Electric Dreams – Episode 3: The Commuter – Review

The Commuter - train photoWritten by Jack Thorne

Directed by Tom Harper

Electric Dreams is a science fiction anthology of unrelated short stories based on the stories of renowned science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who is best known for his dystopian depictions of human life.

I’ll be reviewing some of these short stories to cover the themes that resonate in these inspiring episodes. Though an avid fan of Philip K Dick’s stories, I haven’t actually read some or all of the short stories that inspired the episodes in this adaptation.

‘BAFTA-winning actor Timothy Spall (Mr Turner) will star in “The Commuter.” He plays Ed Jacobson, an unassuming employee at a train station who is alarmed to discover that a number of daily commuters are taking the train to a town that shouldn’t exist.’

Ed Jacobson and his wife have a psychotic son. A therapist suggests that if he is not treated soon then he will get worse. Their son has gone now, and they both try to forget about him and live in a bubble of happiness that only includes the couple. It’s only later that we get a hint that Ed’s son, Sam, has been taken to Macon Heights, which is a mysterious place that according to travel routes doesn’t exist.

And that’s not all. Ed keeps seeing dark-haired Linda, an apparition, who first introduced him to Macon Heights. He wonders if she is real. Even his wife expresses the worry that she is more frightened of Ed’s insincere smile than she is of her psychotic son. It’s at this point we begin to wonder who the story is about; if not Sam, then maybe the person with the problem is actually Ed. After all, he is seeing people he isn’t sure are real.

Out of curiosity he visits Macon Heights, which is an ideal town where everybody appears happy. You’d expect to see something amiss sooner or later, but it’s not what you think. Ed keeps returning home and telling his wife not to worry about ‘what could have been’ regarding Sam’s notable absence from both Macon Heights and home.

*SOME SPOILERS BELOW*

Later we see that Macon Heights isn’t a real town, or even an illusion conjured by any other malevolent entity. It is a representation of Ed’s mind. He buried the truth about Sam’s past offences and wanted to live in an ideal marriage instead of a truthful one. At some point he realises why he got married in the first place: for love. Ed fights to get his son back from Macon heights (and the place he has put him in, in his mind).

Ed has to reconcile the parts of his mind that want a happy ideal reality and the actual reality where he makes the ‘right’ choices. Denying or removing Macon Heights, as he did with actual reality, may not solve the problem.

It is confusing at points whether the son he sees in his mind is Sam or whether it represents Ed’s inner child that he has been denying. To consolidate the fact that it is all in the dad’s head we see the son in the kitchen at the end, as if he had never been taken to Macon Heights or anywhere else and it makes sense, for though it is suggested Sam should go for treatment we never saw him admitted or taken to a particular place.

More information about Electric Dreams

Missed it? Watch it on Channel 4’s Catch Up

 

Electric Dreams – Episode 2: Impossible Planet – Review

Impossible Planet - photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Written and directed by David Farr)

Electric Dreams is a science fiction anthology of unrelated short stories based on the stories of renowned science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who is best known for his dystopian depictions of human life.

I’ll be reviewing some of these short stories to cover the themes that resonate in these inspiring episodes. Though an avid fan of Philip K Dick’s stories, I haven’t actually read some or all of the short stories that inspired the episodes in this adaptation.

‘Life is a Dream’

Norton works for the budget space travel company Astral Dreams, showing (creating) glamorous spectacles in the form of colourful interstellar dust clouds for passengers, among other spectacles, but he needs to leave the company because his partner Barbara is fed up. Barbara wants to move to Primo Central, away from their remote outpost, and she has waited four years for Norton to show some promise. Now, Norton checks his vid-mail as she advises him to do in a call, and yet again Primo Central has rejected his application. The stakes are high: if he doesn’t get his act together she could leave him and he’ll feel it’s his fault.

When somebody repeatedly knocks on their office door, Norton has a feeling that something remarkable is going to happen and decides to open the door, against boss Andrews’ protests. It’s a 342-year-old woman! Not something you see every day. And she’s accompanied by her robot helper RB29, who translates because Irma Gordon, the old woman, is partly deaf. Irma Gordon is here to return to Earth, and she’s offering 2 kilo positive (five years’ salary) for their services; something Andrews is quick to exploit. Norton isn’t sure about it, until desperation with the situation between him and Barbara forces him to accept. What Norton doesn’t know is that this is Irma’s last trip; she has a heart condition and will die in a few months; and he and Andrews are both taking advantage.

The problem is that Earth ‘no longer exists’. It is extinct save for solar gases. Irma isn’t aware, or more accurately, doesn’t accept that the particular place she wants to visit can no longer exist. The specific place she wants to visit in Carolina before she dies is a pool in Elk River Falls where her grandmother told her she and her husband swam naked! Andrews searches for a practical solution and finds a similar planet, though duller and less beautiful than Earth in the belief that it can be made to look like Earth. Andrews is morally corrupt on a daily basis, watching pornographic aliens when he’s supposed to be working so he’s not going to worry about Irma Gordon being told the truth when 2 kilo positive is involved, and Andrews reminds us later this is their job: to create happiness. Of course, Norton has reservations about how Andrews is handling the journey; it’s not usual for Andrews to be present on the ship itself. RB29 is not to be hoodwinked and engages them in questioning and undertakes a bit of liberal investigation.

