From Darwin to Dick

On the DVD cover of the movie Screamers (1995) we see a dark, icy world. The protagonist has a huge weapon in his arms. He stares with a worried look, not at us, but beyond. At the bottom it says that this was conceived by the author who also created the stories that inspired Blade Runner and Total Recall. This author is Philip K. Dick.

Philip must have been a remarkable, somewhat strange man, possibly paranoid, suffering from delusions and epileptic seizures. The films do not follow his stories too precisely, but the atmosphere is rightly set  – dark and confusing. In Blade Runner we see a city, in Screamers a distant planet, in Total Recall we enter the mines of Mars and in all three stories we see how we are caught up by what we have come up with.

Screamers is about military robots. They have evolved – and are still evolving – from metal samples to androids that can no longer be distinguished from humans. A lonely boy with a bear who asks if he can come with you, a wounded man who screams for help – they get you dazed, because the evolution of the robots is so fast, that it really is impossible to keep up with this. The planet is doomed to be purified from human life and you foresee that there will be a point where no place in the universe is safe.

Yet, at the very end there is a robot that is a woman. She bleeds, has sex and seems to feel. She takes it up for the protagonist, even against another version of herself. When she dies, she confesses that she has come to love.

In Blade Runner, the robots are called replicants and they have also developed a kind of superiority. A key scene is when Harrison Ford will fall in battle with android Roy Batty, convincingly played by Rutger Hauer. Rutger grabs him at the last minute and saves the man who had come to kill him.

What made him do that? A reflex? A glimmer of unselfishness, because there is a certain feeling for a person in him? Or is it something else for him?

In the later published ‘director’s cut’ version of the film you get a hint. Just like in the original story. Because Harrison may not be exactly what he looks like. It may be that Rutger’s impulse had something to do with the survival of his own kind.

In Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger allows himself to implant an adventurous vacation in his memory. Arnold goes to Mars, frees the planet and fights side by side with what is going to be the love of his life. And then you suddenly we realize we cannot tell whether it is an implanted memory or a real adventure.

A striking scene in the movie is when someone steps in saying he is from the implant office. He comes to warn Arnold at a time when he joins the resistance and has shot his wife, who is not to be trusted, with the words ‘consider this a divorce’. The man reports that this is all unreal and that he is in danger of being lost in his own dream.

Arnold sees a drop of sweat that indicates fear in the man – and he shoots him dead. Just as the protagonist in Screamers has become alert to robots that evolve so quickly that Darwin would be exalted, Arnold has become alert to the threats. And so I as a viewer to Blade Runner have become alert to the robot behind the human and the human behind the robot.

Although I find it hard to establsih where the boundary lies between alert and paranoid. If Philip were still alive and I had the chance to meet him, I would be eager to ask him about this.