“What about Dick? What is Dick’s appeal? Why are there so many Dick enthusiasts?”
The press notes for The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick, a new documentary on the popular science-fiction writer, reveal that his fans – of which there are multitudes – refer to themselves as “dickheads” (probably because it hurts less than “dweebs”). Somehow, this fact was left out of the film, along with a lot of other stuff that might have given true insight into the man whose stories inspired the films Blade Runner, Total Recall and the upcoming Minority Report.
The film’s title is a misnomer; a more accurate one would be The Gospel According to Dickheads, since they are the ones doing all the testifying here. We never get to see any Dick; instead, an animated representation of him accompanies brief audio recordings of an interview he gave in the early ‘70s. An interesting idea, but it’s used only briefly, so we don’t hear much from the horse’s mouth. Instead, it is up to various friends and associates to flesh him out. And while there’s no doubt that Dick was a terrific writer and a true philosopher, these talking heads unwittingly paint a somewhat sketchy portrait of him as a paranoid, emotionally unstable, drugged-out wacko. Also, while those interviewed are eager and personable, their gleeful discussions of aliens, androids and mystical transformations suggests they may have been sitting alone in front of their computer monitors a bit too long.
The filmmakers have clearly put a lot of heart into their movie, and it isn’t an unlikeable film, but unless you’re already a fan, you may feel a bit alienated (pardon the pun). Additional animated segments are pretty good, but they’re used repeatedly as a sort of unnecessary time-filler. The original music is appropriate, but with the synth-pop score running continuously under the interviews, you can’t quite escape the feeling you’re watching an infomercial. The film also demonstrates that fans don’t necessarily make the best narrators: one segment follows a man giving a tour of historical PKD locales; another s follows an enthusiastic librarian who describes – at length – her library’s entire reference procedure before showing the complete PKD archives. These segments (and many others) might seem comical if the narrators weren’t so eerily sincere.
And what of the man himself? Why do people like his writing? What is about him that draws so many fans? Who knows. The film never delves very deeply into PKD; instead, it focuses on claims he made in the latter part of his life that he had received information from an alternate universe via a pink beam that eminated from a pendant worn around a visitor’s neck. After this contact, he began taking compulsive notes to himself attempting to explain and understand the phenomenon. Ultimately, this 8000 page “Exegesis” was edited and published. According to one of the interviewees, the Sci-Fi world is a fraternity similar only to religion. He suggests that in a less skeptical era, PKD might ahe triggered a religion, as Joseph Smith did with Mormonism. It’s an interesting idea, but it comes very late in the film, and isn’t explored.
According to one of the interviewees, “unless you can sit someone down and tell them all of the details and build up a cohesive story, you don’t have a chance of being taken seriously,” a point that is, unfortunately, demonstrated perfectly by the film itself.