There are some writers especially among those prominent in science fiction that seem to poses more difficulties than usual in translating to the screen. The one that come immediately to mind is Philip K. Dick. A sizable number of his novels and short stories have been migrated to films including ‘Total Recall’, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ , Minority Report’ and the cult classic, ‘Blade Runner’. In many cases ardent fans of the literary oeuvre of this master of Sci-Fi are disappointed in how their favorite stories were migrated to the screen. Even though much of the source material was derived from short stories they just seem to lose something in the translation, the spark of life and originality fails to make it over to the visually oriented medium of movies. This is well demonstrated with selection under consideration here ‘Impostor’. The film has an exceptional cast, a director well-versed in suspense and one of Dick’s more intriguing themes and settings. The trouble may be, at least to some significant degree, of the short story format of the Dick was the kind of author who original material. Dick was the kind of author who possessed an incredible genius for economy in telling a story. He can relate more in a relatively few number of pages tan many writers can accomplish is a much meatier tome. Dick cut right through the extraneous directly arriving at the core of the conflict and inevitable moral dilemmas that are the trademark of his style. The tendency to pad a story out, arguably necessary for the translation to film, disrupts the flow that Dick so masterfully integrated into his original published story. In any case what does usually survive, thankfully this movie is an example, is the mind bending exploration into the fundamental components of our personalities.
In 2034 the eternal question as to whether we are alone in the universe was answered unfortunately in a fashion far from an amiable one. Our planet was attacked by a race from Alpha Centauri who traveled here with the intension of a hostile conquest of our world. The human race responded quickly with draconian efficiency. Protective domes of force were erected to protect our major cities and civilian governments were supplanted by a globalized totalitarian martial law. The story takes place 45 years after the invasion with two generations knowing nothing but military rule and extraterrestrial incursion. Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise) is an engineer who specializes in weapons employed by a top secret section of the military authorities. The conflict of the story is instigated by his arrest by Major Hathaway (Vincent D'Onofrio), of the Earth Security Administration (ESA), the feared enforcement branch of the military not particularly concerned with the concept formerly referred to as human rights. A significant loop hole in this long held aspect of rule was the invention of a new technology that made it possible to create a near perfect copy of a human being, a replicant.
One of the uses for these alien controlled replicant agents is as the ideal suicide bombers. The common practice is to conceal a deadly U-Bomb detonated after the replicant has penetrated the security for the target location. Located in the android’s chest the explosive device is practically impossible to detect except by dissection or an elaborate medical scan if a previous comparative scan is available. The Replicants are infused with a perfect copy of the original human being’s memories and may be unaware of their non-human status. Hathaway has detained Olham on the suspicion of being a replicant and has been charged with making the determination. With type of incarceration typical does not go well for the accused especially since the prevailing procedural consensus is to err in favor of caution not the loss of a potentially innocent man. During the interrogation just prior to the procedure of splaying him open to find the bomb Olham manages to escape custody. During the process he accidentally kills a friend on his way to make his way to the hospital where his wife, Maya (Madeleine Stowe), works as the administrator.
One of Dick’s favorite themes is to explore the human sense of identity, what is it that makes us self-aware and understand just who we are. Dick has used an artificial human being, a replicant, as the vehicle for this examination in other works, most notably is ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ which was used as the basis for the film, ‘Blade Runner’. There Replicants were imbued with a set of artificial memories and an elaborate psychological procedure to determine the validity of their humanity, or lack of it. Both of these stories take place in a dystopian environment where the concept of individuality was challenged on a routine basis. The use of aliens and the invasion was a convenient and economical way to establish the advancements in technology and a rationalization for instituting such stringent military control. In this dark, Orwellian environment the sense of individuality was severely eroded aside from the replicant technology. Once it was possible to duplicate a person to such a miniscule level right down to the inability to assure your memories reflect your own past takes us into a nightmare world. Each of us depends on the reliability of our memories to fix us in time and space as well as a gauge to measure our uniqueness.
Olham is experiencing the most drastic manifestation of an identity crisis feasible. He comes to doubt his own humanity, his memories mock him as unreliable and his entire existence may be a shame. Added to this if they are correct he will be killed by the procedure for determination or he will complete his mission and explode destroying himself and many innocent people. The film poses questions that are intriguing, though provoking and not easily resolved. While the questions raised here are philosophically valid the presentation of the story has a tendency to drag on. I’ve read the original story many times and what has always impressed me about this, and all of his works, is the efficiency in his technique as a story teller. Here the message was diluted to the point where a significant amount of the impact is diminished. The movie is still a reasonably good showcase for emotionally intense performances by a pair of exceptional actors.
The Imposter Files