jessica Biel. Cage is good in the part, more in his restrained smoldering mode. I read the story and saw the movie on the same day, both for the first time, and for once I enjoyed the movie more. It seemed more lucid about the power. In the story Cris is treated literally as if he were a god, which seemed silly. With the ordnance going off and Cage striding around unfazed, occasionally twisting aside to let a bullet pass him, the movie can be thrilling and hilarious all at once. Cris has a line in voiceover where he denies he is a god (as if speaking to the Dick story) but in his best moments in the movie that's exactly what he looks like. There's no paranoia in the movie about mutants, which was a good idea to dispense with as the X-Men and the age of Marvel loomed ever larger in 2007. There's a government agency but it's counterterrorist. The specific case at hand involves a loose nuke in the Los Angeles area, a scheme apparently run by Russians. It goes to some ridiculous and unlikely places but it always keeps its cool and the fascination with the power is infectious. Dick's story feels a bit pounded out and padded for the sake of word count, though it does retain his unique sense of paradox. The movie doesn't feel very Phildickian to me but has other ways of getting trippy that are often interesting. It feels like everybody involved was having more fun than Dick writing the story.

The Philip K. Dick Reader

No comments:

Post a Comment