However, Irma Gordon is not just a very old lady; she has a sparkle in her eyes and deduces more than she should. Like the translator she uses to read what is said to her, she picks up some sentences more than others, which may be more meaningful. It’s this greater meaning behind what she reads, or sometimes hears, that makes us wonder if she knows much more than Norton and Andrews about life and the universe. We forget that she doesn’t actually need RB29 to translate, and he is only there to look after her.

There is a connection between Irma Gordon and Norton, which maybe could have been represented better, for Norton’s dreams didn’t have a noticeable effect on his day apart from when he came into contact with Irma. Not only does Irma have a benevolent influence on him but they both desire a return to nature; life as it is instead of the prevalent ‘pre-digested’ happiness such as his partner Barbara’s wish for a perfect life and his own job creating visual spectacles in space and making people think their dreams have come true. Like Irma Gordon we want to believe that not everything is accounted for in the universe and that some mystery remains, to excite us and inspire us. This would be especially important for a very old woman, but no less so for many of us I believe.

In times that are rapidly heading towards greater knowledge of science, technology, and space, is it true that a part of us longs for that hidden mystery that cannot be understood, and can only be embraced?

More information about Electric Dreams

Missed it? Watch it on Channel 4’s Catch Up 

Electric Dreams – Episode 1: The Hoodmaker – Review

The Hoodmaker - photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electric Dreams is a science fiction anthology of unrelated short stories based on the stories of renowned science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who is best known for his dystopian depictions of human life. 

I’ll be reviewing some of these short stories to cover the themes that resonate in these inspiring episodes. Though an avid fan of Philip K Dick’s stories, I haven’t actually read some or all of the short stories that inspired the episodes in this adaptation.

The Hoodmaker aired on Sunday 17th September on Channel 4.

Episode 1: The Hoodmaker

(Adapted by Matthew Graham.)

When the episode starts during a protest against the use of telepaths, or ‘teeps’, we see Clearance, the authority/police, making use of the skills of female teep, Honor. Agent Ross is standing close guiding Honor and benefitting from her reads of the protestors. Once the protestors become aware that they are being read, the awareness of which is a remarkable skill itself, they launch themselves against the assembled agents, and the riot police step in to clear the way. In the tumult, a lone protestor with their face hidden by a metallic mask as part of a hooded robe pushes their way forward and throws a fire-bomb. The assailant is then chased through streets by Agent Ross, and captured. After interrogation of the assailant, it becomes clear somebody – the Hoodmaker – is distributing hoods and arming ordinary human beings to take up the fight against the teeps.

After the Anti Immunity Bill, teeps are used to detect threats, however, it is clear there is still much resentment about the bill among ordinary people and police. ‘Teeps’ is used in a derogatory way; they are seen as a threat to the human race. It’s the argument that they could be the next stage in evolution and if they are not suppressed then they could take over. As a result, there are trust issues between the teeps and people, and with Honor and the authorities. Honor grew up with her kind, but does that automatically mean she should side with them? This question becomes more important as we see a hint of attraction, triggered by her proximity with Agent Ross. A few times, she tells him she thinks he is special – maybe she doesn’t want to read him.

The theme that most intrigued me was ‘trust’. Many people, and certainly the guilty, do not want their minds open to be read by teeps. There is even propaganda in the station that says ‘Keep an Open Mind: Telepathy’, as if to say ‘show you have nothing to hide’ and ‘be a friendly human being’. I’m sure many in our society can understand the fears that our mental privacy would be intruded by teeps, to be used by law enforcement agencies or teeps, but perhaps not for our benefit directly. However, we are also shown a glimpse of a teep being taken advantage of by being privy to someone’s horrible thoughts. In the course of the first scene, some people have thoughts that are considered a direct danger to society, after all it was the hooded person who threw the fire-bomb, whereas most people’s thoughts, though emotionally complex, were not dangerous to anybody. Could it be that if we opened ourselves to teeps and formed trust and friendship with them as individuals then society could be reunified, its wounds healed? Close proximity with a teep can often be damning for a person who wants to keep their thoughts to themselves, and groups of teeps are downright terrifying.

On the other hand, there is the ‘hood’ itself, which protects people’s minds from being read. People are still capable of manufacturing tools to give them then edge, even in the tension between them and teeps, and since people outnumber the teeps, who is really the dangerous group? The mass fear of teeps extends not just to their psychic ability, but as is seen later, to Honor’s use of it to access information across distances and jump to investigative conclusions. Human brains cannot do that without the internet – and we can control the internet. People see the teeps as being able to read minds, use higher intelligence, and replace them at work. Seeing the co-operation between Agent Ross and Honor, it seems irrational to me to only focus on the fear that all teeps are going to automatically replace people and there isn’t a lot of evidence of teeps abusing their powers before discrimination and violence.

What are your thoughts about the episode and the questions posed?

More information about Electric Dreams

Missed it? Watch it on Channel 4’s Catch Up